Quoting a US radio host’s Twitter post, a former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator has been peddling the idea that the “US plans to destroy Taiwan.” While the tweet was a satirical post made up by the host, it is precisely this kind of misinterpretation and dissemination of disinformation that could lead to the “destruction” of Taiwan.
The “US plans to destroy Taiwan” tweet was posted on Feb. 16 by Garland Nixon, a radio talk show host based in Washington and identified to be a journalist working for Russian state-run media Radio Sputnik. The post says: “Breaking News: White House insiders leak that, when asked if there could be any greater disaster than the neocon Ukraine project, President Biden responded, ‘wait until you see our plan for the destruction of Taiwan.’”
Former KMT legislator Alex Tsai (蔡正元) translated Nixon’s satirical tweet into Chinese and posted it on Facebook. Tsai also appeared on pro-China TV shows saying he thinks Biden let slip the plan during a White House meeting.
Sensing an opportunity, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) said: “I also want to know what ‘the destruction of Taiwan’ plan is. The US should give a definitive explanation.” Meanwhile, Chinese state tabloid the Global Times wrote: “The US was reported to have been considering plans to destroy the island in the event of a military conflict between the island and the Chinese mainland.”
Nixon has been interviewed by an online influencer and confirmed that the Twitter post was meant to be satirical. The influencer said it was likely an example of something “lost in translation” and wondered why some Taiwanese did not check the accuracy of Twitter posts.
This case is a classic example of “cognitive warfare” aimed at intimidating Taiwan.
Nixon’s past tweets include one that says: “Breaking News: Taiwan government insider leaks that they have betrayed their citizens so dramatically that they may have to pay royalty right to the government of Norway for the use of the term ‘quisling.’” Tweets such as this are clearly jokes. However, for people who want to believe in disinformation, the truth is the last thing they would seek. In this case, individuals spreading and embellishing the quotes aim to promote “skepticism about the US” or propagate the conspiracy theory that the “US wants to destroy Taiwan.”
Disinformation has long been used as a tool by China, pro-China politicians and media to undermine Taiwan’s democracy and international relations. As US Representative Mike Gallagher, chair of the House of Representatives Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the US and the Chinese Communist Party, said: “The invasion has already begun in the cognitive space.”
A maxim often quoted in reference to Nazi propaganda states that: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Today, China deploys the same tactic, with its repeated propaganda that Taiwan — which the People’s Republic of China has never governed — is “part of China.”
A more recent example is China’s 12-point peace plan for Ukraine. It lists respect for the sovereignty of all countries as the first priority, but Beijing also trumpets its “rock solid” relations with Russia, Ukraine’s invader. China itself has long been the major saboteur and intimidator of Taiwanese sovereignty.
Unlike Nixon’s tweet, the cognitive warfare against Taiwan and the international community is no joke.
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