As national conference on pension reform draws near, fake news takes center stage

By Stephanie Chao, The China Post

Vice President Chen Chien-jen has embarked on a whistle-stop media tour to tackle “fake news” ahead of Sunday’s national conference on pension reform, after a social media post suggested the government was ready to open fire on protesters.

In a marathon series of media appearances this week, Chen vocally defended the government’s pension reform efforts while damning alleged misinformation.

On criticism over the transparency of decision-making in picking the conference’s venue, which was switched Sunday to the Presidential Office, Chen argued that “the Presidential Office has always been open and transparent.”

He also offered criticism of his own, saying the anti-pension reform camp’s efforts to mobilize demonstrators on Sunday seemed like preparations for war.

“This is not something that should be seen in a democratic society,” he said.  The administration’s venue switching has also drawn a sharp rebuke from the opposition, with Kuomintang (KMT) lawmaker Lee Yen-hsiu accusing the government of playing “petty tricks” that would only further alienate the public servant community.  Late on Tuesday night, the Presidential Office released a statement seeking to debunk a post circulating on Line that accuses the ruling Democratic Progressive Party of planning to set up machine guns outside the building’s perimeters on Sunday.

Shooting the protesters “is not ruled out,” the message reads.  Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang condemned the “malicious rumor” as being taken far out of context, saying that the possibility of shooting was not tied to the protests slated to occur outside the pension reform conference but rather to concerns of attacks on the Presidential Office building.  As evidence, Huang cited reports detailing upgrades to the security and military equipment of soldiers stationed around the building. The reports mention military police responding to questions about whether to fire in the case of another truck ramming such as that in 2014.  In response to the “extreme protests” in recent months during regional pension reform hearings, which saw demonstrators push over cars and block attendees from entering the meeting venues, Chen said: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  He urged the demonstrators to be calm and to express their opinions at the national conference.