Conflicts - TensionsNortheast AsiaWeapons Proliferation

Disinformation in Taiwan resembles discredited PRC, Russian propaganda


Disinformation circulating in Taiwan regarding banned biological weapons bears the hallmarks of previously debunked propaganda campaigns linked to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Russia.

Taiwan and the United States have unequivocally denied allegations claiming that the U.S. approached the self-governed island about developing illegal weapons. Russia invented similar claims in its attempts to justify the Kremlin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

A U.S. State Department spokesman told Singapore news agency CNA there is no truth to the allegations and affirmed, “The United States is in full compliance with its obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and does not develop or possess such weapons anywhere — nor do we support anyone else to do so.”

The U.S. was among the first signatories to the international BWC in 1972, agreeing to the global ban that was enacted six years after the U.S. ceased its offensive biological weapons program. Taiwan also signed the ban and continues to abide by the prohibition on developing, stockpiling or using biological weapons.

Taiwan’s government has noted that fabricated documents purported to come from its Ministry of Defense — and published by a lone media source attempting to substantiate the biological weapons claims — resemble known instances of PRC disinformation, according to the Focus Taiwan news agency. Further linking the forgery to Beijing, Taiwan said the documents’ creators did not seem to understand “separation of party and state,” the Taipei Times newspaper reported.

The U.S. works with dozens of nations to detect, diagnose and report infectious disease outbreaks, and improve biosecurity. During the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S.-supported laboratories provided support such as diagnostic testing and sample analysis. Backing from the Department of Defense (DOD) Cooperative Threat Reduction program has also helped build capacity for public and animal health initiatives and training for frontline biosecurity experts.

Equipment and training provided by the U.S., including from the DOD, is subject to U.S. laws and regulations to ensure transparency as well as compliance with World Health Organization requirements. The U.S. also discloses its threat-reduction activities to other BWC parties in accordance with treaty provisions that encourage cooperation to prevent disease or serve other peaceful purposes, Rand Corp., a U.S.-based global policy think tank, reported.

Russia — to which the U.S. provided similar assistance until 2014 — has long attempted to sow disinformation claiming a Ukraine-U.S. public health partnership was evidence of “bioweapon” development. Russian President Vladimir Putin used the falsehood as he attempted to rationalize his war on Ukraine.

Scientists inside and outside Russia have said the claims are untrue and that Moscow has no proof to support the accusations. In a formal 2022 meeting of parties to the BWC, more than 35 states joined the U.S. in rejecting Russia’s discredited assertions, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists media organization.

Chinese Communist Party officials have repeated the fiction at news conferences and on official social media accounts, following a pattern of disseminating disinformation about biological security research, viruses such as COVID-19 and the U.S.-Taiwan partnership.

The latest disinformation aimed at Taiwan distorts the truth about a biosafety lab planned by its Ministry of National Defense, which aims to strengthen the island’s ability to prevent a pandemic as well as detect biological weapons. Such measures are crucial to maintaining readiness, Dan Regan and Rhys Dubin, fellows at the Janne E. Nolan Center on Strategic Weapons at the Washington, D.C.-based Council on Strategic Risks, wrote for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

“This devastating combination of disease, conflict, and blatant misinformation makes biodefense — global efforts to counter biological threats, reduce biological risks, and prepare and respond to natural or artificial biological incidents — more vital than ever,” they said.

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