The Republic of China (Taiwan) flag, left, flies beside a People's Republic of China flag. Photo: Weibo
The Republic of China (Taiwan) flag, left, flies beside a People's Republic of China flag in Taipei. Photo: Weibo

Beijing has set up an agency tasked with disseminating disinformation in Taiwan in a bid to sway public sentiment and widen rifts, Taiwanese officials say.

Taiwan’s national security and communications departments say China aims to tarnish Taiwan and spread fake news among its residents.

The comments came after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen warned in her National Day speech this month that citizens should stay alert when the island is flooded with disinformation from China.

One recent example is a fabricated account of Taiwanese envoys’ supposed failure to assist Taiwanese tourists stranded at Kansai Airport in Osaka when Typhoon Jebi swept through in September.

The claim was traced to an IP address in Beijing and attributed to a Chinese government task force responsible for tarnishing the Tsai administration by spreading disinformation on everyday issues through social media and other online platforms, the Taipei Times reported.

The Chinese government allegedly pays cash rewards to individuals when their fake news is picked up by media outlets in Taiwan.

Also, shortly after Burkina Faso severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in May, Chinese people spread a rumor on Taiwan’s popular online forums that Honduras had been in talks with Beijing and would also cut ties with the island nation. That triggered a dismissal from Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry.

The post, which caused uproar on social media, was later traced to a Chinese “disinformation mill” in Taiwan allegedly backed by the Chinese government.

The prevalence of social-media platforms has exacerbated the spread of misinformation and created more rifts and factions within Taiwanese society, officials said.

Meanwhile, Tsai has reportedly instructed local information and security agencies to establish a mechanism to track and respond to fake news, the source said.

Having information audited by a third party that can inform the public about false information was one possible solution, while another is to get a government agency monitor online information and respond to it through legal systems and institutions, the source said.

Yet the government would have to tread carefully not to infringe on people’s right to freedom of speech, the source said.