THE MULTIVERSE OF DISCOURSE: HOW CHINA CREATES AN AL-TERNATIVE RUSSIAN-UKRAINIAN WAR
Since Russia launched its “special military operation” to Ukraine on February 24, international society has paid a great attention to its “rock solid” partner, China, con-cerning about the role Beijing would play in this war. Although Beijing intended to display a profile of neutrality, calling for calm down and peaceful solution, this is completely not the case from observing its behavior in state-owned media and prop-aganda networks. Several media reports and analyses uncovered that China coordi-nated with Russia and helped to disseminate the pro-Russian narratives. Moreover, some of the narratives containing deliberately twisted and misinterpreted scenarios targeting Taiwan.
This essay aims to examine China’s cognitive warfare operations in general and some cases involving Taiwan in particular, after the war breaking out. For the cogni-tive warfare, this essay defines them as attacks aiming at altering or misleading minds of the target group or society through informational tools and approaches, with a desire supporting an objective and shaping advantageous environment for the operator. Disinformation might strengthen the dynamic of the warfare in the process but is not required. This essay argues that the Russian-Ukrainian war provides Chi-na with an opportunity influencing Taiwanese understanding of the war, spreading sense of fear, confusion and distrust, and yet the outcome seems not reach the ex-pectation.
CHINA ECHOES RUSSIAN NARRATIVE OF WAR
The New York Times is one of the pioneers pointing out that China is using state resource to promote the pro-Russian views. It traces the cooperation from the official media between the two countries which has been about a decade, since Xi Jinping committed to deepen their relationship during his visit to Moscow in 2013. So far both side singed dozens of agreements about content-sharing already. According to a Russian Today executive, the Chinese state-owned media quoted news from Russian Today on average 2500 per week in 2021.
In fact, the Chinese media are now only allowed to deliver one single voice other than the official stance. An article in Taiwanese media suggests that after Putin ordered the invasion, the Chinese media received an instruction from the government that they could only quote and be in line with the content issued by Xinhua News Agency or other official media. Two days before the war occurred, Publicity Department of the Chinese Communist Party reportedly instructed Horizon News belong to The Bei-jing News that content against Russia or pro-West would be banned. While there were some objections not only from the civic but also even from the inside of the government, Beijing has decided to firmly bond with Moscow. Therefore, from Peo-ple’s Daily to Global Times as well The Paper, Russia is never to be blame for launching the war.
Having browsed these pro-Russian narratives widely, though there are various forms, anti-America constitutes a major principle throughout these massive reports and comments. Within which, the focus is transferred, and Russian activity is justi-fied. Putin’s motivation is one of the main topics as well. Beijing echoes Moscow and in its rhetoric, this war is referred to as “a crisis in Ukraine” but not exactly a war. It is a defense to Nazi group and the extreme nationalists in Ukraine and behind the scenes is the US and the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). According-ly, in the recent decades these groups became aggressive to the domestic Russian-speaking minority and attempted to Ukrainianize them. These groups also planned to integrate Ukraine to the NATO deployment which will serve as a node to encircle Russia. The purpose is aligned with the ultimate goal joining in the NATO. Out of a sense of threat, Putin’s order shall be considered to be an active deterrence from an imminent war claimed to be launched by the US and its-led NATO, to protect Russia’s security.
utin strongly blames the US for its sticking to a Cold War mentality, which hinders regional stability and creates enemies. Such a narrative is also echoed by Xi Jinping. After Donald Trump launched the US trade and technology war with China in 2018, the Chinese leadership has not only once criticized the US with the same terminology on several occasions. In the Chinese propaganda, “the crisis in Ukraine” is thus an example and outcome that Russia is forced to push back. In Beijing’s view, given the close ties between Russia and China, and that China has been targeted as another challenge to the US hegemony, China must stand with Russia.
Conspiracy theory is common to be seen on the Chinese media as well. With re-gard to this, the US building biological weapons labs in Ukraine conducting virus re-searches from birds and bats, which has been regarded as a disinformation, is one of them and is promoted extensively. Indeed, this information is explicit to make peo-ple easily associate to another conspiracy regarding the origin of Covid-19 that Bei-jing has accused the US of producing the virus. Russia and China collaborate to shape an image of the US as a virus creator is evident. As China is still fighting to con-trol the pandemic, such narratives arguably can moreover function by consolidating domestic citizens’ support to the Party’s policy.
