A Taiwanese news channel mistakenly aired a fictitious alert that Chinese armed forces had launched an invasion, firing missiles at cities and ports surrounding the capital, Taipei.
Several news captions declaring a violent attack by the People’s Liberation Army of China had been faked for the upcoming security drills, but were accidentally released to Taiwanese viewers at 7 a.m. Wednesday.
“New Taipei City was hit by communist missiles, Taipei Port was blown up, facilities and ships were damaged and destroyed,” the Chinese Television Systems (CTS) ticker read.
“On the brink of war… The Chinese Communist Party is preparing for war… The president has issued an emergency order.”
The partly government-owned station CTS broadcast a “clarification and apology” hours later, saying the report was created in conjunction with emergency services for the drills, but was released accidentally.
“[Yesterday] CTS news channel cooperated with the New Taipei City Government Fire Bureau to record a disaster prevention video. On the 20th, due to an improper setting by the production team, we mistakenly flashed yesterday’s messages on war and disaster prevention. People don’t need to panic.
The New Taipei Fire Department told the Guardian that the false alarms were to be broadcast on May 5 during annual disaster response drills, which this year will include a missile attack scenario.
“The drill includes an earthquake scene, tsunami, bridge collapse and explosion,” a spokesperson said. “This year, our boss said that we will also include the war scenario in the exercise… This is the first time for a few years.”
Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said he was “surprised to hear the news”. Chiu said the military responded quickly to verify and dispel the erroneous alert. The mistake was “a good lesson for our journalist friends”, he said.
Screenshots of the show have spread across Taiwan’s social media, with some people expressing concern, some laughing at the error and others criticizing the broadcaster and the media in general. “An unforgivable mistake, and maybe not a mistake,” said one. “Severe penalties are needed, they have caused social panic,” said another.
In China, the error was seen or discussed by more than a million people on Weibo, under the hashtag: “Taiwanese media make a big goal”.
Taiwanese opposition politicians called on regulators to punish the station for causing panic. Li Yong-de, the culture minister who handles overseas public broadcasting, apologized. In a statement, CTS issued a “sincere apology that this serious breach has caused panic among the public and unrest to affected units,” and said those responsible would be punished.
Taiwan has lived under the threat of invasion from neighboring China for decades. The ruling Communist Party considers Taiwan to be a separatist province from China and does not rule out using force to “unify” it. Taiwan rejects Beijing’s request, saying it is already an independent nation.
Under the increasingly authoritarian regime of Xi Jinping, the Chinese government and armed forces have increased economic, diplomatic and military pressure on Taiwan, including disinformation and propaganda campaigns. Over the past two years, there has been a marked increase in air force sorties into the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone and other military exercises designed to intimidate Taiwan, including the Air Force scrambles in response to each incursion.
Taiwan has been considered the most at risk of invasion for several decades, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has alarmed the island’s leaders and people, but few analysts or observers believe that such an attack on Taiwan is imminent.