State media and a social media account linked to China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have moved to quell rumors that China is preparing to annex Taiwan, after the commerce ministry in Beijing told people to stock up on essential food items ahead of the winter.
The Junzhengping Studio accounts on Weibo and WeChat hit out at online rumors that the PLA was recalling military veterans to prepare for war.
“It’s easy for people who don’t know the truth to spread misunderstanding and misjudgment, with unpredictable consequences,” the account said in a post late on Nov. 2, in reference to claims about the “call-up.”
“After checking the facts with the relevant departments, we can report that this is just a rumor,” the account, which is closely affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army Daily, the PLA’s official paper.
The ministry of commerce on Monday issued a directive to local governments calling on them to strengthen reserves of essential goods ahead of the coming winter, to avoid skyrocketing prices and supply chain failure.
But it also called on them to “encourage families to store a certain amount of daily necessities to meet the needs of daily life and emergencies [and] strengthen the construction of emergency delivery networks,” fueling the online talk of war amid heightened military tension caused by the PLA’s hundreds of incursions into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in recent months.
Video clips sent to RFA showed shoppers at an unnamed supermarket in the eastern province of Jiangsu scrambling and shoving each other to pick up supplies, with panic-buying reported in some areas.
Online videos showed the beginnings of a doomsday prepper mentality in China, with people showing off their secret store-cupboards packed with emergency supplies, including water, gas canisters, food rations, and gadgets for generating emergency electricity.
Panic-buying was also reported in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing, the central province of Henan and the eastern province of Anhui.
Ling Zhenbao, a resident of Jiangsu’s Yangzhou city, said the government was causing panic by sending out mixed messages.
“We keep getting communities locked down as the pandemic repeats itself, and tensions in the Taiwan Strait and various other online reports have led people to fear a potential shortage of daily necessities,” Ling told RFA on Thursday.
“This has triggered a wave of panic-buying, and the notice from the ministry of commerce just added fuel to the flames,” he said.
‘Magnifying glass effect’
Hu Xijin, editor of the CCP-linked Global Times, said many people appeared to believe the directive meant that an invasion of Taiwan was imminent.
“This was caused by the magnifying glass effect of public opinion at a sensitive time,” Hu wrote on Weibo. “In my opinion, the situation in the Taiwan Strait region is certainly tense, but I have not seen any sign of the absolute urgency that would show that … things could kick off at any time.”
But he added: “If [Taiwan’s ruling] Democratic Progressive Party (DDP) insists on going its own way, then war is the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.”
“War is a powerful deterrent.”
Hu said “unification,” with Taiwan, which has never been ruled by the CCP nor formed part of the People’s Republic of China, and whose 23 million people have no wish to be governed from Beijing, was inevitable.
“Whether it happens through overwhelming military force … or due to desperation by those in charge there, only history will tell,” Hu wrote.
The rumors of war came as a Pentagon report warned that China is expanding its nuclear arsenal faster than anticipated.
China could have 700 deliverable nuclear warheads by 2027, and more than 1,000 by 2030 — an arsenal two-and-a-half times the size of what the Pentagon predicted only a year ago, the Nov. 3 report said.
By 2027, China aims to have the “capabilities to counter the US military in the Indo-Pacific region, and compel Taiwan’s leadership to the negotiation table on Beijing’s terms,” the report said.
As the CCP’s “public opinion guidance” machinery was trying to dial back talk of war in China, Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen hosted a delegation from the European Parliament, whose members recommended the island as an excellent base from which to counter the CCP’s propaganda and information warfare operations.
“We look forward to the establishment of a democratic alliance against disinformation,” Tsai told the delegation in Taipei on Thursday.
Delegation leader Raphaël Glucksmann responded by saying: “We came here with a very simple, very clear message: You are not alone. Europe is standing with you.”
In later comments on Friday, he said Europe could benefit from closer ties.
“We can benefit a lot as Europeans from a closer cooperation with Taiwan in the fight against disinformation,” Glucksmann told a press event wrapping up the delegation’s trip, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency.
The EU is now considering building a hub to combat disinformation and the whole delegation agreed that “it should be Taiwan,” he said. “That actually makes a lot of sense, the partnership should grow and get deeper and deeper,” he said.
Tao Yi-fen, associate professor of politics at National Taiwan University, said European countries seem to be focusing more on the region since CCP leader Xi Jinping launched a more aggressive foreign policy, including infiltration of democratic countries under the umbrella of the United Front Work Department.
“They didn’t care so much about [East] Asia before, but Xi Jinping’s growing expansionism [changed all that],” Tao said.
“Their expectations of China have likely been dashed to a large extent during the past few years,” he said. “That’s why we will see more and more efforts to be friendly to Taiwan, or to strengthen ties.”
Chang Pai-ta of the Taiwan Cross-Strait Policy Association said Taiwan, which lives under the threat of military annexation by China, needs all of the allies it can get.
“The main problem facing Taiwan diplomacy is pressure from China,” Chang said. “The EU and the European Parliament, as a collective mechanism, can help [us] resist pressure from Beijing together.”
“Taiwan is in a tough situation, diplomatically, and needs to place value on ties with Europe as well as Japan and the U.S.,” he said.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.