TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Taiwan's Parliament passed an anti-infiltration law on Tuesday (Dec 31) to combat perceived threats from China as the democratic island gears up for a presidential vote on Jan 11 amid heightened tension with Beijing.
The legislation is part of a years-long effort to combat what many in Taiwan see as Chinese efforts to influence politics and the democratic process, through illicit funding of politicians and the media and other underhand methods.
The move is likely to add tension to already strained ties between Taiwan and Beijing, which suspects Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen of pushing for the island's formal independence and has ramped up pressure on her since she took office in 2016.
"The rise of China has posed a threat to all countries, and Taiwan is facing the biggest threat," Mr Chen Ou-po of the majority Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), told Parliament after the Bill was passed.
"Taiwan is on the front line of Chinese infiltration and urgently needs the anti-infiltration law to protect people's rights," he said.
Lawmakers of Ms Tsai's DPP backed the Bill, which passed 67 to zero, despite opposition criticism of it as a "political tool" to gain votes ahead of the presidential and parliamentary election.
Lawmakers of the main opposition Kuomintang, which favours close ties with China, did not participate in the vote.
The Bill gives legal teeth to efforts to stop China funding activities on the island, such as lobbying or election campaigns. It carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail and will take effect after Ms Tsai signs it into law in January.
China claims Taiwan as its territory, to be brought under Beijing's control by force if necessary. Taiwan says it is an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name.
The opposition Kuomintang has said it supports efforts to protect Taiwan from any infiltration threat, but accused the DPP of rushing through the legislation for electoral gain, calling it a threat to Taiwan's democracy.
Several Kuomintang lawmakers staged a sit-in protest in front of the speaker's podium during the parliamentary session, holding signs that read "Objecting to bad law" and "Damaging human rights" while wearing black masks that read "Objection".
A handful of supporters from pro-China political parties protested outside Parliament, calling lawmakers to withdraw what they see as legislation that "ruins" cross-strait exchanges.
China's policymaking Taiwan Affairs Office reiterated its opposition to the Bill last week, saying the DPP was trying to "blatantly reverse over" democracy and increase enmity.
In response, Ms Tsai said it was hypocritical of an autocratic China that lacks democracy, human rights or freedom of speech to use the language of democracy to criticise the Bill.