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Chinese Government Disinformation and Cognitive Warfare

Taiwan's national security authorities have recently uncovered a cognitive cyberwarfare campaign conducted by the People's Republic of China (PRC) to flood the Facebook accounts of President Tsai Ing-wen and former premier Su Tseng-chang with derogatory comments.

"The government found 825 Facebook accounts run by China’s cyberarmy that posted large numbers of anti-government comments on Tsai’s and Su’s Facebook pages," the Taipei Times reported on February 6. 

The PRC claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to use force to achieve its goal. Disinformation, cognitive warfare and propaganda are part of Beijing's strategy to undermine Taiwan from within by manipulating public opinion and deriding Taiwan's close ties with the United States.  

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen visiting troops, via official Facebook profile 
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According to the report, Beijing's cyberarmy follows several steps: 

- creating fake accounts to post disinformation;

- using Facebook pages run by people overseas to share it;

- using dummy accounts to spread disinformation;

- sharing those accounts on Taiwanese Facebook groups in order to generate clicks, create controversy and draw attention to disinformation. 

The strategy is aimed at "brainwashing" Taiwanese and weakening Taiwan's defences. One of the comments by a PRC cyber troll cited in the article made a comparison between Taiwan and Ukraine, clearly showing how Beijing is trying to sow fear and demoralize at least some sections of the public.

According to former Hong Kong legislative councillor Christine Loh, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) "has a deep understanding of the use of propaganda." The CCP's focus on propaganda work dates back to the early years of Soviet communism under Lenin. 

Already in 1937 the CCP established Xinhua News Agency, which today is the official PRC news agency. In 1948 it founded the party newspaper People's Daily and in 1958 Beijing Television, renamed China Central Television in 1978 (which re-branded its international platform into China Global Television Network, or CGTN, in 2017). 

The Xinhua News Agency and the People's Daily are under the authority of the State Council and of the CCP Central Committee, respectively. Their directors are members of the CCP Central Committee (Loh 2010, p. 35).

According to Loh:

"Propaganda is about influencing language, thought and emotion. Once this is done, there is less need for direct censorship ... Some of the use of propaganda may appear crude, but when they are applied constantly through the media that the party controls and are repeated by its supporters, repetition can be overwhelming" (ibid., p. 38). 

What are the propaganda techniques used by the CCP? Observing how the party was trying to manipulate public opinion in Hong Kong, Loh listed six techniques:

- Repetition for assurance: by repeating effective slogans, ideas take on form because they can be easily repeated by many people.

- Intentional vagueness: "Broad generalities are useful to clinch a deal, leaving details to be worked out." One example of this could be the "One Country, Two Systems" framework devised by former PRC leader Deng Xiaoping.

- Personal attack and labelling: Attacking opponents personally rather than their argument aims to identify their flaws and weaknesses, to discredit them and thus undermine public trust in them.  

- Diverting from substance: Labeling and deflecting from the substance of the argument, e.g. by calling CCP critics "anti-China". 

- Demonizing the opposition: framing the opposition as illegitimate.

- "Some people" or "few people" argument: claiming that only "some" or "few" people disagree with the CCP. Critics of the CCP are portrayed as an irrelevant minority of troublemakers that oppose the vast majority of the people (ibid., p. 39). One example is CCP propagandists referring to Taiwan's independence supporters as a "small minority". 

Although the above list refers to the specific situation in post-handover Hong Kong, it provides valuable lessons for understanding CCP propaganda techniques (and propaganda in general). 

As of 2021, the PRC reportedly had 2 million paid internet commentators and more than 20 million part-time volunteers that engaged in internet trolling, many of whom were university students and members of the Communist Youth League. 

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Comments

  1. "The PRC claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to use force to achieve its goal. Disinformation, cognitive warfare and propaganda are part of Beijing's strategy to undermine Taiwan from within by manipulating public opinion and deriding Taiwan's close ties with the United States”.??

    Quite so, but Taiwan claims claims China as part of its territory, so it's a wash. And both countries share the same goal, "Tian Xia Wei Gong," "天下爲公", "What is under heaven is for all to share".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is a common talking point I have heard and read many times. I think I will just write a separate article about it.

      Delete

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