Foreign Policy: China Steps Up Its Information War in Taiwan

Joining Tsai and Han in that contest is a third, unofficial contestant: Beijing. The Chinese government has undertaken a vast information influence campaign designed to support its favored candidates and sow distrust in Taiwan’s democracy.

China’s efforts go far beyond spreading disinformation and stale state propaganda. Beijing’s ambition is to shape the production, dissemination, and consumption of information in Taiwan. And as my colleagues and I argue in a forthcoming Brookings report, these efforts foreshadow a sophisticated strategy to influence every stage of the global information supply chain, from the people who produce content to the institutions that publish it and the platforms that deliver it directly to consumers. Democracies around the world should pay close attention to what happens in Taiwan’s election—for their own journalists, media companies, and platforms are fast becoming the focus of similar efforts by Beijing.

Chinese propaganda documents are unambiguous: information is a “battleground” for power, not a vehicle for truth, neutrality, or objectivity. Writings by leading figures in the Communist Party’s Propaganda Department reveal a belief that “the competition for news and public opinion is. . . a contest over ‘discourse power,’” or the ability to shape public opinion from the top down for political purposes. That is precisely what China is seeking to do in Taiwan.

The campaign amounts to more than spreading “fake news.” It is best understood as an information influence operation—a comprehensive attempt to control every step of the information supply chain. Targets range from those that create content (journalists and researchers) to the institutions that publish and validate it (television stations and wire services) and, finally, to the platforms that often provide the final link to consumers (social media sites and digital TV infrastructure). Over the last decade, China has inserted itself at each point in the information supply chain. And now, with a consequential election around the corner, it is intensifying these efforts.

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