China says it has wrapped up war games around Taiwan, as Taipei hits out at fake news

Fact-checkers find evidence a ship claimed to be in Taiwan’s territorial waters was never there.
By RFA Staff
2022.08.10
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China says it has wrapped up war games around Taiwan, as Taipei hits out at fake news A Taiwan military vessel is seen from a Chinese naval vessel during the military exercises in the waters around Taiwan at an undisclosed location, Aug. 5, 2022.
PLA Eastern Theater Command Handout via Reuters

UPDATED at 9:10 a.m. EDT on 2022-08-10

China's military said it had wrapped up a week of war games around Taiwan on Wednesday, while Taipei cried foul over Chinese disinformation tactics as Beijing ratcheted up pressure in response to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Aug 2-3 visit to the self-governing island.

The joint military operations in the waters and airspace off the Taiwan had been carried out with "all tasks accomplished and the troops' combat capabilities in integrated joint operations effectively verified," said a statement by a spokesman for the Eastern Theater Command of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA).

"The troops under the PLA Eastern Theater Command will pay close attention to the evolution of situations across the Taiwan Strait, continue to carry out military training for war preparedness, organize normalized combat-readiness security patrol in the Taiwan Strait, resolutely safeguarding China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity," said the statement.  Other PLA drills are going on to the north in the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea, the PLA said last week.

Amid the conflict, a Taiwanese fact-checking organization claimed that one of the most widely used photos of the recent drills by the PLA around Taiwan turned out to be the latest “fake news” in China’s disinformation campaign against the democratic island.

The photo, distributed by Chinese state news agency Xinhua, depicts a PLA soldier observing military drills in the waters near Taiwan through a pair of binoculars. 

In the background, a Taiwanese warship without a hull number is clearly visible. Next to it is a chimney, later identified as the smokestack of the Ho Ping Power Plant in Hualien County on the east coast of Taiwan.

taiwan fact check 1.jpg
The Xinhua photo shows many irregularities. CREDIT: Taiwan FactCheck Center

The Taiwan FactCheck Center (TFC), a Taipei-based independent organization, conducted a thorough examination of Xinhua’s photo and published the findings on its website on Tuesday.

It said there are too many irregularities, calling the proportions of objects in the photo “unreasonable” and saying there were obvious signs of manipulation such as the lack of a hull number on the alleged Taiwanese warship and its outline, which TFC said was “too clean.” 

Another photo released by Xinhua in the same batch clearly shows hull number 935 of the Lan Yang, a Taiwanese Navy Chi Yang-class frigate. 

Experts and analysts consulted by TFC concluded that the photo is a composite of different images. 

Xinhua said the photo was taken on Aug. 5, 2022, the second day of the unprecedented four-day drills conducted by the PLA Eastern Theater Command.

The photo led to widespread speculation on Chinese internet forums that a PLA Navy (PLAN) destroyer had come closer than 12 kilometers (6.5 nautical miles) from the coast of Hualien, well within Taiwan’s territorial waters.

A state’s territorial waters are defined by maritime boundaries 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) from its coast.

Several Chinese and Taiwanese media outlets reported that PLAN destroyer Nanjing, where the soldier’s photo was taken, was only 11.78 kilometers from the coast of Hualien and the Ho Ping Power Station on Friday morning.

taiwan fact check 2.jpeg
The hull number of Taiwanese warship visible on the right, is not present in the image on the left. CREDIT: Taiwan FactCheck Center

‘Hybrid warfare’

The Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense dismissed the news, describing it as “disinformation.”

“No PLAN vessel has entered our territorial waters since August 4 when the PLA drill started,” the Ministry said on Twitter.

China has stepped up its disinformation campaign and cyberattacks as part of “hybrid warfare” against Taiwan. 

Hybrid warfare is a combination of conventional military actions on the ground and hacks, or disinformation campaigns, designed to attack public morale and sow confusion.

Maj. Gen. Chen Yu-lin, deputy director of the Political and War Bureau of Taiwan's Defense Ministry said earlier this week that the current wave of "cognitive operations" started even before the military drills were announced as a response to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit.

Pelosi is the most senior U.S. official to visit the island in 25 years. Her visit was condemned by Beijing as a “serious violation of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” 

Chen Hui-min, TFC’s editor-in-chief, told RFA his organization had detected a 30-40% increase in fake reports online since Pelosi's visit. 

“The biggest difference [from the past] is that it seems to be spreading from English-language Twitter,” Chen said.

The Taiwanese Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday it had been hit by 170 million cyber attacks per minute during the height of the tension last week. 

China considers Taiwan a Chinese province that must be reunified with the mainland at all costs.

Meanwhile only two percent of 23.5 million Taiwanese people identified themselves as Chinese, down from 25 percent three decades ago, according to a new study by Taiwan’s National Chengchi University.

UPDATED with an announcement from China's military that war games around Taiwan had wrapped up.

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