China Now Has a Flying Propaganda Machine

Chinese Space Programme and Aerospace Power


If war breaks out, the Chinese would try ‘to broadcast disinformation, encouraging troops to desert or surrender,’ analysts note. Now Beijing has a tool to help spread the word.

The Chinese military has a new warplane with an unusual purpose: to beam propaganda and disinformation into hostile territory.

In that way, the new, four-engine Y-8GX7 psychological operations plane—also known by its Chinese name, Gaoxin-7—is analogous to the U.S. Air Force’s EC-130J, which it says “conducts military information support operations and civil affairs broadcasts in F.M. radio, television and military communications bands.”

A flying radio outpost might seem rather retro, even quaint, in the internet era. But in many of the world’s worst conflict zones, internet access is limited—and people still get much of their information from radio and television.

EC-130s—which has its own nickname, “Commando Solo”—and similar U.S. aircraft like it have broadcast propaganda in nearly all U.S. conflicts since the Vietnam War. Perhaps most famously, EC-130s flew over Libya during the 2011 international intervention in that country, in one case advising Libyan navy sailors to stop resisting and remain in port.

“If you attempt to leave port, you will be attacked and destroyed immediately,” the EC-130J crew warned via radio in English, French, and Arabic. A Dutch ham radio operator overheard and recorded the broadcast.

The headquarters’ location is no accident. Fujian is directly across the Taiwan Strait from Taiwan, China’s most bitter rival. The Chinese Communist Party in Beijing refuses to acknowledge Taiwan’s independence from the mainland and has threatened to invade the island country if the government in Taipei ever formally breaks away. The United States is obligated by U.S. law to defend Taiwan from attack.

Locating the psyops base in Fujian puts it within radio broadcast range of Taiwan. Since 1958, the PLA has produced the regular Voice of the Strait propaganda radio program targeting Taiwanese listeners. The new psyops plane could boost the radio propaganda effort—during peacetime and war.

“The addition of the Gaoxin-7 will greatly enhance and extend the reach of the PLA’s psyops activities against Taiwan,” noted Aaron Jensen, a former U.S. Air Force airman and academic who has written extensively about Taiwanese security issues.

If China ever attacked Taiwan, psyops—and, more specifically, the Gaoxin-7 planes—would probably play a major role in the fighting. The PLA “would likely seek to broadcast disinformation and propaganda across Taiwanese military networks, spreading confusion and encouraging Taiwanese troops to desert or surrender,” Jim Thomas, John Stillion, and Iskander Rehman wrote in a 2014 report for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

“PLA psychological operations might also be conducted by air, with the transmission of media from the recently-fielded Gaoxin-7,” Thomas, Stillion, and Rehman added.

Beyond Taiwan, the psyops Y-8GX7s could still prove useful to Beijing. China is locked in an increasingly tense—and occasionally violent—conflict with Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and other neighboring countries over East and South China Sea islands that two or more countries claim, and which could grant the clear owner legal access to potentially billions of dollars, worth of fisheries, oil, and natural gas.

In the last couple of years, Beijing has built airfields on several of these disputed islands. “With its medium-sized airframe, the Gaoxin-7 could operate from some of the [Chinese]-controlled islands,” Jensen wrote. Broadcasting propaganda to, say, Vietnamese or Philippine garrisons occupying other contested islands, the Y-8GX7 crews could try to convince the troops to mutiny—or at least wear down their morale and make management of far-flung forces harder for rival governments.

Full article: China Now Has a Flying Propaganda Machine (The Daily Beast)

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