Taiwan's legislature on Tuesday approved "anti-infiltration" legislation designed to resist Chinese meddling in its democracy, days before the self-ruled island's presidential and parliamentary elections.
The Anti-Infiltration Law, which passed despite objection from opposition parties, aims to punish interference, lobbying, disruption of social order, spreading disinformation and illegal political donations by "hostile" foreign forces.
Transgressions will be punishable by up to five years in jail or a fine of up to 10 million New Taiwan dollars ($334,000, €298,000).
Opposition picks China-friendly candidates
The bill was fast-tracked by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) after Beijing-backed parties nominated candidates for the legislature with close ties to China's Communist Party.
Beijing providing campaign funds and even mobilized support on social media for candidates from the main opposition Nationalist Party (KMT) for the January 11 vote.
President Tsai Ing-wen is favored to win a second term, an outcome that would likely intensify China's economic, diplomatic and military pressure over her refusal to accept its insistence that Taiwan is a part of China.
Despite Taiwan having its own government since 1949, Beijing has vowed to one day reunify the territory — by force if necessary.
China relations dominate campaign
The anti-meddling bill has been a hot topic in the run-up to the vote as relations with China have dominated the campaign.
Tsai, who has described the vote as a fight for Taiwan's freedom and democracy, is facing a challenge from the KMT's Kaohsiung city mayor Han Kuo-yu, who favors warmer relations with Beijing.
The Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan's top China policy-making body, said the new law would help strengthen the island's "democratic defenses."
However, opposition parties have argued that the new law would make Taiwanese businesspeople working in China and other local people engaging in exchanges susceptible to punishment.
Media 'influenced' by Beijing
Concern has also been raised during the election campaign about Beijing's influence over Taiwanese media groups, many of which are owned by corporations with business and political connections in China.
The bill comes as allegations swirl over Chinese spying and influence campaigns ahead of the elections.
Last month, a Chinese man in Australia made explosive claims to the media that he was a spy who had taken part in covert influence operations in Taiwan.
China denied the claims and accused the man of being an unemployed fraudster and fugitive.
mm/rc (AFP, AP, dpa)