“Pass the Anti-Infiltration Bill!”

In a separate post, I wrote about the DPP rally in Zhonghe on Saturday evening. In this post, I want to write about a specific – and very strange – thing that happened during that event.

President Tsai was finishing the section of her speech detailing all her domestic policy achievements, and she was just about to pause and say something innocuous like, “Isn’t that great!” In the little bit of dead time while she was inhaling, someone yelled out from the audience. I didn’t hear him clearly, but the Liberty Times story says he yelled, “Pass the Anti-Infiltration Bill! Stop the communist spies!” Tsai responded, “We will. We’re going to pass the Anti-Infiltration Bill. We’re planning on passing by December 31. Is that good enough for you?” And the crowd applauded.

I didn’t think much of it at the time. However, when I went home and turned on the TV news, I realized that the stories about the Anti-Infiltration Bill were all showing pictures of the rally. Apparently, her statement at the rally was the public announcement of her plan.

This is really strange. Tsai Ing-wen is a careful and prudent politician. She doesn’t make major policy statements in off the cuff remarks. Other politicians do that, but Tsai is extremely careful with her words. It is inconceivable that someone blurted something out and, with no advance planning, Tsai committed her party to a controversial course of action. That goes against everything we know about her.

There simply has to be more to this story. The easiest explanation is that Tsai had already come to a consensus with DPP legislative caucus members about the schedule but they had not yet publicly announced it. When someone blurted out a question about the bill, she answered by telling them the party’s internal decision. Again, this is so off-brand for Tsai Ing-wen. She is a professional negotiator; she isn’t the type of person to be goaded into making a major policy announcement by a random crowd member. An alternate explanation might be that she was supposed to say it as part of her prepared remarks but forgot. The audience member might have been a staffer reminding her of that point. (I didn’t see the audience member, so I can’t say whether he looked like a staffer or an ordinary person.)

The really fun and conspiratorial possibility is my favorite. I wonder if Tsai wanted to pass the bill quickly but the caucus leaders were reticent. The crowd member might have been a plant to give Tsai the opportunity to publicly commit the legislative caucus to her preferred course of action. After all, when the president has told everyone in the heat of an election campaign that the party is going to do something, they pretty much have to follow through. If they fail to pass it now, there will be broad blame for the legislative caucus and she and her party will look ineffectual. Failure is simply no longer an option. This is the most fun story, but it also doesn’t sound like something Tsai Ing-wen would do. She doesn’t have a track record of this type of devious and Machiavellian strategic ploys.

Anyway, the whole episode strikes me as odd. I’ll bet there is an interesting story behind the story.


Even though the way things unfolded doesn’t make sense to me, Tsai’s desire to pass the Anti-Infiltration Bill before the election seems politically sound. Right now, we are in something of a news lull. There haven’t been any major developments in the last week, so the two parties have to fight to control the news agenda. To put it simply, the KMT wants to talk about the online bullying case while the DPP wants to talk about pressure from China.

With three and a half weeks left, we might be in the next-to-last major news cycle. That is, there is probably time for one or maybe two more topics after the current topic runs its course. The KMT has decided that its best penultimate closing argument is that the DPP employs online bullies. This is related to the suicide of a ROC diplomat in Japan in September 2018. The diplomat had been severely criticized for his response to a typhoon in which he supposedly did not do enough to evacuate ROC citizens. The KMT charges that a DPP-linked person bullied the diplomat to death.

I’m a little skeptical as to whether this is a great issue for the KMT. For one thing, it’s a complicated story, and I never feel like I completely understand what happened or why I’m supposed to be angry. The original story was mostly about fake news, but now its supposed to be about cyberbullying. It’s not clear to me that the person at the center of the KMT’s narrative, Yang Hui-ju, is even really a DPP lackey. (Sure, there is a picture of her in the same room as President Tsai from several years ago, but that seems a bit tenuous to me. She runs a for-profit marketing company and has worked for all kinds of causes. Wait, why am I trying to sift through all these details again?) Anyway, is cyberbullying really one of the two or three most important questions facing Taiwan today? Am I really supposed to care that much about the quality of life of civil servants? I think most people care (a lot) more about local traffic, unemployment, relations with the USA, housing prices, food safety, and the threat/opportunity from China than this story. However, the KMT is betting that I’m wrong. I guess they think this case encapsulates the way the DPP is terrorizing all its political opponents and abusing civil servants. Anyway, that’s what they want to talk about right now.

