Aircraft from China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force carried out yet another military exercise on Monday last week, flying over the Bashi Channel into the West Pacific Ocean east of Taiwan and then passing over the Miyako Strait before returning to their base.
All of this long-range training mission activity is probably so that PLA pilots can get combat-oriented training. China possibly also hopes that these frequent missions will numb Taiwan and other neighboring nations until they accept these missions as fact.
In concert with the PLA Air Force’s actions, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) posted a two-minute video featuring a group of aircraft conducting an “island encirclement patrol” on Weibo earlier this month.
Using battlefield footage in their propaganda is nothing new for the PLA. The Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) troops were often exposed to the CCP’s propaganda warfare during the Chinese Civil War.
This latest video is noteworthy, because all the PLA’s bombers and fighters shown in the video have appeared before, and the footage, which was shot at different times, was edited later and combined with a sensational headline.
Promoted by the military’s media, the wu mao dang (五毛黨, 50-Cent Army: Internet users who are paid to support the government’s propaganda online), and the so-called “Internet water army” (網路水軍, ghostwriters who are paid to post comments, the video immediately received a lot of attention).
Although military researchers could easily see through the video and its comments, which mixed fact with falsehoods, it caused an instant effect in Taiwan after being hyped up by people with ulterior motives.
For the CCP, presenting concrete military activities to Chinese via video boosts morale. The online media’s broadcast of these frequent flying missions could also build the false impression that the PLA is strong enough to surround Taiwan, thus creating chaos among Taiwanese and perhaps even doubts about the nation’s military strength.
This shows that, apart from testing Taiwan’s air defense, combat management and ground logistics capabilities, the CCP is using propaganda to rattle Taiwanese. This kind of approach is likely to become more frequent.
In 1999, PLA colonels Qiao Liang (喬良) and Wang Xiangsui (王湘穗) published a book titled Unrestricted Warfare (超限戰), attracting much international attention. It emphasized that the model of future warfare would surpass conventional means. With today’s digital technology, unrestricted warfare will have even more variation.
Furthermore, in 2003, the PLA’s General Political Department proposed the concept of “three warfares” (三戰): public opinion, psychological warfare and legal warfare. The CCP also proposed that the area of media and propaganda will be a key future battlefield and a domain contested by all sides.
Most countries have strategies to compete with their rivals, but try to do so without breaking relationships. Since governments are cautious with regard to military actions, propaganda is a more suitable weapon.
As cybertechnology improves, countries are focussing more on digital propaganda warfare combined with advanced digital technology. This new domain will inevitably be the next major battlefield.
Will Taiwan be able to seize the opportunity first, cooperate with civil military experts to clarify rumors and then seize the initiative to take the lead in digital propaganda warfare?
Lin Ying-yu is an assistant professor in the Institute of Strategic and International Affairs at National Chung Cheng University.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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