A false news report that went viral last week claimed that a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force Sukoi Su-35 jet had breached Taiwanese airspace, been shot down, and its pilot captured and taken prisoner.
Grafted onto the fictitious report were photographs and video taken elsewhere of a crashed fighter jet.
The viral post was convincing enough to dupe many people and force the Ministry of National Defense on Friday last week to post a rebuttal on Twitter.
It cannot be ruled out that the story might have been covertly instigated by China as part of a multi-faceted disinformation campaign.
Leveraging all of its propaganda channels to spread falsehoods and paint China as a “victim,” Beijing might have intended to use the story to dupe the international community and provide justification for launching a “just” counterattack against Taiwan, which would have had a massive domino effect.
The government cannot afford to ignore this possibility.
A good analogy is Nazi Germany during the buildup to World War II. To create a justification for invading Poland, the German military staged a false-flag attack on a radio station in Gleiwitz, Germany, on the night of Aug. 31, 1939. A small contingent of German operatives dressed in Polish military uniforms attacked and occupied the radio station, and broadcast an anti-German message in Polish.
The following day, Adolf Hitler used this and other orchestrated incidents along the Polish-German border as justification to brand Poland a “hostile nation” and use them as a pretext for conducting “defensive” military maneuvers, the overt phase of Germany’s invasion plan.
Germany is not the only nation to have acted in such a way.
Without warning, North Korean troops on June 25, 1950, crossed the 38th parallel into South Korea and launched an invasion. Pyongyang justified the military campaign as necessary to counter an invasion by the South.
Then-North Korean leader Kim Il-sung accused the South of acting under US orders and carrying out an unprovoked attack.
He justified the invasion as “retaliation for provocation by the traitorous South.”
Given such precedents, the government must take precautions before it is too late and include the possibility of a false-flag attack in national security planning.
It is possible that Beijing might emulate the tactics of Nazi Germany or North Korea, and provide justification for an invasion of Taiwan using a disinformation campaign as a “first strike.”
China aims to use its wider “Three Wars” military strategy — psychological, public opinion and legal warfare — to place itself in an advantageous position before a “hot” war.
Taiwan’s ability to disseminate information to the outside world is surpassed by China’s massive propaganda machine and the government would struggle to put up a robust defense against a concerted disinformation operation.
Huang Wei-ping is a former think tank researcher.
Translated by Edward Jones
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