At a cross-strait media summit in Beijing on May 10, Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Chairman Wang Yang (汪洋) “instructed” Taiwanese media to give more coverage to Beijing’s “one country, two systems” framework.
Meanwhile, it has come to the media’s attention that China has for many years been using academic exchanges for its “united front” operations, by which it seeks to influence Taiwanese to favor unification.
These reports are just the tip of the iceberg, and the issues involved are not new.
Last year, Taiwan’s national security agencies found solid evidence that China has been using “troll factories” to cultivate “self-media” that “attack” Taiwan with fake news. A wide range of Chinese institutions, including the People’s Liberation Army, propaganda departments and Taiwan-related agencies, have “Internet armies” that set up accounts on social media such as microblogging sites, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to launch “cognitive space combat” operations against Taiwan.
As well as launching cyberattacks, they use an endless stream of misinformation to attack Taiwan’s government and subject Taiwanese to a broad range of “united front” work.
“Cognitive space,” also called the “cognitive domain,” is a term used in the psychology of advertising. US think tank Rand Corp describes “cognitive space combat” as having a number of features, including mass production of information; multiple channels of dissemination; rapid and sustained repetition; meticulously realistic presentation; and repeated changes and confusion.
China calls it the “cognitive domain,” which it defines as the conscious domain of combatants in “information-based warfare.”
China considers this to be an intangible military category that consists of perception, understanding, beliefs and values, and it is generally expressed in combatants’ personalities and abilities, armies’ cohesion, combat experience, level of training, battlefield situation awareness, public opinion and so on.
China does not only apply this strategy to Taiwan. For example, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence has issued warnings about two methods used by China, namely phishing Web sites that it has set up to dishonestly obtain secret and sensitive data and its “Internet army,” which is used to influence public opinion.
China’s “cognitive space combat” against Taiwan is a continuation of its past “united front” work, which consists of penetrating Taiwan down to the level of ordinary people’s homes, hearts and minds.
What it is doing now is combining modern technology with its various long-standing psychological warfare stratagems and propaganda methods. Although these methods are not new, the main and most worrying point is that this “boiling frogs” style of “united front” work makes it hard for ordinary people to notice what is happening and guard against it.
Taiwan must examine whether it has taken all precautions against China’s “united front” strategy, and should consider how to make Taiwanese sufficiently aware of who the enemy is and what it is doing.
Taiwan needs to examine and strengthen work in the fields of legislation, education and public information.
Everyone should thoroughly understand the enemy’s intentions and tricks, and the government should model its legal framework on those of countries such as the US, the UK and Germany.
Only that will suffice to safeguard the security of the nation and its people by preventing Chinese forces from controlling public opinion, infiltrating civic society and sowing division.
Chang Ling-ling is a political instructor at National Defense University.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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