China is spreading misinformation against US during Taiwan’s Election

As Taiwan’s prepares for its crucial presidential and legislative elections on November 5, 2023, a hidden war is playing out on the digital frontlines. Disinformation, masquerading as news and whispered rumours, aims to sow doubt and discord, particularly regarding Taiwan‘s most crucial ally: the United States.

This insidious campaign, dubbed “Yimeilun” or “US skepticism,” seeks to erode faith in the US-Taiwan relationship, portraying the island nation as a pawn in America’s geopolitical game. The ultimate goal, analysts warn, is to drive a wedge between the two allies and push Taiwan closer to the orbit of China.

The Shadow of Chinese Disinformation in Taiwan’s Election

This narrative often manifests in insidious ways. Fabricated stories of “poisonous” American pork infiltrating Taiwanese markets or the government secretly harvesting blood for US bioweapons circulate readily in online forums and social media. While quickly debunked, these falsehoods leave a lingering sting, chipping away at trust.

 US during Taiwan's Election

“There’s this narrative that the US won’t support Taiwan, or abandon it if there’s a war,” explains Kuang-shun Yang, the researcher who coined the term “Yimeilun.” He believes China and its proxies play a key role in amplifying these harmful narratives, often through state media, online accounts, and even Taiwanese politicians sympathetic to Beijing.

More than Falsehood

But the tactics go beyond blatant falsehoods. Disinformation often masks itself as legitimate criticism, highlighting instances where the US falls short of expectations. News about American arms sales being deemed “unreliable” or Taiwan’s chip giant TSMC’s US expansion being portrayed as “hollowing out” the island’s resources subtly feeds into the larger narrative of American unreliability.

US during Taiwan's Election

A 2023 study by the IORG think tank identified 84 different types of “US skepticism” narratives circulating in Taiwan between 2021 and 2023. These messages found fertile ground on Chinese-language media outlets, social media platforms like PTT and LINE, and even forums popular with younger generations.

Analysts point to various reasons for the effectiveness of this disinformation campaign. Firstly, tensions with China have reached new heights, with Beijing increasingly vocal about its goal of unification with Taiwan, even through force. This climate of insecurity creates a receptive audience for messages questioning the US’s commitment to Taiwan’s defense.

Secondly, faith in the US has demonstrably waned. While still seen as a far more trustworthy partner than China, recent events like the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal and America’s perceived wavering support for Ukraine have contributed to Taiwanese anxieties about being abandoned in the face of Chinese aggression.

Betrayal by United States

Kuomintang presidential candidate Jaw Shaw-kong, a proponent of closer ties with China and a vocal critic of the US, exemplifies this trend. He has warned against becoming “a second Afghanistan” if Taiwan continues its current course, further fueling anxieties about American commitment.

This “orphan mentality,” as Yang describes it, taps into a deep-seated historical insecurity in Taiwan. Decades of diplomatic isolation following the US’s switch of recognition to China in 1979 have left a lasting scar, feeding into narratives of American betrayal and potential abandonment.

China and its proxies exploit this vulnerability, often presenting themselves as the welcoming embrace of a “great nation” compared to the perceived uncertainty of the US alliance.

America’s Approach

Countering this sophisticated disinformation campaign requires a multifaceted approach. American reassurance through consistent messaging and unwavering support for Taiwan’s right to self-determination is crucial. Additionally, bolstering Taiwan’s media literacy and fact-checking infrastructure is essential in equipping the public to challenge misleading narratives.

However, the challenge goes beyond technical solutions. As Wei-ping Li of the Taiwan Factcheck Center points out, the erosion of trust in information itself, fueled by constant warnings about Chinese influence and Beijing’s attempts to suppress criticism, creates a climate where facts often fall prey to partisan biases and preconceived notions.

The battle for Taiwan’s future is not just being fought on the ground, but also in the digital mindscape. Recognizing the insidious nature of “Yimeilun” and taking proactive measures to counter its influence is critical not just for Taiwan’s upcoming elections, but for the future of its democratic ideals and its vital strategic partnership with the United States.

In conclusion, the Taiwan election of 2023 stands as a microcosm of a larger, global struggle against disinformation and foreign interference in democratic processes.

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