China has repeatedly warned Taiwanese voters against re-electing the pro-independence camp, but in China itself, the ruling Communist Party has made sure the population of 1.4 billion people are kept in the dark.
China has generated global headlines with warnings of war ahead of Taiwan’s election but, for a domestic audience, there are no verbal fireworks and few reports on the island’s bustling display of democracy.
In self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims is part of its territory, voters head to the polls on Saturday in a democratic election that will set the course of ties across the strait.
China has repeatedly warned Taiwanese voters against re-electing the pro-independence camp, and told its global rival the United States, which has backed Taipei’s rulers, to stay away.
But in China itself, where media is tightly controlled, the ruling Communist Party has made sure the population of 1.4 billion people are kept in the dark.
China’s biggest news platforms — state news agency Xinhua, state broadcaster CCTV, and the party-run People’s Daily — dedicated only scant coverage on Friday to Taiwan’s election the following day.
Other state-backed websites have made scant mention of the vote in recent weeks, while comments on Chinese social media have either denounced the exercise altogether or shown support for candidates calling for warmer ties with Beijing.
The Communist Party tightly censors the domestic news media and scrubs online comments it deems to have strayed from official positions.
In recent months, state media has run some articles blasting election frontrunner Lai Ching-te, of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
There have also been pieces emphasising Taiwan’s economic reliance on the mainland, and coverage of a protest on the island against an alleged DPP policy of removing some classical Chinese texts from the school curriculum.
‘Chaos from top to bottom’
With its packed rallies and strident public debates, Taiwan’s vibrant election is in itself anathema to China’s one-party system.
Some Chinese outlets have sought to frame democracy as disorder, with the Taiwan Strait Online slamming elections as “chaos from top to bottom”.
“In the end, its political parties cannot represent the will of the people, and the system has shortcomings,” wrote the paper, based in the Chinese province of Fujian, this week.
On Chinese social media, which is strictly monitored and censored by Beijing, the vast majority of posts and comments defended the official position.
“The Taiwan election itself is not a legal election — it’s actually illegal under the One China Principle!” read one comment, referring to Beijing’s stated policy on “reunification” with Taiwan, by force if necessary.
Others openly backed Lai’s main challenger, Hou Yu-ih, who represents the Beijing-leaning Kuomintang party.
“(Lai) will bring the risk of war to Taiwan… at least Hou is down-to-earth and does practical things,” wrote one user.
They added: “Vote for Hou… make him win! What could be more important than avoiding war?”
Others questioned the validity of the election while trumpeting China’s nationalistic language on Taiwan.
“The people of Taiwan actually have no say. No matter who is elected, they can only become the lapdogs of the United States,” one user wrote.
Another said: “Taiwan is an integral part of China. How China controls Taiwan is a matter for the Chinese people themselves.”
China’s bid to discredit the vote has also involved a wave of disinformation aimed overwhelmingly at Taiwan’s pro-independence candidates ahead of the vote.
One Chinese hashtag mocking Lai got more than 8.5 million views on TikTok, and the responses to posts and videos against the DPP were replete with derogatory comments and conspiracy theories.
Many of the TikTok videos had originated on Douyin, China’s version of the video app, an AFP Fact Check investigation showed.