False Rumors Of A Coup In China Go Viral On Social Media Platforms This Weekend

Since late Friday rumors of a possible coup attempt in China stormed social media platforms across the world. Within 24 hours the rumors had become so prevalent that #ChinaCoup and related hashtags were trending on Twitter and news of the alleged coup went viral. The first reports spoke of long columns of People’s Liberation Army vehicles seen on the highways in and around Beijing. These were followed up by posts indicating airspace in and around Beijing and other areas of China had been shut down and all train and bus travel was cancelled. On Saturday, the real meat and potatoes of the coup rumors broke out stating ‘reliable sources’ had confirmed that Chinese President Xi Jinping was under house arrest and the military had taken over control of the city.

Naturally, credible news sources reported nothing of a coup or the arrest of Jinping. Mainly because there was no coup attempt and Jinping was not under house arrest. Social media took the unconfirmed news and ran with it, as social media has a tendency of doing. The topic grew in popularity throughout Saturday and only started to diminish once it became clear through credible sources that nothing of concern was going on in Beijing or elsewhere in China.

As for what started the rumors, this remains unknown for now. Events last week inside of China could’ve inspired the rather creative coup news. While Jinping was at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in Uzbekistan, two former ministers were sentenced to death and four other former officials were sentenced to life in prison as part of Jinping’s heavy-handed crackdown on corruption in Chinese politics. This was followed by Jinping departing from public view upon his return from the SCO meeting.

The China coup rumors highlight an ever-present danger of social media. It does not take very much for erroneous news to trend and appear legitimate. In these times of uncertainty, widespread fake news and rumors on social media could result in violence, damage, and loss of life in the real world. Or worse. Unfortunately, social media is also quite vulnerable to being weaponized by a nation-state for its own needs and interests. As we move deeper into the 2020s, the probability of this happening at some point in the near future is increasing.

Taiwan Policy Act Will Not Go Unchallenged By China

With the Taiwan Policy Act (TPA) having advanced past its first obstacle on the road to legislation, the People’s Republic of China is sending warnings to Washington over its progress. Even though TPA is a long distance away from becoming law, the prospect of it becoming reality is causing concern in Beijing. And for good reason. Provisions embedded in the act would give Taiwan $6.5 Billion in financing for US-manufactured weapon systems. The US would also treat Taiwan along the lines of a ‘major non-NATO ally’ and allow the prospect of expedited arms sales.

China’s foreign ministry lodged complaints over TPA with the US government on Thursday. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning claims it “seriously breaches the US commitment to China on the Taiwan question,” and violates the “One-China” principle. Ning also called on Washington to  “stop playing the Taiwan card”  and refrain from using Taiwan as an instrument to “contain China.”

Some politicians in Washington, as well as a number of defense and geopolitical analysts, are concerned TPA is highly provocative and could prompt Chinese leadership to take action. US-China relations are already tense enough in the wake of Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August. The Chinese response to that was prompt, bellicose and very visible. In the weeks leading up to the House Speaker’s visit included numerous warnings by the Chinese government, both private and public. Yet by issuing those warnings Beijing painted Washington into a corner it could not extricate itself without suffering significant embarrassment.

In this situation, if TPA continues to advance, China may find itself in a similar box.   Later in the coming week I plan to discuss this more. For tomorrow or Tuesday we’ll shift gears back to Central Asia where two conflicts involving former-Soviet republics are now underway.

China’s Influence In The Solomon Islands On The Rise

China’s influence in the South Pacific is on the rise and this should be causing concern in Washington and Canberra. Last week’s refusal by the government of the Solomon Islands to allow a US Coast Guard ship to make a scheduled port call on Guadalcanal has raised eyebrows around the region. A Royal Navy ship was also apparently denied a port call as well. The two ships were undertaking an international mission to prevent illegal fishing in the Solomon Islands area. The USCG ship sailed on to Papua New Guinea and put in at Port Moresby. It is unclear if the British ship followed suit.

