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China “ provocative '' pressures Taiwan with fighters, fake news amid virus epidemic


TAIPEI (Reuters) – China pressures Taiwan with "provocative" air force maneuvers near the island and spreads false news to sow discord during coronavirus epidemic, according to security sources and government officials in Taiwan.

FILE PHOTO: An F-16 fighter jet takes off during a military exercise at Zhi-Hang Air Base in Taitung, Taiwan on January 30, 2018. REUTERS / Tyrone Siu

The epidemic has strained already weak ties between Taipei and Beijing, with Taiwan being particularly angry at China's efforts to block its participation in the World Health Organization (WHO).

The two governments have also argued over the fate of about 1,000 Taiwanese stranded in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, and China has taken no obvious steps to respond to offers of help against the Taiwanese president's virus. Tsai Ing-wen.

Tsai was re-elected by a landslide in January, pledging to stand up to Beijing. China thinks that it wants to push for the official independence of the island, which it claims as its own. Tsai denies this, claiming that Taiwan is already an independent nation called the Republic of China, its official name.

Last month, Taiwan reported three nearby Chinese Air Force exercises and, in two cases, Taiwanese fighter planes rushed to intercept them.

Two sources familiar with the situation told Reuters that in one case, the radar of a Chinese fighter locked on one of the Taiwanese planes. In combat, it is a precursor to a missile launch.

"This is a very provocative move by China," said one of the sources, who both spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the news. 39; case.

The Taiwan Air Force said it was not aware of the incident, but that it was fully aware of Chinese military movements near the island.

The Chinese Ministry of Defense did not respond to a request for comment.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian answered a question about the recent exercises last week, saying that the ruling Democratic Party in Taiwan "is playing with fire" and that any attempt to independence was "doomed to failure".


China's actions angered Taiwan, which told Beijing that it should focus on fighting the virus.

"Xi Jinping is trying to argue that he still controls the military," Wang Ting-yu, a member of the defense committee of the Taiwanese parliament, told Reuters. "China uses external problems to relieve internal pressure."

Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu called the military movements a “cyber” war of fake news from China about the virus.

The false reports, which the Taiwan government quickly quashed, include false statements that the island covers the actual number of cases – officially 41 and one death – and that Tsai has been infected.

Taiwan claims that many messages include expressions only used in China, as well as simplified Chinese characters, which are not used on the island.

The Taiwan investigation office also warned that China was trying to undermine confidence in the factual information – and disrupt disease control measures – by describing Taiwan's official announcements on the epidemic as fake news from China.

So far, pressure and online campaigns seem to have had little effect.

A survey by the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation last week found high approval rates for Tsai's Chinese policy, as well as great distrust of the Chinese Communist Party's ability to control the virus. .

Tracking and reporting fake news about the suspected virus epidemic with links to the "mainland cyber army" has become a top priority for several national security agencies in Taiwan, said an official. security at Reuters on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.

The Chinese Business Bureau of Taiwan and the Internet regulator did not respond to requests for comment.

"We were told to verify whether the origins are linked to instructions given by the Communist Party, using all possible means," said the person, adding that the authorities have increased control over online platforms, including discussion forums.

Report by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Additional report by Ryan Woo in Beijing. Editing by Gerry Doyle

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