CHINESE COGNITIVE WARFARE OPERATIONS AGAINST TAIWAN
Along with the Russian military onslaught and occupation of Ukrainian cities, discourses and comments saying or implying that Taiwan will meet the same destiny like Ukraine appeared immediately in Taiwan, China and overseas Chinese communi-ties. Putting Russia-Ukraine and China-Taiwan together, these words essentially sought to warn the ‘Taiwan independence force’ that its failure was inevitable. Cross-Strait relations is entangled in the Russia-Ukraine conflicts.
Chinese cognitive warfare operations watchers and fact-checking organizations in Taiwan discerned that groups of pro-Communist local collaborators disseminate the defeatist ideas on the social media platforms including Facebook, YouTube, Line etc. Relatively, the negative role of the US was highly emphasized in the texts. For one thing, the Chinese posts centered on the relationship between the US and Azov regiment, framed as the Ukrainian far-right, suggested that the US as an “external force,” was the main sponsor and backer behind these fundamentalists. The posts implied that Taiwan independence supporters were an analogy to the Ukrainian fun-damentalists. For another, skepticism about the US support for Taiwan was stood out, given a fact that Biden Administration at the time expressed no plan sending military to help combat the invasion. The US behavior was then interpreted and dis-torted to a conclusion that once there was war in the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan would be abandoned to face the People’s Liberation Army alone. The nature of US strategic ambiguity policy towards Taiwan was then argued to leave the island to die. In addi-tion, images of damaged cities, broken houses, severe casualties were portrayed not only as empathy, but also as a manifestation of tragedy a small country dared to challenge a powerful neighbor. “Ukraine Today, Taiwan Tomorrow,” a slogan soon showed up everywhere which intended to trigger Taiwanese sense of fear for their island’s future. The national security-relevant units confirmed the idea that the CCP and its collaborators took the advantage of the war to breach Taiwanese morale. With the war evolving fast, the manipulator also adapted the information content.
In the first days of war when Ukraine hit by the Russian fierce attack, A great deal of disinformation and fake news linked government in Kyiv and government in Taipei. One of them claimed that President Zelensky ran away to overseas, and one ru-mored that the Ukrainian troop surrendered without combating. A Chinese version of this fake news was added to a forged picture which contained distorted President Tsai Ing-wen’s promise.
Such disinformation is believed looking for decreasing the Taiwanese confidence to the government and the national force. In addition, when the Ministry of Foreign Af-fairs embarked on withdrawing local Taiwanese in Ukraine, there was another opera-tion from China. Briefly to say, some fake local residence who in fact lived in China at the time posted their “experience” online, delivered their appreciations to the help from the Chinese government for saving them leave the country. These “students and tourists” on one hand criticized the Taiwanese government for doing nothing and on the other praised the “mother country” in an exaggerated tone. However, when they were proved that they were in reality in China, credibility of their “person-al experiences” turned to be self-defeating. (See Figure)
FIGURE: Disinformation and Chinese Propaganda Involving Russian-Ukrainian War and Taiwan
(Source: YouTube; Tiktok; Weibo; TikTok; Taiwan FactCheck Center)
THE WAR’S IMPLICATIONS TO TAIWAN
Whereas the Russian-Ukrainian war is still ongoing, it has made significant im-pacts on the global order. Analysts address that the war is a catalyst, which speeds up the world heading to a new Cold War era, dividing into three main camps: the West, the Russia-China-led camp, and the non-aligned states. The armed conflict spills over to other aspects, and the battlefields cross the borders of Russia and Ukraine.
Activities from China are paid attention under this context. Facing escalating clashes with Washington and growing tension with Brussel, Beijing, whether voluntar-ily or not, has decided to back Moscow to tackle the existing and potential challeng-es. China seems to be restraint from offering military assistance to Russia though, has sided with the latter in the cognitive domain. Moreover, it uses the war as an op-portunity to harass Taiwan. As revealed, the dispute over the possibility of war in the Taiwan Strait has been weaponized and transformed into tools aiming to make con-fusion and to disintegrate the unity of whole society and to erode confidence to the government and Taipei’s ally.
Analyzing the Taiwanese reactions to the Chinese operations to the war infor-mation, we should be positive to say that the society manifests resilient to such un-conventional attack to date. The societal capacity to identify disinformation and as-certain reliable source are recognizable. This might be from the accumulated experi-ence that Taiwan has against disinformation disturbance for years. Also, the evolving development of war affected the effects of information operation. “Ukraine Today, Taiwan Tomorrow” was originally used to intimidate Taiwan, but now given the Ukrainian successful resistance to the invasion, it is reversed to be an encourage-ment of fighting spirit in the new context. Even though, Taiwan is still unable to ex-empt from the multidimensional impacts brought by the war, in particular the supply chain disruption and inflation issues. To view from this aspect, consequently, the po-tential of manipulating economic crisis narrative exists, and which can be next wave of attack. we should keep eyes on!
