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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times CCP’s information war against Lai and the Taiwanese

CCP’s information war against Lai and the Taiwanese

The official media of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) reacted to the May 20 inauguration speech of President William Lai (賴清德) by asserting: “Lai’s words reveal his true intention of sacrificing peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait for his own desire for power.”

This baseless accusation by Beijing that Lai is manipulating Taiwanese to resist unification with China for his personal gain, is part of a broader CCP information warfare campaign that has intensified since Lai’s election.

This campaign, orchestrated by the United Front Work Department, the CCP’s agency for coordinating influence operations and propaganda, aims to demoralize Taiwanese, undermine their government’s legitimacy and isolate Taiwan internationally.

By convincing Taiwanese that they have lost international support, the CCP hopes to coerce Taiwan into “voluntarily” unifying with China.

A significant portion of recent propaganda has focused on personal attacks against Lai, aiming to weaken his leadership and credibility.

In the lead-up to the election, Chinese state media and officials spread disinformation to influence Taiwanese voters. Social media accounts believed to be linked to Beijing circulated videos featuring AI-generated hosts and voice-overs on YouTube, Instagram and X. These videos promoted a false biography of the outgoing president titled “The Secret History of Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).”

Meanwhile, accounts on TikTok and YouTube criticized all parties except the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

The CCP’s disinformation campaign also included fake news stories and manipulated narratives targeting Lai, suggesting his election would lead to increased tensions and potential conflict with China. For instance, they accused him of taking a path toward military confrontation.

This campaign is part of a broader strategy to establish a narrative that Beijing has been reasonable and peacefully trying to improve cross-strait relations. The CCP plans to blame Lai and the US for the breakdown of peace, using this as a pretext for military aggression and claiming that Taiwan “forced their hand.”

China has consistently labeled Lai as a stubborn “Taiwan independence worker” and a “separatist” long before he won the election. This rhetoric aims to discredit him and portray him as a threat to stability.

China’s disinformation efforts also included spreading false claims about Lai’s policies and intentions, such as exaggerating his pro-independence stance.

They also amplified claims by former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who said that in a war with China, “you can never win.” These efforts are intended to stoke fear and division among Taiwanese.

A key feature of China’s information war against Taiwan is the use of videos. In response to Lai’s inauguration, China released a video of a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) simulated attack on Taiwan with the slogan, “Destroy the pillar of Taiwanese independence! Strike the base camp of Taiwanese independence! Cut off the blood flow of Taiwanese independence!”

Additionally, videos of PLA exercises, such as Joint Sword 2024A, have been widely disseminated.

These military videos are meant to project the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) strengths and cover for its weaknesses, but they also aim to suggest that resistance is futile.

This strategy seeks to divide the Taiwanese, as those who believe resistance would be suicidal are likely to vilify those who wish to defend the island’s sovereignty.

At the same time, Beijing is also using targeted disinformation and psychological warfare to try to break the US-Taiwan alliance.

Currently, there is a widespread campaign across social media blaming the US for the deaths in the Ukraine war, suggesting that the US coerced Kyiv into fighting for its independence.

This narrative argues that each bomb or weapon the US gives to Ukraine prolongs the war and kills more Ukrainians. Similarly, Beijing’s propaganda on X, driven by “wumao” or paid online commentators, blames the US for the Taiwanese who will die in a future war with China.

This message is gradually gaining traction among some Americans who have already decided that Russian President Vladimir Putin is the savior of Europe.

If these Americans view support for Taiwan as analogous, they will push their lawmakers to end the funding of Taiwan’s defense.

And, if people in Taiwan begin to believe this propaganda, they will demand that Taiwan stop accepting US military aid.

The CCP has used radio broadcasts and Chinese social media apps, which are growing in popularity in Taiwan, to spread disinformation.

This includes disparaging the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the new president, as well as promoting subtle propaganda, such as the notion that Taiwanese and Chinese are a single people.

Cyberattacks are another tool in Beijing’s arsenal. Numerous cyberattacks have targeted Taiwanese government Web sites and media outlets, aiming to disrupt communications and spread false information.

These attacks are often accompanied by AI-driven, coordinated social media campaigns that amplify disinformation and attempt to sow discord within Taiwanese society. There was a sharp spike in cyberattacks and propaganda leading up to the election.

Last year, the CCP used an online disinformation campaign to convince people that the US had built a bioweapons lab in Taiwan.

This narrative could turn Taiwanese against the US, making them believe that the US is putting them in harm’s way by defending their independence.

China has employed psychological operations and disinformation to discredit Lai and the DPP, divide Taiwanese, turn them against one another and attempt to break the US-Taiwan bond.

One of the most dangerous messages being sent is that “reunification” is inevitable. Even calling it “reunification” subtly implies that Taiwan was once part of the PRC. Once this message is accepted, the case for independence is weakened.

The repeated messaging about “reunification” reinforces this idea. Combined with videos of military power projection and efforts to isolate Taiwan from its overseas supporters, it leads many to believe that resistance is useless and that Taiwan will eventually have to take its “rightful” place as part of the PRC.

Of course, this message is false. Taipei needs to step up its anti-disinformation campaign, or the battle will be lost before it begins.

Antonio Graceffo, a China economic analyst who holds a China MBA from Shanghai Jiaotong University, studies national defense at the American Military University in West Virginia.

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2024/06/26

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President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday said that China’s declaration of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over an area of the East China Sea does not involve “air space” or “territorial sovereignty,” but that Taiwan will express its “serious” concern to China and other parties.

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