IORG presents 14 key research conclusions on Chinese influence operations against Taiwan, organized in 4 parts: 3 on Chinese information manipulation against Taiwan, 4 on information manipulation collaborators, 4 on Chinese infiltration against Taiwan, and 3 on the defending democracy.
Chinese Information Manipulation Against Taiwan
K.1 IORG confirms, with publicly verifiable scientific methods, that the CCP is engaged in information manipulation against Taiwan
In IORG’s 8 case studies (No. B.1-7 and R.1) of suspected Chinese information manipulation against Taiwan between 2018-2020, IORG confirms, with publicly verifiable scientific methods, Chinese officials and state media involvement in B.1, B.3, B.4, B.5, B.6, and R.1. Main manipulated narratives and descriptions of each case are presented in the following table.
Posts on Weibo claiming the Chinese Consulate has sent buses to evacuate Chinese passengers stranded in the Kansai Airport. Taiwanese who “self-identify as Chinese” can get on the bus too. These narratives are later confirmed to be false.
Chen Chu is corrupt
Identical content published by Chinese media alleging corruption of Chen Chu appeared in Taiwan’s information space, adding that “an MJIB official feels unbearable” and that the information was “leaked.” This narrative is later confirmed to be false.
American influenza is deadlier than COVID-19
As influenza in the U.S. has a higher death toll than COVID-19 before March, Chinese state media and Taiwan political commentators begin comparing the two to shift focus away from COVID-19. Yet, these two infectious diseases are essentially different. The comparison is invalid and is manipulated information.
U.S. spreads coronavirus through Wuhan World Military Games
American influenza is COVID-19
The slogan “Liberate Hongkong, Revolution of Our Time” (光復香港、時代革命) from Hongkong’s pro-democracy movement was appropriated into “Liberate America” (光復美國).
Central Election Commission’s vote tampering
Dear America from Weibo
Research time frame is 2020/8/1-11/4.
In the 8 case studies, manipulated information has also spread to Chinese-speaking countries and regions other than Taiwan. The relation between such phenomenon and China’s external Global Propaganda and internal stability maintenance (wéiwěn, 維穩), requires further research and clarification.
K.2 More than false information, Chinese information manipulation against Taiwan is becoming more diverse and sophisticated
In IORG’s 8 case studies, B.1, B.2, B.4, and B.7 contain information which are verified to be false. In B.3, B.6, and R.1, the controversial content is not merely false information but manipulated information such as citing real data to enable false equivalency, over-generalization with personal experience, or over-inference (see K.5).
Take COVID-19-related cases B.3, B.4, and B.5 as examples, at least 8 different narratives appear among these 3 cases, as time progresses, narratives diversify and gain sophistication. IORG believes that this phenomenon is the result of designing different narratives targeting various groups to increase the narratives’ credibility and maximize their influence. These 8 narratives started independently from each other, even contradicting one another in early stages. After a tweet from Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Li-Jian (赵立坚) on 2020/3/12, narratives including “coronavirus leaked from a U.S. lab” and “COVID-19 cases found among U.S. flu patients” converged and reinforced each other. Disseminated through Chinese state media, these narratives become part of CCP’s official propaganda.
K.3 IORG confirms “Weibo to Facebook” a route through which Chinese manipulated information spreads to Taiwan
In R.1, IORG has found that Weibo content regarding America is entering Facebook, including narratives about America’s failure in epidemic prevention, interference in China and other countries’ domestic affairs, and irresponsible behaviors in international affairs. Contrasting narratives are also found, including China’s success in epidemic prevention, saving lives in providing medical supplies and other humanitarian aides, active contributions to the international society, and the lack of ambition for dominance.
Through data-driven scientific methods, IORG also found that Facebook pages “Sisy’s World News” (文茜的世界周報) and “Ting-Ting Sees the World” (婷婷看世界) introduce report and Weibo post content about America from Chinese state media into Facebook. “Sisy” masquerades content origin of Chinese state media as U.S. media, while “Ting-Ting” omits content origin while unapologetically re-posts Chinese state media content. Moreover, content of Ting-Ting’s posts includes false narratives regarding COVID-19 being a U.S.-made bio weapon, or that it was leaked from a U.S. lab.
Information Manipulation Collaborators
K.4 Among information manipulation collaborators, “local collaborators” are critical in spreading Chinese information manipulation in Taiwan
“Information manipulation collaborators” help the spread of information manipulation, and their locality can be reasonably defined by their identity or the locality of their collaborator activities. For Taiwan, Taiwanese “local collaborators” are critical in spreading Chinese information manipulation in Taiwan. In IORG’s 8 case studies, specific narratives spread wider when “local collaborators” are involved in more numbers or more deeply, which increases the probability of cognitive change of the reader.
“Local collaborators” can take many forms, including Taiwanese news media, political commentators, LINE accounts, Facebook accounts, Facebook pages that target Taiwanese readers, and YouTube channels. IORG’s definition of a “local collaborator” rests on their objective activities that benefit the spread of manipulated information, not their subjective intent.
