TDB Vol. 4 No. 2: Taiwanese Confident in Democracy and Determined to Defend Taiwan

TDB Vol. 4 No. 2: Taiwanese Confident in Democracy and Determined to Defend Taiwan

In 2020, Taiwanese people are showing the greatest confidence in the democratic system and at the same time being the most determined to defend Taiwan. 

 

The Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD) has been conducting surveys on Taiwanese people’s attitude on democracy since 2011. This year, the TFD again commissioned the Election Study Center of National Chengchi University for conducting the survey, and has continued to ask Taiwanese people their willingness to defend Taiwan, as we did in 2018 and 2019.

In 2020, Taiwanese people are showing the greatest confidence in the democratic system and at the same time being the most determined to defend Taiwan (respectively, since 2011, the first year in which satisfaction with democracy was surveyed by the TFD, and since 2018, the first year in which the latter was polled).

Nearly 80 percent of the questioned (79.7%) agreed with the statement that although there exist some problems with the democratic system, it is still the best political system we have, said Tsai Chia-hung, Director of the Election Study Center at National Chengchi University that conducted the survey this time. This year’s 79.7 percent is almost 7 percentage points upward compared to 2019’s 72.9 percent. The percentage of those who disagree with the statement has also decreased from 2019’s 12.7 percent to this year’s 9.2 percent. (See Table 1)

Table 1 (2011 yes: 72.0% No: 23.1%; 2012 yes: 65.8% No: 19.9%)

There is also a drastic decrease of 24 percentage points in the percentage of people saying they are not satisfied with how democracy is working in Taiwan this year (28.5%) when compared to that of last year (52.5%), which is the first time since 2011 for the number to be below 50 percent. Satisfaction on the other hand meets an all-time high (64.4%), likewise the first time since 2011 passing 50 percent. (See Table 2)

Table 2 (2011 Yes: 41.0% No: 52.8%; 2012 Yes: 38.6% No: 53.3%)

Similarly, more respondents said they are optimistic about the future of Taiwanese democracy this year (63%) compared to that of last year (43.1%), and those who said they are pessimistic about the future of Taiwanese democracy decreased, with only 27% saying they are pessimistic this year and 43.6% said so last year, according to the survey.

On Taiwanese people’s willingness to defend Taiwan and its democracy, Director Tsai said last year’s survey found 57.4% of the polled said they would defend Taiwan if war breaks out due to Taiwan’s declaring its formal independence, and this year over 70% (71.5%) said they would, while the percentage of those said the opposite decreased drastically from 31% last year to this year’s 19.8%. (See Table 3)

Table 3

To the question, “Would you fight for Taiwan if China uses force against Taiwan for unification,” nearly 80 percent (79.8%) said they would, an increase of over 10 percentage points from last year’s 68.2%, pointed out Director Tsai. (See Table 4)

Table 4

Director Tsai also told the press conference, held by the Foundation on October 16, that this survey, conducted from May 6 to May 10, interviewed people who live in Taiwan and are aged over 20 via landline and mobile phone. The poll collected a total of 1,226 valid samples, with a confidence level of 95% and a margin of error of ±2.8%.

Chih-Jou Jay Chen, Deputy Director of the Institute of Sociology at Academia Sinica, in his presentation compared TFD’s survey results to those of the China Impact Study thematic research team of Academia Sinica’s Institute of Sociology.

The China Impact Study thematic research team in its 2016 to 2018 surveys asked whether respondents were willing to defend Taiwan in the event of a military invasion from China, and all survey results saw over 70% of those polled saying they would defend Taiwan. Deputy Director Chen said these findings are very similar to those of TFD’s survey results in 2018 and 2019, and he emphasized that this year’s survey results show an even higher consensus among the Taiwanese when it comes to defending Taiwan’s democracy.

Dr. Chen also mentioned that in the China Impact Study thematic research team surveys from 2018 to 2020, the respondents were asked whether they agreed with the statement that democracy is the best political system under any circumstance, or that dictatorship is better than democracy under certain circumstances. Again, the results were similar to those of TFD’s surveys and found that there was a record-high this year in respondents agreeing that democracy is the best political system (China Impact Study’s 2020 survey results had 71% agreeing while TFD’s results had 79.7% agreeing). He said this shows the Taiwanese have strong faith in democracy.

Regarding both survey results this year, Deputy Director Chen said that potential factors include China’s advancing threats of unification, Taiwan’s success in containing COVID-19, the China-U.S. trade war, and the implementation of the Hong Kong national security law, among others. Deputy Director Chen emphasized that China’s threats against Taiwan and support for Taiwan from the U.S. also influence the Taiwanese faith in democracy and their willingness to defend it. He said that the faith and willingness increase when China’s threats intensify and U.S. support grows.

What is worth mentioning is that according to the China Impact Study thematic research team survey conducted this year, fewer Taiwanese find the Chinese government “a friend of Taiwan,” with only 23 percent of the respondents agreeing (with the statement that the Chinese government is a friend of Taiwan) and 73 percent disagreeing. This poses an alarming contrast to the results from the last several years, which usually found the ratio of agreeing and disagreeing to be 4:6 (as opposed to this year’s 2.5:7.5), according to the team. A further analysis of the result also showed that the distrust toward Beijing is the highest among the younger generation, with as high as 84 percent of those aged between 18 and 34 saying they do not believe that the Chinese government is a friend.

