During its 7am news show on April 20, Chinese Television System (CTS) — part of Taiwan Broadcasting System (TBS) — ran news tickers that said: “New Taipei City hit by Chinese People’s Liberation Army missiles,” “War on the brink of erupting” and “Vessel explodes in Taipei Harbor; facilities and ships destroyed.” More false tickers followed on that day, reading: “Oil field discovered in the Bashi Channel,” and “Fist-sized hailstones fall on Taipei at midnight, downtown traffic a mess.”
Four days later, the CTS midday news program misidentified Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) as “president.” Blunders continued on Tuesday, when President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was called “Tsai EE” in a caption.
CTS said that the April 20 news tickers were created by the New Taipei City Fire Department for disaster drill purposes and were aired by accident, while the others were the result of staff negligence and oversight. CTS reprimanded several news producers and editors for the blunders, while TBS chairwoman Tchen Yu-chiou (陳郁秀) and CTS acting general manager Chen Ya-ling (陳雅琳) tendered their resignations.
There was speculation over the outlandish mistakes. Some theories were benign, chalking up the mistakes to internal strife and power struggles at CTS, which led to distractions and negligence. Others were more serious accusations. With the record local surge in COVID-19 cases, along with November’s local elections approaching, some supporters of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) said that the “mistakes” were part of a scheme devised by the Democratic Progressive Party and CTS to create an “illusion of red infiltration” to help DPP candidates. Another hypothesis was that the incident revealed the workings of “fifth column units” at CTS, referring to communist networks that conduct clandestine activities to infiltrate or destabilize a society through sabotage and disinformation. The “blunders” were said to be the malicious conduct of pro-China supporters, heralding the possibility of information warfare.
That last theory should give Taiwan further cause to remain vigilant and wary of China’s looming threat. As China intensifies its aggression toward Taiwan, a basic and effective approach would be to undermine Taiwan’s state telecommunications infrastructure. From propaganda to promotional videos to false information on social media, China has been relentless in its use of tactics to cause strife or turmoil within Taiwan.
“Fifth column units” inside Taiwan pose a plausible and significant risk. As the government focuses on policies to deter “new” threats such as cyberattacks, it should consider that attacks and sabotage could easily come from one’s own backyard. Although the incidents at CTS could be dismissed as human error, they might be the deliberate workings of pro-China supporters with the intention of wreaking havoc. Without appropriate penalties, these contraventions could turn into loopholes and embolden further acts of sabotage to national security.
While it is up to the National Communications Commission and the government to keep the media in line, it is the public’s responsibility to remain critical of the news and information they receive. The public needs to take any suspicious activities or information with a grain of salt and verify sources.
For Taiwan to keep Chinese infiltration at bay, an “all-out defense” consensus is required from the government and the public. To avoid suffering the boiling frog syndrome, Taiwan cannot afford to let its guard down by assuming a blunder when the reality might be sabotage.
With a Taiwan contingency increasingly more plausible, Taiwanese lobbies in Japan are calling for the government to pass a version of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), emulating the US precedent. Such a measure would surely enable Tokyo to make formal and regular contact with Taipei for dialogue, consultation, policy coordination and planning in military security. This would fill the missing link of the trilateral US-Japan-Taiwan security ties, rendering a US military defense of Taiwan more feasible through the support of the US-Japan alliance. Yet, particular caution should be exercised, as Beijing would probably view the move as a serious challenge to
As the Soviet Union was collapsing in the late 1980s and Russia seemed to be starting the process of democratization, 36-year-old US academic Francis Fukuyama had the audacity to assert that the world was at the “end of history.” Fukuyama claimed that democratic systems would become the norm, and peace would prevail the world over. He published a grandiose essay, “The End of History?” in the summer 1989 edition of the journal National Interest. Overnight, Fukuyama became a famous theorist in the US, western Europe, Japan and even Taiwan. Did the collapse of the Soviet Union mark the end of an era as
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Will the US come to the defense of Taiwan if and when China makes its move? Like most friends of Taiwan, I’ve been saying “yes” for a couple decades. But the truth is that none of us, in or out of government, really know. This is precisely why we all need to show humility in our advice on how Taiwan should prepare itself for such an eventuality. After all, it’s their country, and they have no choice but to live with the consequences. A couple weeks ago the New York Times published an article that put this reality in stark relief. As