Military picture that shows a Chinese ship terrifyingly close to Taiwan is supposedly a fake

The Chinese ship appeared closer to Taiwan than it really was.

Tan Min-Wei | August 11, 2022, 07:11 PM

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A set of widely circulated photographs from the recent People's Liberation Army (PLA) military exercises appears to have been doctored, according to Taiwanese fact checking non-government organisation Taiwan FactCheck Center (TFC).

China claims its ships came close to Taiwan's territorial waters

The pictures were released by the PLA Daily Weibo account, as well as official state media Xinhua News Agency on Aug. 5. The pictures appear to show PLA assets taking part in military exercises within sight of the island of Taiwan.

The ships were likely in the area in support of what Xinhua called "joint blockade operations" and live-fire exercises that were being held in six areas in the north, southwest, and east of Taiwan island. These exercises were scheduled to take place between Aug. 4 to 7, but continued until Aug. 10. 

Taiwan is considered a renegade province by China, which has yet to rule out the use of force to bring the island under its control. 

Two pictures in the Xinhua article show what is purported to be a Taiwanese navy ship. Both pictures show a tall mountain range in the background.

One of the pictures purportedly show the Republic of China Navy (ROCN) Lan Yang, judging from the numbers 935 painted on its side.

Image via Xinhua

But one has become familiar in recent times, and has been reproduced in many news outlets, including the South China Morning Post, Financial Times and The Straits Times.

The picture shows a PLA Navy (PLAN) soldier standing on a Chinese naval vessel in the foreground, with the Taiwanese ship in the middle ground. The ship's identification number can't be seen, and some mountains can be seen in the background with a faint chimney on the far shore.

Image via Xinhua

Using the picture, Chinese media claimed that Chinese navy had sailed into Taiwan's 12-nautical mile (roughly 22km) territorial waters without being stopped, and even put an exact number on how close it came: 11.78 km. A pro-Beijing Taiwanese media outlet had also reported on the same, citing the report from Chinese media.

Chinese media had also claimed that the picture showed the eastern side of Taiwan island, with the chimney belonging to the Heping power station.

However, these claims have been refuted by the Taiwanese defence ministry. In a tweet, the ministry said that no PLAN ship had entered Taiwan's territorial waters during the exercises.


Look again

In addition, TFC has disputed the veracity of these pictures, claiming that they appeared to be doctored.

Of the most widely circulated picture, which the one with the PLAN soldier in the foreground, it identified the mountains in the background as the Hualien mountain range.

A picture that included the soldier, the ROCN ship, and the power plant in the same shot with the clarity obtained would require a photographer with a telephoto lens standing at a distance that a navy ship could not possibly accommodate, according to TFC.

It also pointed out that even though the ROCN ships in both pictures shared a similar silhouette, only the hull number on one was visible, but was absent in the other, therefore making the two pictures "contradictory".

Image from the Taiwan FactCheck Center

Furthermore, an expert the TFC spoke to cast doubt on the pictures, saying that the silhouettes of both the PLAN soldier and the mid-ground ship was too "clean". In his opinion the picture was likely to be a composite.

Image from the Taiwan FactCheck Center

Chinese online users mock Taiwan's military capabilities

The picture seems to have become emblematic of the recent spate of PLA military drills as the possibility of it being constructed suggests that China wants to project a certain image to the world, even if the reality did not quite match.

The PLA was portrayed a lurking presence that's within close striking distance of Taiwan. Commenters on Weibo noted the age of the ROCN Lan Yang, a 50-year-old ship sold to Taiwan by the United States Navy. They also noted the rust marks along the ship's hull, joking that it would not be able to adequately resist the newer PLAN ships.

If the picture has indeed been doctored, it would stand to reason that the inclusion of the Lan Yang would not have been a coincidence, and that it was likely chosen to play up the difference in capabilities that has come as a result of China's ambitious military reforms.

Turning it into a meme

The exercises have been held in retaliation for U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's unannounced visit to Taiwan, in spite of China's government forcefully warning her against it. China has framed the visit as an affront to its one China policy, which it insists governments around the world adhere to.

In addition to the exercises, it has put in place de facto economic sanctions against Taiwan, as well as severely limiting bilateral diplomatic ties with the U.S.

Despite this, Western countries appear to be doubling down, with United Kingdom and now German legislators announcing that they would be visiting Taiwan before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Taiwanese social media appears to be taking it all in their stride, using their own photoshop skills to suggest other ways China might show its naval might.

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Top image via Getty & @taiwanmemes/twitter