How The ‘China is a Threat’ Fake News Cycle Works

Here is a nice example how the U.S. keeps certain issues in the news and thereby propagandizes its people against its perceived enemies.

On Friday several news agencies and outlets falsely claimed that Chinese airplanes had ‘intruded Taiwan’s airspace’. In fact the planes had crossed into an imaginative air ‘identification zone’ hundreds of miles from Taiwan.

As the fake news died down someone in the White House, Pentagon or Congress thought about how to revive the theme to strengthen anti-Chinese sentiment.

“A: Is there something that is not secret and that we can hand to some scribe that allows for another ‘China threat’ news cycle?”

“B: Hmm. How about our troops in Taiwan?”

“A: Good idea. That will do.”

So A, B and maybe also C called up a Wall Street Journal scribe and proceeded. Here is the result:

WSJ News Exclusive – U.S. Troops Have Been Deployed in Taiwan for at Least a Year
Small presence of Americans secretly training local forces marks concern over China’s yearslong military buildup and recent moves

WASHINGTON—A U.S. special-operations unit and a contingent of Marines have been secretly operating in Taiwan to train military forces there, U.S. officials said, part of efforts to shore up the island’s defenses as concern regarding potential Chinese aggression mounts.

About two dozen members of U.S. special-operations and support troops are conducting training for small units of Taiwan’s ground forces, the officials said. The U.S. Marines are working with local maritime forces on small-boat training. The American forces have been operating in Taiwan for at least a year, the officials said.

The U.S. special-operations deployment is a sign of concern within the Pentagon over Taiwan’s tactical capabilities in light of Beijing’s yearslong military buildup and recent threatening moves against the island.

Taiwan and U.S. officials have expressed alarm over nearly 150 flights near Taiwan in the past week by Chinese military aircraft. The Chinese aircraft have included …

There follow in total 1200 words of general ‘China is a threat’ sentiment.

There is one problem though. The deployment of some troops, including special forces, in Taiwan is neither a secret nor new nor newsworthy.

Taiwan regularly buys U.S. weapon systems. These typically come with training. The U.S. has therefore had for years some dozens of troops in Taiwan. These are usually trainers for the specific weapon systems Taiwan purchases from the U.S. There are also a number of Department of Defense civil personnel in Taiwan also related to weapon sales.

Since 2017 the Pentagon’s Department Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) provides quarterly spreadsheets which list all countries where DOD personnel, active, reserve or civilian, are permanently on duty.

As of June 30 2021 there were 30 active troops in Taiwan on permanent duty: 0 Army, 2 Navy, 23 Marines and 5 Airforce. There were also 15 civilian DoD employees in Taiwan.

The numbers and composition of the permanently deployed troops fluctuate over time. At the end of last year there were 20 active duty troops and 15 civilians there, one more than half a year earlier. In mid 2019 there were 8 troops and 16 civilians. Numbers going back to 2008 are available. Each file I checked lists a few U.S. troops in Taiwan. Sometimes more, sometimes less.

A number of U.S. Marines are also guarding the American Institute in Taiwan which is the de facto U.S. Embassy on the island. The Marines also guard other U.S. embassies. But in Taiwan they are not ‘active’ troops listed in the DMDC database:

The American Institute is a nonprofit organization composed of former U.S. government officials who “retire” or take leave to work there — processing visas and handling other consular services — so as not to upset relations.

The special forces are on a temporary deployment in Taiwan and are thus also not listed in the DMDC database. But their current deployment is no secret either. It was announced in June by Taiwan’s defense minister:

Taiwan News reported that the Taiwanese defense minister said “multiple U.S. special forces units” will arrive in the country to train with their Taiwanese counterparts following the Han Kuang 37 military exercise.

Han Kuang 37 is Taiwan’s largest annual military exercise that simulates a full-scale enemy invasion in a worst-case scenario lasting eight days, Newsweek reported. The goal is to repel a Chinese invasion for a full week, the report said.

The Taiwanese defense ministry also said Taiwan-U.S. military training and exchanges have been “frequent,” due to China’s military threat against Taiwan.

This years Han Kuang exercise was delayed but took place last month. The U.S. special force deployment was announced to come after that exercise which would be about now.

When Taiwan’s defense minister says that Taiwan-U.S. military training and exchanges have been “frequent” and not secret one wonders why the WSJ claims that their  current deployment “is a sign of concern within the Pentagon”.

The WSJ also writes:

Asian media reports last year suggesting a possible U.S. Marine deployment in Taiwan were never confirmed by U.S. officials. The presence of U.S. special operations forces hasn’t been previously reported.

While the ‘presence’ of U.S. special force many not have been ‘previously reported’ their upcoming deployment was loudly announced months ago. To claim that these are ‘secret’ deployments as the WSJ piece does is simply nonsense.

But that will not matter. Within the next 24 hours the WSJ ‘exclusive’ piece will have been picked up by dozens of other outlets and agencies all of which will use it to rehash the previous anti-China claims.

Some ‘officials’ make some (false) claims. Some scribe writes those down in a dramatic tone. Other scribes then copy and rewrite the ‘exclusive’ without ever checking its validity.

It is how the news cycle works.