In late August, reports that a Chinese nuclear submarine had sunk in the Taiwan Strait spread online from the United States. At first, there was no official response from Chinese authorities. And even after Taiwan officials denied the reports, some media continued to report the alleged incident as "unconfirmed information." Observers therefore increasingly came to view the incident as a case of "information warfare."
This time, it turned out that it was simply a case of "fake news" spread by a controversial Chinese living in the United States. However, it is notable that the authorities in Taiwan are consolidating information organs under its defense ministry so as to be better able to counter China's "cognitive warfare."
How it Spread
On August 22, an American expert on submarines posted the following short message on X, formerly Twitter.
"Reports that a Chinese Navy (PLAN) submarine, apparently a nuclear powered Type-093 Shang Class boat, has suffered a serious accident in the vicinity of the Taiwan Strait."
After cautioning that the reports were as yet unconfirmed, the expert posted the following:
"Reports suggest all crew died."
The tweets were picked up by others and subsequently spread widely on the Internet. The Chinese government had announced that it had commenced military exercises in the vicinity of Taiwan. It was an act of protest against the stopover in the US by Taiwan Vice President William Lai. Consequently, it would not be at all strange if Chinese subs were operating in the area at that time.
Later online reports that appeared to provide further information on the "accident" appeared one after the next. For example, one post claimed that SOS signals had been received by radio and transmissions had continued for several hours. Another alleged that Chinese tugboats were gathering in seas to the southwest of Taiwan.
In April 2003, a conventional-powered Ming-class submarine could not surface due to a mechanical issue during a training exercise in the Yellow Sea. The accident resulted in the deaths of all 70 crew members aboard. It was not until the following month that the Chinese state media reported the accident.
The Type 093 is an attack submarine. China currently has six of them in its underwater force. In NATO parlance, it is a Shang-class submarine. If the accident reports were true, there would be concern about radioactive contamination depending on the details. So, the Taiwanese media naturally showed keen interest in the supposed accident.
When asked about the situation by reporters, a spokesperson for the Atomic Energy Council replied: "At this time we detect no abnormal radiation." The council is an agency under the Executive Yuan (Cabinet) of Taiwan.
On August 22, a press officer at Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense stressed to reporters at a press conference, "The military closely monitors sea and airspace movements around Taiwan." He then added, "We've received no supporting information [about an accident]."
However, his replies were not enough "to quench the fire." Perhaps because he was couching his answers to the questions from the press in bureaucratic language. A reporter asked, "Does that mean [the military] has not completely grasped the situation?"
The Taiwan military spokesperson had sought to put the reports to rest. But several media outlets, including some US media, reported the possibility of an accident as an "unconfirmed report."
Some Taiwanese media noted the shallowness of the waters of the Taiwan Strait. With an average depth of about 150 meters (492 ft), the waters are unsuitable for nuclear submarines to operate in. Some also reported the view of a former Taiwanese submarine captain that the Chinese intentionally spread disinformation in order to "fish for spies within the Peoples's Liberation Army."
In Taiwan, the uproar quickly blew over. This was partly because the source of the submarine accident report was discovered shortly afterward.
It turned out to be a self-proclaimed media outlet called "LUDE Media." It is run by Wang Dinggang, a Chinese residing in the United States. He broadcasts under the moniker "Lu De."
Wang and his associates disseminate information on several social media platforms. They contend that it is "insider information" about China. However, the authenticity of the information they release is generally unknown. In the past, they spread false reports about the supposed connection between the origin of COVID-19 and the Chinese government. Another example of the "fake news" they regularly purvey was a report that the pilot of a jet fighter belonging to the Taiwanese Air Force had fled to China.
The Taiwan authorities find themselves frequently denying such reports. Wang and LUDE Media are known to be close to the notorious fugitive billionaire Guo Wengui. After fleeing to the United States, Guo leveled a series of accusations of fraud against leaders of the Chinese Communist Party. However, he himself was arrested by US authorities on investment fraud charges.
Fake News Updates
On this occasion, Wang began to release information about the "accident" on August 21. He continued to issue "updates" on the location of the sunken vessel for several days after the Taiwanese authorities discredited the reports.
The Taiwanese media took the initial report seriously because the information became "laundered" (brought into the mainstream) when the US expert tweeted it. The same expert later took down his post.
China Review News Agency on August 24 carried an article on its website which called the submarine accident report a "fabrication." The agency appears to be under the influence of the Chinese government. And then on August 31, Senior Colonel Wu Qian, spokesperson for China's Ministry of National Defense declared at a regular news conference, "Relevant information is completely false."
China's 'Cognitive Warfare'
Meanwhile, Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense is becoming increasingly alarmed by a string of false reports. In order to respond to Chinese "cognitive warfare" tactics designed to wear down Taiwanese opposition to unification with the mainland, the Ministry of National Defense plans to consolidate various media currently operating under its aegis into one organization. These media include the Military News Agency, Youth Daily News, and the Voice of Han Broadcasting Station. The organization is set to launch in October.
As of the end of August, the details about this organization had not yet been finalized. But, taking a cue from the US Department of Defense, resources will be concentrated in the organization. Each outlet will retain its separate identity. Through this, Taiwan aims to create a posture where false reports can be immediately identified and refuted.
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