On Monday last week, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) once again sent KJ-500 airborne early warning aircraft, Xian H-6K bombers, Shaanxi Y-8 jamming aircraft and Sukhoi Su-30 and Shenyang J-11 fighter jets across the Bashi Channel, circumnavigating Taiwan by flying southeast and then north along its east coast.
That day, experts and academics were busy analyzing the aircraft models and mounted loads, as well as making tactical conjectures.
That night, the China Military Web site — which is sponsored by the PLA — explained the PLA’s drill and published a talk by the spokesperson for the Eastern Theater Command on Sina Weibo and WeChat.
This information, which had not been seen before, lies at the core of the latest circumnavigation.
Compared with the Ministry of National Defense’s news release, which was fuzzy on numbers and the route taken, the Chinese Web site’s detailed report explained the responsibilities of the Chinese air force and navy.
The Eastern Theater Command spokesperson’s statement was a rare instance of someone standing on the frontline and claiming the PLA’s “legitimate and legal right” to circumnavigate Taiwan to “maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait.”
In his 2007 book Conflict In the 21st Century: The Rise of Hybrid Wars, US Institute for National Strategic Studies research fellow Frank Hoffman provided the first definition of hybrid warfare, saying that future warfare would integrate a diversity of modes, employing a fused mix of conventional and irregular warfare relying on armed militias and civilians employing psychological public opinion and legal warfare, thus blurring the lines between target, place and mode.
These factors were apparent in the PLA’s drill last week.
At noon, some pro-China Facebook groups issued false news saying that PLA aircraft had entered Taiwan’s airspace, and at 3.30pm, the ministry announced that PLA aircraft were circumnavigating Taiwan.
When Japan’s Joint Staff announced models, numbers and routes of the aircraft returning through the Miyako Strait, Internet users began to compare differences between the ministry’s and the Japanese Ministry of Defense’s information, saying that the jamming aircraft had engaged in electronic warfare. In the evening the PLA’s spokesperson claimed on Sina Weibo and WeChat that its action was legitimate.
This shows that China used Internet users to take the initiative and engage in psychological warfare against Taiwan, and while the ministry tried to disguise its ineptitude by trying to make it seem as if it was intentionally hiding its abilities was exposed by the Japanese Joint Staff’s announcement, which was followed by the PLA’s employment of public opinion and legal warfare, and finished off with the distortions of the 50 cent army.
Compared with the PLA, the Taiwanese military’s thinking on psychological warfare remains stuck in the past century, and it is unable to respond to China’s use of Facebook, YouTube, Sina Weibo, WeChat and TikTok to spread false news.
The ministry’s Han Kuang exercise No. 35 on Monday, which used a computer-aided command center, marked the first time that false news attacks were included in an exercise.
Given China’s application of hybrid warfare, which fuses military and civilian participation and blurs the difference between peace and war, Taiwan’s military must speed up its efforts to catch up.
Lu Li-shih is a former instructor at the Republic of China Naval Academy and former captain of the ROCS Hsin Chiang.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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