Chinese state media alleges Taiwan’s president will flee war


By Yimou Lee and James Pomfret

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen plans to flee on a U.S. plane if war breaks out with China, according to an unverified report first published in 2021 and ahead of the island’s January 2024 general election. Echoed first.

Another story states that Tsai gave VIP “fugitive” passes to her confidants.

They are among several unsupported stories of Tsai’s preparedness to avoid harm that have been circulated by Chinese state media outlets in the island, according to an analysis conducted for Reuters by the Taiwan-based non-governmental Information Environment Research Center (IORG). Has gone. Organization.

IORG analysis showed that the story that Tsai planned to flee if war broke out with China, and that Taiwan’s military exercises were a rehearsal for it, originated from an outlet controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in June 2021 , and was quickly repeated by other official Chinese news sources.

Taipei has repeatedly said the reports are false. The government has not publicly detailed its plans for leadership in the event of conflict. Reuters could not independently determine the existence of any such escape plan.

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Reuters asked IORG to analyze the origins of stories about Taiwan’s military exercises because the exercises had drawn Chinese anger and significant international coverage.

IORG is a non-partisan group of social scientists and data analysts funded by academic institutions and organizations financially supported by the United Kingdom and the United States.

The organization found more than 400 stories that depicted military exercises, including the annual Han Kuang exercises, as a rehearsal for the overthrow of Taiwan’s leadership, which IORG said was meant to weaken the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). There appears to be a concerted effort by Beijing.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, which is responsible for relations with Taipei, said in response to Reuters questions that IORG’s research contained “fabricated and ill-intentioned” allegations.

It said China was the victim of “cognitive warfare” – an attempt to influence public sentiment through the dissemination of misinformation – by the DPP. The party has created a misinformation supply chain that has hurt the sentiments of compatriots, the office said.

Text articles and videos published between April 2021 and January 13, 2024 were analyzed with data-processing technologies, which enabled IORG to identify the origins of certain narratives and associated keywords.

Despite Chinese influence efforts, Lai Ching-te of the DPP was elected president on 13 January, although the party lost its parliamentary majority. Lai will be inaugurated on 20th May.

Beijing, which has long tried to force democratically ruled Taiwan to accept Chinese sovereignty claims, views Tsai and Lai as separatists.

China portrayed support for DPP candidates as a vote for war because Lai refused to accept Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of “one China”. Lai had stressed throughout the campaign that he did not want to change the status quo, in which Taiwan enjoys de facto independence but with very limited official diplomatic recognition.

Beijing has pushed for eventual “unification” with Taiwan, which the CCP has never ruled, into “one China.” It has not renounced the use of force to achieve that goal.

Stories portraying the DPP leadership as warmongers who would flee in the event of conflict became a topic of discussion in Taiwan and were used by some media outlets and opposition politicians to criticize the DPP.

According to IORG’s analysis, the number of stories often spikes at politically sensitive moments, such as then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s 2022 visit to Taipei and annual military exercises. The analysis revealed that in this period of increased tension, discussion of these stories increased among opposition politicians and also on social media.

Around those periods, state media in Beijing and Fujian province near Taiwan, as well as Hong Kong-based media outlets, which Taiwanese intelligence officials say are linked to the CCP, reported more than 93% of the 439 stories. , portraying the practice as a preparation for prominent Taiwanese. Exodus of leaders, IORG said.

IORG found that many of the stories were pushed by pro-Beijing voices, including Taiwan-based media outlets and social media accounts.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said in a report to parliament on March 7 that Beijing had used state media and “local affiliates” to spread narratives that would undermine trust in the government. The names of the alleged associates were not mentioned in this.

The presidential office told Reuters separately that China was engaged in a “propaganda war” against the island.

Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang (KMT), which favors closer ties with China but denies being pro-Beijing, said in response to Reuters questions that criticism of the DPP does not mean it should be accused of “disloyalty”. Be accused as or mislabeled as an accomplice.” cognitive warfare by any external hostile force.”

The KMT said it opposes any “cognitive warfare” carried out by foreign powers, including Beijing, to interfere in Taiwan’s elections.

IORG’s analysis showed that the CCP-backed Fujian Daily Press Group, which runs a network of Taiwan-focused news portals, was behind about 20% of the 439 stories.

Fujian Daily Press Group and other media outlets mentioned in this story did not respond to requests for comment.

IORG’s research spans more than 1,300 Chinese official news outlets; More than 500,000 accounts on YouTube, Weibo and Douyin – the Chinese version of TikTok; and more than 1.2 million Chinese-language Facebook pages.

The parent companies of YouTube, Weibo and Douyin did not respond to requests for comment.

Of the 439 articles published between April 2021 and January 13 that presented Taiwan’s military exercises as a rehearsal for Tsai’s escape, 110 originated from Beijing-based outlets, including foreign editions of the People’s Daily and Global Times Are.

Another 169 came from Hong Kong, long a center of Chinese-language media, and 130 were published from Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian.

Later, the Taihainet website and related social media accounts operated by Fujian Daily published about 90 stories.

Fujian Daily story, IORG found that the narrative that Taiwan’s leadership would flee by plane originated on June 10, 2021. The newspaper called a U.S. military C-17 transport aircraft that visited Taiwan that month a “runaway plane” to Taiwan’s leadership.

Within three months of the story’s publication, similar statements appeared in 22 articles or videos published by other Chinese state media, as well as on social media accounts in China and Taiwan and in comments by Taiwanese media outlets and politicians.

Media personality Zaw Shou-kong, who was the KMT’s vice presidential candidate this year, wrote on Facebook in August 2021 – shortly after Kabul fell to the Taliban – that he wondered whether Tsai would resign and flee by plane “If the enemy is there, the doors, like what happened in Afghanistan.”

Taiwanese opposition politicians seeking office in the 2024 legislative elections, such as senior KMT lawmaker Fu Kun-chi, also suggested the DPP would run.

“Those who cannot run will be like ordinary people like you gathered here,” Fu told a crowd of hundreds at a December 10 rally.

Jaw and Fu’s offices did not respond to requests for comment.

Taiwan has a vibrant and partisan media, with some outlets and personalities advocating formal independence and others favoring closer economic and political ties with Beijing. Freedom of expression – including on issues of the island’s future relations with China – is protected by law.

Other narratives originated from Taiwan-based news or social media outlets and were modified and amplified by others, according to a timeline produced by IORG.

On September 8, 2022, Taiwan-based Storm Media published a story, citing unnamed sources, stating that Tsai issued a “confidential pass” granting privileged access to military shelters to confidants in the event of war Was.

Tsai’s office denied the story.

On September 14, the story was revised to a story about “fugitive boarding passes” by an online publication run by Hong Kong-based China WeTV, which Taiwan’s Bureau of Investigation publicly accused of having financial ties to Chinese officials. is charged.

WeTV did not respond to a request for comment.

IORG found that a version of the “Runaway Pass” narrative was amplified by at least two dozen Taiwan or China-based publications or social media accounts after Storm Media ran the story.

“The more exaggerated claims make already exaggerated claims appear less exaggerated and even more credible,” said Yu Chihao, co-director of IORG.

Fu King-wa, a journalism professor at the University of Hong Kong, said China’s external influence efforts help Beijing reach a broader audience.

But their results are often unclear, he said, adding, “There is no evidence available on whether it is actually effective at driving change, or having an impact on local political situations or outcomes in other countries.”

(Reporting by Yimou Lee in Taipei and James Pomfret in Hong Kong; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Katerina Ang)

Copyright 2024 Thomson Reuters,


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