Several amendments to Taiwan’s All-out Defense Mobilization Act have free speech watchdog organizations concerned.
According to Will Henney of Reclaim the Net, the National Defense Ministry is floating the idea of imposing higher penalties for individuals disseminating “misinformation” and “fake news.” In addition, the Taiwanese government is aiming to grant the ministry additional powers to compel the media to assist the military with investigations.
The Taiwanese government argues that the amendments are needed to fight “cognitive warfare.” Taiwan has been involved in a long-standing territorial dispute with China, which views it as a rogue Chinese province that must reunited by the mainland.
China claims that the self-ruling island is part of its territory and has threatened to take it by force.
Individuals found in violation of the law could face up to three years in prison or have to pay a fine of NT$1 million (roughly $32,500). The penalties are much stiffer for media organizations.
Defense experts, elected officials, and journalists have expressed concerns about the amendments, which they believe could be used to suppress dissent and curtail freedom of the press.
“A bill aimed at controlling speech would easily be turned into a political tool for a political party to extend its rule,” declared Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at a Naval Academy in Taiwan said to the SCMP.
Lu has doubts about the effectiveness of these proposals when it comes to combating cognitive warfare if a war between Taiwan and China broke out.
“How can Taiwan [wage] cognitive warfare if you fail to access the internet and cable TV?”
Chi Le-yi, a Taiwanese defense expert, observed that the proposed amendments come in response to mainland China’s growing propaganda campaign against Taiwan’s government.
Undeniably, Taiwan, despite its democratic image, will likely take more illiberal measures to stop mainland Chinese propaganda and reduce its influence on the island. The funny part is that the US boasts about democratic values, but many of the polities it is allied with are becoming more illiberal over time.
In the Taiwanese case, it just shows that the US’s commitment to Taiwanese democracy is a facade for its real intent here — using the island as an unsinkable aircraft carrier against China.
While the US should address its misguided trade relations with China and its immigration policies with it, trying to fight China over Taiwan would be a geopolitical disaster of epic proportions. This is one fight that the US should avoid altogether.