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Yuan Li, “How China Embraces Russian Propaganda and Its Version of the War,” The New York Times, March 4, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/04/business/china-russia-ukraine-disinformation.html?_ga=2.101630657.1742666153.1652336778-920920579.1644916532; Paul Mozur, Steven Lee Myers, John Liu, “China’s Echoes of Russia’s Alternate Reality Intensify Around the World,” The New York Times, April 12, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/11/technology/china-russia-propaganda.html?_ga=2.72214355.1742666153.1652336778-920920579.1644916532.
Jason Wu, zhong gongjia qiangfanmeiren zhizhanewuzhan zhengyi ranbu rongle guan [中共加強反美認知戰，俄烏戰爭依然不容樂觀, China Strengthens Anti-US Cognitive Warfare Operations. It is Still Not Optimistic to the Devel-opment of Russian-Ukrainian War],” Ming ren tang, April 6, 2022, https://opinion.udn.com/opinion/story/120611/6218009.
Ibid; Chris Buckley, “Defying China’s Censors to Urge Beijing to Denounce Russia’s War,” The New York Times, March 18, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/18/world/asia/china-ukraine-russia-dissent.html; Lizzi C. Lee, “A Former Chinese Ambassador’s Trenchant Comments on Ukraine War Attract Notice,” The Diplomat, May 12, 2022, https://thediplomat.com/2022/05/a-former-chinese-ambassadors-trenchant-comments-on-ukraine-war-attract-notice/.
“Ukraine: Putin announces special military operation in TV declaration,” BBC News, February 24, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-60505319.
Wenxin Fan, “Chinese Diplomat Blames West for Ukraine Crisis,” The Wall Street Journal, March 22, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/livecoverage/russia-ukraine-latest-news-2022-03-18/card/chinese-diplomat-blames-west-for-ukraine-crisis-tbG9dUdkCjsyFXNpWJ5c.
Natasha Kuhrt, Marcin Kaczmarski, “Ukraine invasion: why China is more likely to support Russia than in the past,” The Conversation, February 25, 2022, https://theconversation.com/ukraine-invasion-why-china-is-more-likely-to-support-russia-than-in-the-past-177854.
Wu Sishan, “e kong mei wu yan jiu bian fu guan zhuang bing du zhong guo jian dao qiang yao mei guo shuo qing chu [俄控美烏研究蝙蝠冠狀病毒 中國「撿到槍」要美國說清楚, Russia accuses the US and Ukraine of studying coronavirus, China asks for the US clarification],” Newtalk, March 11, 2022, https://newtalk.tw/news/view/2022-03-11/722375; William Langley and Edward White, “China backs Russian allegations about US biological weapons,” Financial Times, March 14, 2022, https://www.ft.com/content/3f9b8164-e9d6-4dfd-880a-f4fa96966439.
IORG, “e wu zhan zheng xia de zi xun cao nong: pi wu, pi mei, ting e, qi tai [俄烏戰爭下的資訊操弄：批烏、批美、挺俄、棄台, Informaiton Operations in the Russian-Ukrainian War: Criticism of Ukraine, Criticism of US, Support for Russia, Abandon of Taiwan],” IORG, March 3, 2022, https://iorg.tw/da/21; Jerry Yu, “zhong wen zi xun huan jing jiang wu ke lan na cui hua de fen xi [中文資訊環境將烏克蘭「納粹化」的分析, An Analysis of Ukraine Narrated as Nazi in Chinese Information Environment],” Doublethink Lab, March 31, 2022, https://reurl.cc/7DNd9l.
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 Po-Hung Chen, “zong e wu zhan zheng che qiao shi jian kan zhong guo dui tai ren zhi zuo zhan [從俄烏戰爭撤僑事件看中國對臺認知作戰, Analyzing China’s Cognitive Warfare Operations to Taiwan from Withdrawing Taiwanese Citizens in the Russian-Ukrainian War],” Up Media, March 14, 2022, https://www.upmedia.mg/news_info.php?Type=2&SerialNo=139706.
Hal Brands, “Some Countries Belong on the Sidelines of Cold War 2,” Bloomberg, April 27, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2022-04-27/india-uae-vietnam-brazil-may-sit-on-the-sidelines-of-cold-war-2.
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