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Taiwan is main target of China's disinformation campaign: RSF

RSF report states that Taiwan bears the brunt of China's global disinformation campaign

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TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- The Paris-based global watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Monday (March 26) released a report detailing China's strategy of controlling information abroad, with Taiwan listed as the main target of China's disinformation operation, and mentioning the influence of Want Want China Times Media Group and the death of Taiwan’s representative in Osaka.

In the report titled "China’s Pursuit of a New World Media Order," RSF explains how Beijing has exerted its influence over global media during the past 10 years, including pumping money into its international TV broadcasting, acquiring foreign media outlets, buying vast quantities of advertisements, infiltrating foreign media, and using extortion, intimidation, and harassment to threaten the press freedom around the world.

Christophe Deloire, Secretary-general of RSF said, "In the spirit of the Beijing regime, journalists are not intended to be a counter-power but rather to serve the propaganda of states." He added, "If democracies do not resist, Beijing will impose [its] view and [its] propaganda, which is a threat for journalism and democracy."

China ranks 176th out of 180 countries and regions on RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index. In its report, RSF says that China is committed to expanding its influence beyond its boundaries and seeks to impose its "ideologically correct" vocabulary to prevent any criticism of its "darker chapters" from both domestic and foreign sources.

RSF said that Beijing has also exported its censorship and monitoring tools, including the search engine Baidu and the instant messaging app WeChat. Beijing encourages authoritarian regimes to replicate this strategy, which has worked particularly well in southeast Asia.

RSF also pointed out that Beijing uses intimidation and violence to stop dissidents, even in democratic countries. The media watchdog said that no link in the news production chain is immune from the "invisible hand" of Beijing, be they freelance reporters or major media outlets.

The report also mentioned how China has influenced Taiwan's media. RSF mentioned that since China Times was purchased by pro-Beijing food conglomerate Want Want Holdings Limited in 2008, its editorial policy has changed radically.

Tsai Eng-Meng (蔡衍明), the Taiwanese chairman of the food giant, "has never hidden his sympathies with Beijing or his desire to change the editorial line of the media outlets he bought," according to RSF. In addition, Tsai led a delegation to Beijing in 2018 to meet with several Chinese state-run media outlets and was happy to be spotted with Wang Yang, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

RSF said that Taiwan has always been the main target of China's disinformation operations and mentioned the suicide of Taiwan’s representative in Osaka, Su Chii-cherng (蘇啓誠) as being the result of public pressure created by false reports about stranded Taiwanese passengers spread by a "content farm" in China. RSF described the false report "as part of a carefully coordinated and extremely effective disinformation campaign."

The false report stated that the Chinese embassy had sent tour buses to rescue hundreds of Chinese and Taiwanese passengers stranded at Kansai International Airport due to flooding brought on by Typhoon Jebi. The fake news article also erroneously claimed that when Taiwanese asked to board the buses, they were allegedly told by Chinese tourists they could only do so as long as they declared themselves to be "Chinese."

Although witnesses at the scene and Taiwanese government had refuted the rumor, the Chinese state-run mouthpieces such as the Global Times and, as well as the Taiwanese social media site PTT, continued to spread the false report. Taiwanese media then picked up the fake news and spread it further within the country.