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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times Blind to China’s cognitive warfare

Blind to China’s cognitive warfare

On Tuesday last week, the New York Times published an op-ed entitled “In Taiwan, Friends are Starting to Turn Against Each Other” by Lung Ying-tai (龍應台), a writer and former minister of culture who served in the administration of former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).

Lung’s prose is deceptively soft and tender, but in reality, she was directing her fire at the Taiwanese public — specifically, pro-Taiwan and pan-green supporters, as well as independent voters — blaming them for sowing dissent in society.

“The threat of Chinese aggression, and how to confront it, is dividing Taiwan’s society. To accuse someone of being a traitorous ‘Communist licker’ or, conversely, of fanning tension by being dangerously anti-China has become the norm. Fear of conflict with China is tearing at tolerance, civility and our confidence in the democratic society we have painstakingly built,” she wrote.

“When 37 current and former Taiwan scholars last month issued an open letter calling for Taipei to chart a ‘middle path’ between China and the United States and criticizing US ‘militarism,’ they were attacked as naive and soft on China. This division and distrust play right into China’s hands,” she added.

In the article, Lung kept citing examples of “anti-China supporters’ antagonism against capitulators” to portray the division in Taiwanese society. She argued in favor of the “anti-war” stance, while neglecting to mention the anti-US narratives that the deep-blue faction of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and pro-China supporters are spreading.

She also glossed over how the KMT has been shaping next year’s presidential election as a choice between “war or peace,” lambasting the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration’s national defense buildup as “provoking” China, and issuing incendiary narratives such as “vote for the DPP and young people will go to war.”

In other words, while Lung’s argument might seem impartial, objective and written with Taiwan’s best interests at heart, it was, at heart, a rebuke, using the international media to label these people as the “embodiments of non-democratic values” who are “inciting division.”

Lung omitted the most important fact in her depiction of Taiwanese society. As the title “Friends Are Starting to Turn Against Each Other” suggests, she is implying that the infighting, differences and conflicts stem from within, without China having fired a single shot. This, in modern parlance, is called “cognitive warfare.”

China has not fired a single shot, but it has employed various forms of cognitive warfare, such as mobilizing state-owned media to spread misinformation and deploying cyberarmies to launch successive waves of online attacks and post fear-mongering videos. As a report by the University of Gothenburg in Sweden said, Taiwan is the most targeted country by foreign governments spreading false information for the past decade.

It is true that China has not literally opened fire, but it has “opened fire” against Taiwan through other means and measures, and what these tactics have in common is they sow dissent and deprive Taiwanese of the ability to tell right from wrong, truth from falsehood. In Lung’s eyes, the shadow of war looms over Taiwan because of the DPP administration’s refusal to negotiate with Beijing, and that society is becoming more polarized because anti-Chinese supporters would not cut the capitulators some slack.

Lung also conveniently did not mention Beijing’s numerous malevolent moves, including continuous military drills and harassment, attempts to isolate Taiwan globally, poaching of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies and sanctioning of Taiwanese who oppose it. If Lung had included these — which are the main reasons behind Taiwan’s antipathy toward China — readers would know who is the real culprit, who is posing a threat to world peace and regional security, and how naive, unrealistic and self-destructive it would be to think of surrender or reconciliation with a bellicose neighbor like China.

Even though Lung tried to narrate her “humanistic” ideas with a seemingly omniscient viewpoint that transcends political affiliations, it is apparent her ideas are steeped in political ideology.

She went as far as to say: “Taiwan is set to hold a pivotal presidential election in January, and the question of whether to confront China or pursue conciliation will have significant implications for us all in the months ahead. If the KMT wins, tension with China might ease; if the DPP retains power, who knows?”

One can firmly tell Lung that the DPP does not seek to hold onto power, but seeks a way for Taiwan to safeguard its sovereignty, democracy, freedom and peace.

For the past eight years, President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration has proved that the goal is achievable. If the KMT wins, it would only accelerate China’s agenda of facilitating unification and complete the “unfinished” business of the Ma administration — which would either be a cross-strait peace agreement or Beijing’s “one country, two systems” policy. After all, China’s biggest dream is to annex Taiwan without firing a single shot, and which party Beijing would prefer to see in office is an open secret to Taiwanese.

Jethro Wang is a former secretary at the Mainland Affairs Council.

Translated by Rita Wang

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2023/04/27

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