On December 6th, the United States and Japan formalized their commitment to collaboratively address foreign information manipulation by signing a memorandum of cooperation. The Department of State further disclosed that a similar memorandum with the same objectives is imminent with South Korea. While specific nations were not explicitly identified as threats, the U.S. is rallying its Asian allies to counter alleged Chinese and North Korean influence operations aimed at undermining liberal democracies in the region.
The longstanding U.S. apprehension revolves around China’s purported influence operations targeting Japan and South Korea, which are intended to destabilize the trilateral alliance. This speculation gained traction following Meta’s announcement about the removal of 4,789 Facebook accounts originating from China that were disseminating messages related to U.S. politics and U.S.-China relations. Equally pivotal, however, is the perception of Chinese disinformation threats by U.S. allies in the region.
The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs held a press conference noting that the Japan-U.S. counter disinformation memorandum aims to strengthen their capabilities in detecting, analyzing, and responding to disinformation. Specific details about the mechanisms for achieving these objectives were not disclosed. On the same day, Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun analysis team released a report revealing that 139 Chinese-sponsored social media accounts disseminated false narratives, utilizing AI-generated images and videos. The contents claimed that the U.S. military’s secret experiments caused the Hawaii Fires that killed over 100 people. The analysis team concluded that this orchestrated disinformation campaign is part of China’s strategy to undermine the Japan-U.S. alliance by fostering negative perceptions of the U.S. armed forces among the Japanese public.
South Korea’s National Cyber Security Center issued a report highlighting the expanding influence operations conducted by China in online news media outlets. According to the report, China’s advertising company, Haimai, established 18 counterfeit South Korean online news media websites. These sites disseminated unverified political and social content under the guise of authentic South Korean media. In 2022, these deceptive media outlets echoed similar narratives to those observed in Japanese outlets, alleging that the U.S. military had conducted clandestine biological weapon experiments within South Korea. They supported these claims by referencing a fabricated YouTube video with the name of a South Korean broadcast channel. Furthermore, these outlets included comments asserting that the reconciliation of South Korea and Japan is merely a capitulation to U.S. interests, and the U.S. can never be a true friend to South Korea.
Nevertheless, the collective measures to counter Chinese disinformation do not disclose their principles and guidelines. They also do not explain how U.S. platform industries will engage with foreign governments. We contend that merely establishing a trilateral alliance is insufficient; the countries within this alliance must formulate more specific and robust principles to address state-backed influence operations. Simultaneously, they should strategize on how to safeguard fundamental rights of speech and expression while closely collaborating with private social media platforms.