Taiwan has come up with fresh accusations against China, alleging that Beijing had hired local “agents” to wage a misinformation war to smear the island’s incumbent leader and sway public sentiment.

Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research noted in a report that China used individual residents and intermediary organizations to carry out missions, utilizing its contacts cultivated through the long-running “united front” and infiltration efforts.

The institute warned that religious organizations, community and borough societies and village wardens would be particularly prone to Beijing’s sway.

After recruitment, Beijing would send “fake news” by its propaganda operatives to its many “intermediaries” in Taiwan, who would then spread the information on social networks and online forums, with an emphasis on platforms popular among youngsters and voters like Line, a messaging app, and PTT, a bulletin board system. Beijing also channeled money to place ads and sponsored content on some Facebook pages.

One recent example of such “fake news” was that President Tsai Ing-wen issued instructions to allocate about NT$1 billion (US$31.8 million) to fund some radicals in Hong Kong, but refused to fund Kaohsiung’s health reforms and fight against dengue, simply because the city’s mayor Han Kuo-yu was picked by the opposition Kuomintang party to face off Tsai in January’s presidential election.

Meanwhile, a professor with the National Taiwan University’s Department of Criminology found that numerous online information management and PR companies operating on the island received contracts or subcontracts either directly from a mainland client or through these “intermediaries.”

His research paper claimed that many such firms handled online fan pages and posted information gleaned from content farms on mainland China, with links to the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department and the Chinese State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office.

The paper prompted Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council to issue a warning, reiterating that businesses signing contacts with the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese government, the Chinese military, private companies or individuals would contravene the law and be liable to prosecution and fines.