Disinformation about high officials’ “runaway” plan aims to drive wedge in Taiwan

Disinformation about high officials’ “runaway” plan aims to drive wedge in Taiwan

Since the live-fire military exercise launched in August to intimidate Taiwan for welcoming US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, military-related disinformation from China has been making rounds in Taiwan. The Taiwan FactCheck Center has noticed that the intention of the circulated disinformation has changed gear, from intimidation to sowing distrust, in order to accommodate Taiwan’s year-end nine-in-one local elections.

Undermining Taiwan-US relations

No longer about the Chinese military “closing in on” or threatening to besiege Taiwan, the recent military-related disinformation, it is believed, has changed its direction out of fear that the intimidation would have unwanted effects on the local elections.

The new “theme” of the disinformation campaign has become debilitating Taiwanese people’s trust in the country’s ability to shore up effective defense should there be a Chinese military attack.

One of such attempts is by attacking the US to estrange the Taiwanese people from the US, discrediting Taiwan-US partnership. “The US military aims to intentionally stir up tension to make cross-strait conflict a reality,” and “The passage of the Taiwan Policy Act would allow the US to liquidate and dispose of Taiwanese assets,” are two of the rumors concerning Taiwan-US relations.

Another, more sinister way is to attack Taiwanese high officials by accusing them of intending to abandon Taiwan and run away in times of war or emergency.

Inciting Cynical Sentiments and Distrust

Recent disinformation has been questioning Taiwanese political officials’ commitment to defending Taiwan. “Taiwanese high-level officials are making preparations to run away” is one of the many fake stories being spread on social media in Taiwan recently. Other rumors include ”The president is rehearsing in the drills how to abscond” and “The Taiwanese military is incompetent.”

The TFC believes this kind of disinformation hinders the understanding of the real purpose of the president’s safe relocation and evacuation in times of emergency, and has the possibility of eroding the trust of the Taiwanese people in the government and the military during heightened cross-strait tensions.

To dispel the cynicism, the TFC interviewed several military experts and former national security officials to rebut the false claims.

Plan reformed along with democratization

The military experts that the TFC interviewed pointed out that the purpose of the plan is to ensure the continued operation of the government by relocating the head of state, who is also the commander in chief of the armed forces, to a safe place in times of emergency.

“The safe relocation plan for the head of state has a history dating back to Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo’s era,” said Lee Tien-tuo, a former national security official during the Lee Teng-hui administration.

During former President Chen Shui-bian’s administration, or the elected president with the first turnover of political party, the safe relocation plan was reformed to include other core government officials, said Wong Ming-hsien, director of Tamkang University’s Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies.

The change signified that the purpose of the plan was transformed from protecting one person to protecting the institutions, Wong said, stressing that the institutionalization of the relocation is a sign of Taiwan’s democratization and also the legal foundation for the regime to sustain in times of war.

Taiwan Society of International Law deputy secretary-general Lin Ting-hui, a former National Security Council assistant researcher, added that it is highly important to have drills for the relocation, which involves many details and people, in order to avoid confusion and disorder in times of crisis. 

Featured photo: Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen leaves after a speech and group photos at a navy base in Penghu Islands, Taiwan, August 30, 2022. REUTERS/Ann Wang