Among “local collaborators,” political commentators are particularly important. For example, Chao Shao-Kang (趙少康) (B.3), Wang Chieh-Min (汪潔民) (B.4), Lucifer Chu (朱學恆) (B.4), Pan Hwai-Tzong (潘懷宗) (B.5), and Sisy Chen (陳文茜) (R.1). IORG observes peaks in the number of posts or messages on Taiwanese social media or instant messaging platforms after they joined to spread manipulated information. Their rhetorics also become manipulated content, reinforcing the dissemination of manipulated information.
K.5 Collaborator behavior is diverse and can be classified into 3 types: source, content, and process of inference
Behaviors of “source manipulation” include: citing unverified information, masquerading content origin; behaviors of “content manipulation” include: distorting content, disseminating false information; behaviors of “inference process manipulation” include: over-inference, false equivalence, improper appeal to authority, and over-generalization with personal experience or live video. Specific cases of various behaviors are detailed in the following table.
Citing unverified information
Masquerading content origin
Omitting content origin
Disseminating false information
Inference process manipulation
Improper appeal to authority
Over-generalization with personal experience or live video
K.6 Lack of verification by news media, collaborator behavior by celebrities, clustered posting by Facebook pages, together promote the spread of of manipulated information
Through comparing cases of information manipulation, IORG found that news media reporting can promote the spread of manipulated information. In pursuit of profit, fast-paced and unverified reporting have made Taiwanese new media effective channels for spreading manipulated information.
Statements from celebrities and experts can also promote the spread of manipulated information. Statements from political commentators, including Pan Hwai-Tzong, Chao Shao-Kang, Wang Chieh-Min, Lucifer Chu, and Sisy Chen, or “creative content” derived from their statements, are part of the manipulated information among the case studies. For example, messages start with “Dr. Pan Hwai-Tzong says…” can be found in B.5.
Additionally, in cases of information manipulation, the phenomenon of “clustered posting” can be found among Taiwan, Hongkong, and Malaysia Facebook pages. “Clustered posting” is defined as a pair of Facebook pages posting identical link or content within 1 minute” and 5 pairs posting “U.S. influenza caused 6,600 deaths” can be found in B.3, 13 pairs posting “Restore America’s Glory” and 2,182 groups posting “Floyd” can be found in B.6.
K.7 Fact-checking may reduce spread of manipulated information on public social media platforms, effectiveness in closed groups is limited
Due to different levels of openness and natures of interpersonal relation between users, information manipulation on social media platforms and instant messaging platforms demonstrate distinct characteristics.
The phenomenon of “cross-platform dissemination” indeed exists, in which manipulated information of identical content appears on both, either synchronized or unsynchronized. Take Wang Chieh-Min’s 2020/3/4 remarks on EBC’s “Blasting News 57” as an example (B.4), after his statements regarding the Military World Games in Wuhan are verified to be false, the number of related posts on public social media dropped significantly. However, related messages continue to appear in multiple closed groups more than 1 month after the peak of spread on social media.
Moreover, manipulated information spread by celebrity collaborators takes up a higher proportion of the total number of messages in closed groups than that on public social media. Take Pan Hwai-Tzong’s (潘懷宗) 2020/2/27 remarks on EBC’s “This Is Not News” (這不是新聞) as an example (B.5), the video clip of his performance accounts for 5.83% of total messages in closed groups within the time frame of B.5, and 2.32% on public social media platforms.
Chinese Interpersonal Infiltration and Economic Influence Operations Against Taiwan
K.8 Chinese government is actively infiltrating various interpersonal networks in Taiwan, “Straits Forum” can be viewed as the annual performance review of its infiltration operations against Taiwan
IORG uncovers, through field research and in-depth interviews, Chinese government’s interpersonal infiltration against Taiwan targeting 4 groups – youth (D.1), folk religions (D.2), village chiefs (村里長) (D.3), and Taiwanese managers in China (台幹) (D.4). Important findings are listed in the following table.
Taiwanese managers in China
From policy-making, legislation at the central government level, to agile, frequent interactions with Taiwanese businesses and the grassroots at the local level, Chinese interpersonal infiltration against Taiwan is continuous and explicit. The annual “Straits Forum” can be viewed, from its hosts, attending officials, participants, and content, as the annual performance review of Chinese interpersonal infiltration against Taiwan.
Due to the pandemic, rising tension of the U.S-China relations, and the tightening political climate inside China, physical exchanges between Taiwan and China have declined sharply, while the return of Taiwanese business and managers, as well as online cross-strait exchange have increased.
K.9 Channels of Chinese infiltration are diverse and overlapping, older, those residing in China, and the economically vulnerable are more susceptible; “two-tier structure” in Taiwanese grassroots provides basis of self-persuasion when organizers accept Chinese benefits
IORG finds Chinese interpersonal infiltration operates through multiple channels and one individual may be affected by more than one. Youth and those residing in Taiwan are less affected due to stronger national identity and shorter contact, while older individuals are more susceptible to Chinese influence due to their demographics, ideological traits, longer contact with, or residence in China. However, one may be affected, despite one’s age, if one is socio-economically more vulnerable, professionally less competitive, or residing in China (D.1, D.4).
