Hsieh fights China-based ‘Internet water army’

By Martin Oei  / 

Thu, Sep 13, 2018 - Page 8

Representative to Japan Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) was so busy with the disaster relief efforts in Hokkaido following the magnitude 6.7 earthquake that struck the region last week that he did not realize that many of the people attacking him were part of the Chinese “Internet water army,” (ghostwriters paid to post comments).

Most Taiwanese do not read Orange News (橙新聞) — an online news outlet run by the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong. Even people in Hong Kong who know its background do not read it.

It is very likely that some of the Internet users attacking Hsieh for what they said was his failure to help stranded Taiwanese at the Kansai International Airport are part of China’s “50 cent party,” (Internet users paid to support the Chinese government online), and local Chinese communists in Hong Kong, recruited by Beijing because they know traditional Chinese characters, making it less likely they would commit mistakes resulting from the conversion of simplified Chinese or by typos from using the Hanyu Pinyin input method.

The report by the Chinese-language Apple Daily in Taiwan clearly differs from Kansai International Airport’s official statement, which said that only the airport’s shuttle buses were allowed to enter and leave the area during the evacuation.

It is very likely that when the consulate staff entered the airport, the airport authorities asked its staff to act as translators.

However, as Japanese do not understand Chinese, staff from the Chinese consulate took advantage of the confusion and said that only those who identify themselves as Chinese could board the buses.

The fact is all those buses belong to the airport.

When I lived in Hong Kong, I saw many similar cases of Chinese officials fishing in troubled waters, exploiting natural disasters and other people’s misfortune to their own advantage.

Moreover, I do not have complete confidence in the background of the journalists at the Apple Daily in Taiwan.

I used to write for the Apple Daily in Hong Kong — from the newspaper’s inception until this year; I also wrote for the paper in Taiwan.

I have no doubt about the anti-communist credentials and support for democracy and freedom of Jimmy Lai (黎智英), founder of the newspaper and its parent company, Next Digital.

However, a number of Hong Kong media commentators have speculated whether its ranks of reporters and editors have been infiltrated by the Chinese Communist Party and its reports become a tool for manipulation by the party.

Most important of all, the Chinese-language United Daily News — often mocked as the United Daily Heavy Industry for its inaccurate coverage in the past — not only sought to report the truth by interviewing staff at the Kansai airport, but also proved Hsieh’s innocence with the results of their inquiry.

China’s Internet water army, which often quotes the United Daily News, all of a sudden turned a blind eye to the newspaper’s coverage, making it clear that it wants to manipulate the direction of discussion.

It is not difficult to identify the “water army” on Facebook, but its “Greater China” unit has not eliminated the fake accounts created to spread fake news as it had done in the US and Europe.

Hsieh should not waste his time defending himself against these accusations, but the government should clearly have a talk with the social media company’s management.

Martin Oei is a British political commentator based in Germany.

Translated by Chang Ho-ming