China’s influence in the Solomon Islands stems from Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare signing a security pact with Beijing. The main fear attached to the pact is that it gives China the opportunity to establish a military presence in the Solomon Islands, in close proximity to Australia, New Zealand and Guam. Sogavare beginning to excel in the role of bootlicker to his Chinese allies. Earlier this month he did not attend a memorial service marking the anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal, a major US victory in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II. By continuing to thumb his nose at the United States, Sogavare appears to be attempting to gain favor with his Chinese allies. At the present rate it will likely be just a matter of time before Chinese fishing vessels start to visit the waters around the Solomon Islands. From there the tempo will increase, perhaps in a manner similar to what we recently saw in Sri Lanka.

The South Pacific certainly deserves some monitoring in the coming months.

Note: Ukraine seems to be heating up a bit, so that will be our next stop tomorrow or Wednesday.

The Next Strait Crisis: Political Posturing Phase Part II

Joe Biden’s pledge to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack seems to have been an off the cuff move by the American president. It certainly raised eyebrows and alarm bells across the world, signaling a shift in long-standing US policy. In one instant Biden removed all ambiguity over the US military’s role in the event of a Chinese attack on Taiwan. Or did he? Even now, weeks later, it’s difficult to determine how sincere Biden’s comments were. There was a considerable amount of backstepping by the White House in the days after Biden’s pledge especially on the matter of how the US now regards the One-China policy.

In the eyes of many in Taiwan and in other areas of the Western Pacific, the United States is now committed to Taiwan’s defense should hostilities break out. Biden’s pledge carries a considerable amount of weight. If China managed to call Biden’s bluff somehow, the ramifications the security and stability of the Western Pacific would be altered significantly and not in Washington’s favor. An outbreak of fighting between China and Taiwan would have a similar effect of US forces remained on the sidelines.

With a new Taiwan Strait crisis lurking on the horizon, the Biden Administration needs to come to terms with the fact its pledge might bring the US and China to blows.

Note: The week has sort of gotten away from me here. I was hoping to get this out earlier, but the opportunity never came about. I want to discuss the US pledge to defend Taiwan more. Hopefully I can get another more detailed entry out by the end of the weekend on this subject.

The Next Strait Crisis: Political Posturing Phase Part I

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen took advantage of the sixty-fourth anniversary of the beginning of the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis to warn China that it will defend itself and inflict heavy casualties upon an invader in the event of an attack. Tsai’s remarks come during a tense period of time in the region following US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan earlier this month. In response to the visit, China flexed its military muscle with a series of large-scale military exercises in and around Taiwan Strait.

Tsai has pointed to these maneuvers as proof of China’s intent to permanently change the status quo in the Strait and around the Western Pacific. At the same time, Taiwan’s leader is moving to encourage the country’s ‘democratic partners’ to stand together in defiance of Beijing’s intentions. Her attempts are focused firmly upon the United States. US politicians are also maneuvering and the same holds true for the Chinese.

We are on the verge of the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis and all of the major players are presently posturing for the drama to come. Beijing, Washington and Taiwan are emphatically presenting their respective positions to the rest of the world. As mentioned above, Taiwan is also making efforts to compare its current plight to that of Ukraine in hopes of generating international support.

Following Pelosi’s visit to Taipei, China is forced to determine just how ‘official’ Pelosi’s discussions and activities were. Beijing has viewed the United States as gradually moving away from the One-China Policy for years now.  Pelosi’s visit, coupled with the stream of other less-known US politicians visiting Taiwan in recent weeks could signal that the policy is for all purposes now dead. If this is the view being taken in Beijing, China will need to formulate a forceful response to demonstrate its displeasure with the perceived US shift.

The Biden Administration is caught in an unenviable position. Pelosi’s visit has placed the White House squarely in a box and is pushing the United States closer to a possible confrontation with China.  I’ll discuss that more in the next post either tomorrow or Thursday.