Grassroots organizers usually serve a specific group of people: the managers serve the worshipers of a temple (D.2), the chief serves the residents of a village (D.3). When benefits such as cheap tours or scholarships are offered from China, the organizers are able to persuade themselves to accept the benefits, arguing that “this is for public and not personal benefit.”
K.10 Chinese government encourages political behavioral change through cultural calling and economic incentive
Through strengthening emotional ties and commonalities between respective cultures, Chinese government continues its attempts to convince the people of Taiwan that China is their motherland, or at least their “brotherland,” not their enemy (D.2, D.3). Chinese government also provides investment incentives, career opportunities, or direct economic benefits (D.1, D.4) to persuade the people of Taiwan that dependence on China is the only pathway to richness. The ultimate goal is that Taiwanese voters would make political and electoral decisions that benefit China (D.2).
Chinese interpersonal infiltration against Taiwan. Source: IORG.
Taiwan’s civil society is not entirely unaware of this situation. The 318 movement (Sunflower Movement) against the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement in 2014 is a perfect example of its vigilance preceding that of the government. However, Chinese infiltration against Taiwan has gained concrete results, as election results in 2018 demonstrates. Only by staying alert and taking action against various methods and effects of Chinese infiltration, can we defend Taiwan’s democracy.
K.11 To gain indirect influence to Taiwan’s politics through target groups, Chinese government must ensures the economic incentives provided are irreplaceable
Common methods of Chinese economic influence operation against Taiwan (E) can be categorized into 4 types: “masquerading as Hongkong or foreign investment”, “stealing high-tech secrets”, “Anti-competitive practices to weaken Taiwan’s industry”, and “nurture, lock-in, kill” (養套殺). The first 3 types are “direct attacks,” in which Chinese government directly uses its capital advantage to coerce and affect the economy and national security of Taiwan. The fourth type is “creating dependency,” in which Chinese government must first confirm that its target groups in Taiwan possess certain political influence, and ensure that the economic incentives provided are irreplaceable, so that it has a firm hold on the target groups, hence transferring its power indirectly to influence Taiwanese politics. Examples include the control of tourists and farming contracts to affect Taiwanese tourism businesses and farmers.
K.12 Democracy and unity, not witch-hunting nor ostracizing, are the purposes of studying Chinese influence operations
Chinese influence operations against Taiwan includes: cognitive warfare through information manipulation, interpersonal infiltration through personal connections, and economic influence operations through economic measures. They are gradually influencing and eroding Taiwan’s democratic systems and liberal societies.
IORG’s studies attempt to understand the causes, channels, and results of Chinese influence operations against Taiwan. Our motivation is not witch-hunting, ostracizing, pointing out the traitors. On the contrary, we hope to disclose these phenomenons through rigorous research, to understand the incentives of the collaborators, to explain their methods and effectiveness, and to reduce their impact through building mental and economic support, as well as political and defensive awareness.
Chinese influence operations against Taiwan are “telling bad stories of democracy.” The corresponding strategy to defend democracy is “telling Taiwan’s democracy stories well.” “Tell democracy stories well” is not simply spreading “propaganda” of the advantages of democracy, but the understanding of those areas that can be improved in a democracy. By recognizing differences, continuing conversations, and amending divisions, we can better our union and form a stronger defense of democracy.
K.13 Strengthening information literacy of citizens is the fundamental, long-term effective strategy in defending against information manipulation
Since the Kansai Airport incident in 2018, to COVID-19 in 2020, the method and content of Chinese information manipulation against Taiwan have evolved to be more diverse and sophisticated. However, their effectiveness seems to have not increased. IORG believes it is a result of the Taiwan public’s understanding and vigilance towards “fake news” and “false information.” Proactive clarifications from government agencies, fact-checking and academic research reports from civil society have all contributed to that capacity. Facing information manipulation ever more advanced, strengthening information literacy of the citizens is the fundamental, long-term effective strategy in boosting Taiwan’s “collective immunity” against cognitive threats from home and abroad.
K.14 Open data and intersectional collaboration can create concrete actions of civic participation in defending democracy
Civilian scientific research is the factual foundation of policy-making, civic education, and the defense of democracy. Chinese influence operations against Taiwan continue to evolve. New audiovisual interactive platforms, undisclosed or undocumented interpersonal interactions and capital flow, Chinese central and local Taiwan affairs command systems, pose serious limitations on non-governmental research bodies. IORG believes that open data or public information on activities, networks, and capital of Chinese influence operations can facilitate non-governmental research, increase civic awareness, and create concrete actions of civic participation in defending democracy.
Government agencies (e.g. Mainland Affairs Council, National Security Council, Military Intelligence Bureau), academic institutions (e.g. Academia Sinica), news media organizations, social media corporations (e.g. Facebook, LINE, YouTube), and civic organizations (e.g. Taiwan Fact-check Center, MyGoPen) should proactively examine its current policies, or the lack thereof, and institute policies of openness and transparency as the basis of public accountability and cross-discipline, intersectional collaboration. IORG will continue to connect all sectors of society and contribute to the foundation of defending Taiwan’s democracy.