China Creates Videos of Military Prowess to Intimidate Taiwan

Photo from social media of CCTV
A Chinese long-range rocket launcher is deployed.

BEIJING — The Chinese military sought to maximize its intimidation of Taiwan by disseminating video images during military exercises earlier this month, according to sources.

The military exercises were conducted April 8-10 around Taiwan in response to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen meeting U.S. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy in California.

While keeping the scale of the drills down, China appears to have focused on information operations by mobilizing the media. Beijing is said to be emphasizing cognitive warfare, and the latest exercises brought one aspect of it to light.

Cognitive warfare is a struggle for an advantageous situation by distributing information, sometimes false, through television, internet and other media that might confuse the enemy and cause it to misread the analysis of the situation and make a wrong decision. It is considered the sixth domain of operations following the traditional “land, sea and air” and later “space and cyber.”

Advance filming

On April 8, the Chinese military declared that the exercises would take place. Just about four hours later, the Chinese media broadcast videos of so-called images from the scene, showing the ground deployment of long-range rocket artillery units, the offshore navigation of destroyers and the aerial refueling of fighter jets, for example.

Photo from social media of CCTV
A Chinese fighter jet shows its underside to flaunt the missiles it is carrying.

“It isn’t possible to film, edit and broadcast videos of the military drills in such a short time,” said diplomatic sources in Beijing.

To back their contention, they also cited military censorship, which usually needs time because filming an exercise may show the performance of weapons and other sensitive information.

A Chinese source indicated that some of the videos were filmed in advance.

Filming is believed to have begun after it was decided that Tsai and McCarthy would meet on April 5.

“Although the scale of the exercise was smaller than last August’s exercises, a great deal of effort was put into flaunting the exercises on video,” the source told The Yomiuri Shimbun, adding that Beijing aimed through psychological warfare to achieve the same effects as from a large-scale exercise against Taiwan.

Control of information

Zhao Xiaozhuo, a researcher at China’s Academy of Military Science, told Chinese daily Global Times that the Chinese military sought to seize control of information as well as the sea and the skies.

Photo from social media of CCTV
A fighter jet takes part in a takeoff exercise from the Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong.

“A clear goal of the drill was to seize control of information, including conducting electronic suppressions on the radar and anti-missile bases on the island of Taiwan,” Zhao said, adding that it was important to deprive the opponent of its ability to communicate.

“There is no doubt that Beijing was waging cognitive warfare, not only by targeting Taiwan’s communication abilities but also through disseminating information,” said a diplomatic source.

During the exercises, Chinese media frequently showed videos of what they claimed to be the Chinese military’s drills of the day, as well as videos showing the underside of aircraft to emphasize that the fighter jets were carrying missiles. The aim was clearly to intimidate Taiwan by showing that Beijing could launch an attack immediately.

China also flaunted the actions of the aircraft carrier Shandong off the eastern coast of Taiwan. It is believed that Beijing aimed for the effect of intimidating Taiwan by simulating a blockade from all sides.

Some experts say that the latest exercises lacked cohesion compared to those conducted in August last year. Those large-scale exercises were conducted based on a scenario that China would invade Taiwan.

“I got the impression that it was merely a combination of different exercises, lacking coherence,” said a diplomatic source.

The Shandong entered southeast of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone for the first time. However, the source’s analysis showed that the carrier’s exercises were mainly takeoff and landing drills.