TDB Vol. 4 No. 1: Taiwan’s Battle Against Rampant COVID-19 Disinformation

TDB Vol. 4 No. 1: Taiwan’s Battle Against Rampant COVID-19 Disinformation

As Taiwan endeavors to contain the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, the island-nation has also been tackling another epidemic — disinformation. Olivia Yang describes the situation.

 

Since COVID-19 broke out before the Lunar New Year holiday in late January, a surge of disinformation has emerged surrounding the current status of the virus in Taiwan and the government’s management of the outbreak.

According to latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as of March 5 there have been 44 confirmed infections, with one death and 12 recoveries, in Taiwan.

However, in recent weeks numerous posts on social media platforms — primarily Facebook — have spread claims that the Taiwanese government is covering up the number of coronavirus infections in the country. The number of purported cases in these posts range from a daily increase of a couple of hundred to a total of several thousand. Some of these posts also claim that the virus has already spread among students and the military.

Other posts have claimed that countless bodies have been buried inside Taipei Dome, or that the government had cremated the corpses of infected citizens in different areas of Taiwan to avoid the high number of COVID-19-related causalities being reported. Another post showed an image of a city in flames along with text saying the virus has gone beyond control in the southern city of Tainan. And yet another one claimed that President Tsai Ing-wen was herself infected with the coronavirus and that she — 63 years of age! — risked losing the child she was carrying. The Taiwan FactCheck Center, a local non-profit fact-checking organization, later demonstrated that the image of the burning city was a still from the 2016 South Korean zombie thriller, “Train to Busan.” The fact-checking organization also debunked all the above examples.

The Taiwan FactCheck Center, a local non-profit fact-checking organization, later demonstrated that the image of the burning city was a still from the 2016 South Korean zombie thriller, “Train to Busan.” (Photo Credit: Screenshot from Taiwan FactCheck Center website)

Nevertheless, the pieces of disinformation have been widely circulated in various formats, including infographics, images, and video clips. While Taiwan is not a rookie in combating different forms of disinformation, the severity of this wave of COVID-19-related disinformation has prompted the Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau (MJIB) to issue multiple press releases to address the matter.

In a Feb. 29 press release, the MJIB stated that an investigation had determined that most of the COVID-19 disinformation relating to Taiwan originating from social media platforms in China — mainly on Weibo and Di Bar — which was then reposted to Facebook pages through fake accounts. The Bureau said the surge in disinformation appeared to stem from resentment toward Taiwan for its ban on the export of facial masks. The MJIB added that Chinese Internet users have been editing images of official notices issued by the Taiwanese government and inserting disinformation. These, it said, constitute attempts to discredit government notices and undermine their reliability.

According to Taiwan’s Special Act on COVID-19 Prevention, Relief, and Restoration passed on Feb. 25, individuals who spread rumors or disinformation about COVID-19 that risk harming the public interest can face a maximum prison term of three years and a possible fine of NT$3 million (US$99,000). A man from New Taipei City was arrested on Feb. 29 for posting a false claim on Facebook saying that COVID-19 was out of control in Taiwan, that the military had assumed control over Taipei, and that the Tsai administration had been burning corpses of infected patients in the streets.

The Facebook post with false claims for which a man from New Taipei City was arrested on Feb. 29. (Photo Credit: Screenshot from Taiwan FactCheck Center website)

As local authorities and NGOs tackle the disinformation, they are also putting in efforts to ensure that the correct information is being circulated among the Taiwanese public.

The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) has held one or several press briefings nearly every day to keep the public informed on the current developments of COVID-19 in Taiwan. Over 100 digital maps have been created to provide real-time information on the pharmacies that carry facial masks and the amount of masks left in stock. Taiwan’s Minister without Portfolio Audrey Tang has also worked with civic organizations and the National Health Insurance Administration to compile all the digital maps on one website for users to choose from.

But the disinformation epidemic surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak is far from over, according to the MJIB and academics.

In addition to cautioning the public of the next wave of COVID-19 disinformation, the MJIB warned in its Feb. 29 press release that Chinese Internet users are starting to discuss how the different lingo and characters used in Taiwan and China has made the disinformation easier to identify. There have also been suggestions of using the language adopted in Taiwan FactCheck Center reports to smooth over the language differences, the MJIB said.

Puma Shen, an assistant professor at the National Taipei University’s Graduate School of Criminology and one of the top researchers on disinformation in Taiwan, told media this week that the wave of disinformation seen in recent weeks was merely Chinese Internet users “testing the water.” In his assessment, there will be a larger disinformation attack on Taiwan once more infected COVID-19 cases are confirmed in the country.

According to Shen, the target audience of such disinformation includes not only the Taiwan public, but also Chinese Internet users who manage to get around China’s “Great Firewall” for information. This, he argues, is to create a façade that Taiwanese media reports are disinformation, and in turn to reinforce stability within China.

 

Feature Photo Credit: Taiwan FactCheck Center Facebook page.

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