《TAIPEI TIMES》Borough heads questioned over tours
People walk on the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China in Beijing on the country’s National Day holiday on Oct. 1. Photo: Reuters
EXPOSED: Some Taipei wardens reported joining the trips out of peer pressure, while others said they were relieved it was made public so they could refuse, a city councilor said
By Yang Hsin-hui / Staff reporter
Nearly 30 percent of Taipei borough wardens have joined group tours to China that were partially funded by the Chinese government, leading prosecutors probing potential Chinese interference in January’s elections to question local officials, an investigation showed.
Democratic Progressive Party Taipei City councilors Chien Shu-pei （簡舒培） and Chen E-jun （陳怡君） have reported cases of Taipei borough wardens inviting residents to join inexpensive privately organized group tours to China that were partially funded by the Chinese government.
The six-day trips reportedly cost NT$10,000 to NT$15,000, the councilors said.
An investigation by the Liberty Times （the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper） showed that nearly 30 percent of 456 Taipei borough wardens participated in the trips, which began this year. Some met with Chinese National People’s Congress （NPC） Standing Committee members during their trips.
After the case was exposed, some participants were summoned by prosecutors for questioning, it said.
China offers the low-cost tours to borough wardens to organize private trips for local residents, who are received by an NPC Standing Committee member in China, a borough warden said on condition of anonymity.
Because the price is so low, many residents seek to join the tours and word of the trips spreads quickly, the warden said, adding that the tours have been booked through next month.
The borough wardens who were offered the packages were reportedly selected for being perceived as supporters of the pan-blue camp, they said.
As the tours began this year, it is clear that China is using them as part of its “united front” tactics to influence Taiwan’s Jan. 13 elections, they said.
China is seeking to take advantage of borough wardens’ knowledge of grassroots politics to infiltrate local communities, they added.
In some cases, apartment management committee directors are contacted to organize tours, which also include meetings with NPC Standing Committee members, they said.
Some tours were allegedly hosted by Chinese generals and included retired Taiwanese military officials, Chien said.
The government should find out who is working with the Chinese Communist Party to recruit local officials to organize the tours, she said.
Some of the borough wardens arranged lectures on election analysis during the trips, aimed at helping China interfere in the elections, she said.
Some wardens said they only joined the group tours due to peer pressure, “which is more forgivable, but if they clearly knew China’s intention and still invited people to join the tours to help Beijing carry out its ‘united front’ operations, then they need” to be held accountable for their actions, she said.
Chien said that after she questioned the city government about the issue, some borough wardens reported being asked who had leaked the information to the councilor.
However, as prosecutors are investigating the trips, some borough wardens said they were relieved that they can now easily refuse to organize tours, she added.
Taipei Department of Civil Affairs Commissioner Chen Yung-te （陳永德） said the department has reminded borough wardens that even though the trips are private, given the sensitivity of the upcoming elections, they should not go on such trips, and if they do, they should not meet with Chinese officials, to avoid contravening security and election laws.