Meanwhile, the DPP wants to keep attention focused squarely on China and all the ways China threatens Taiwan’s continued existence. The country has talked exhaustively about Hong Kong, so the discussion needs to go in somewhat different directions. The KMT party list is one such direction, and the DPP is planning major events in the last two weeks calling on voters to reject KMT party list nominees. China inevitably aids the DPP’s agenda setting efforts. This week’s story is about how China is freezing out a Taiwanese internet startup just for calling Tsai Ing-wen “president.”

[Aside: When I first heard about this story, I was really excited. Did this mean that Taiwanese youth were finally getting into my type of music? Alas, I was quickly disabused of that notion. It turns out 波特王 in English is “Potter King” and has nothing to do with the Absolute Master of Stomp and Rollicking Rajah of Romp.]

Putting the Anti-Infiltration Bill onto the legislative docket helps the DPP keep China in the public discussion. It also fits extremely well with their efforts to talk about the KMT party list, since Wu Si-huai’s attendance at PRC political events was one of the motivations for such legislation. Essentially, the KMT and DPP have very different ideas of what constitutes acceptable behavior in China. The DPP is horrified by all the people who go to China and acquiesce to Chinese demands for shows of loyalty. To them, this behavior is simply beyond the pale. In contrast, the KMT sees nothing fundamentally wrong with these actions. Not only are they not worthy of condemnation, people like Wu Si-huai who engage in them are eligible for positions of public trust. The KMT will scream that the DPP is going too far, but that is exactly the point. The behavior of KMT members has gone well beyond the lines that the DPP deems acceptable, so it is necessary to clarify exactly where those lines are (and extract a political tax in the process). The DPP is pretty confident that public opinion is on its side in this fight. If it sounds like I’m talking more about public behavior and less about spies, you’re right. I’m talking about the political fight, not the policy effect. However, if the debate shifts toward how to deal with Chinese spies, I think the DPP would be ok with that as well.

To sum up, the Anti-Infiltration Bill is good politics for the DPP. I guess this post could have been a lot shorter, but then I wouldn’t have been able to slip in a reference to the plinkinest plunker this side of the border.

5 Responses to ““Pass the Anti-Infiltration Bill!””

  1. Biscuit Says:

    The KMT’s notion that the DPP is engaging in “Green Terror” is absolutely laughable on its face; my only worry is that enough Taiwanese voters might actually fall for that joke as real.

  2. Eric Moon Says:

    Thanks for the analysis. The only question (or, depending on the answer, concern) I have is about the “Absolute Master of Stomp and Rollicking Rajah of Romp” reference. That is quite the obscure reference. Are we talking Manhattan Transfer here?

    Again, thanks for your invaluable blog. I love tuning in, especially around election times. It’s been too long since I’ve been to a rally and I love getting your special take on things.

  3. Is Controversy Regarding the Anti-Infiltration Bill a Fake Political Issue? | New Bloom Magazine Says:

    […] surprised by announcing the bill late in the legislative cycle and late in election campaigning. Tsai announced her intent to pass the bill on December 15th, claiming that the DPP planned on passing the bill before December 31st in response to an audience […]

  4. Is the Passage of the Anti-Infiltration Act More A Political Stunt, Than Anything Else? | New Bloom Magazine Says:

    […] TSP to pass legislation aimed at combating Chinese attempts to interfere in Taiwanese elections, Tsai only announced the Anti-Infiltration Act on December 15th at a campaign rally. It proves an unusual move for Tsai to announce policy in such an off-the-cuff manner. Some […]

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