23 February 2019
The White House defended Donald Trump's false claims on the whereabouts of US warships in the Pacific region last month, saying the president had merely sought to confuse Pyongyang. Photo: Reuters
The White House defended Donald Trump's false claims on the whereabouts of US warships in the Pacific region last month, saying the president had merely sought to confuse Pyongyang. Photo: Reuters

Fake news and the North Korean crisis: Part 2

In my previous column, I talked about how “fake news” released by media outlets across the world on the ongoing North Korean nuclear crisis has led to widespread confusion. Now I am going to deleve into a key source of “fake news”, which is the US.

Ironically, the one who was releasing “fake news” about the boiling crisis on the Korean Peninsula was not any media outlet, but rather, the US president himself.

In early April, Donald Trump told Fox News during an exclusive TV interview that he was sending an “armada” to international waters off the Korean Peninsula in response to North Korea’s escalating nuclear aggression, and warned that Kim Jong-un was making a “very big mistake”.

The “armada” Trump was talking about during the interview actually referred to an aircraft carrier battle group led by USS Carl Vinson, which, according to him, was steaming towards the Korean Peninsula at full throttle.

And then it got better: on April 17, news came out that apart from the USS Carl Vinson battle group, the US was sending another two aircraft carriers: the USS Ronald Reagan and Nimitz, to the Yellow Sea in order to strengthen US military presence in the region and deter Pyongyang from firing another ballistic missile again.

At one point, it appeared the standoff on the Korean Peninsula was in such a touch-and-go situation that a war could be imminent.

However, as it later turned out, President Trump was just bluffing: when he told Fox News that the USS Carl Vinson was rushing towards the Korean Peninsula, the aircraft carrier was actually headed in the opposite direction towards the Indian Ocean to take part in a scheduled joint military exercise with the Australian navy.

As far as the USS Ronald Reagan and Nimitz were concerned, while the former was undergoing regular maintenance at a US naval base in Japan, the latter was carrying out a training mission off the coast of California.

In other words, at the time when Trump was boasting on national TV about his advancing “armada”, his fleets were actually hundreds of thousands of miles away from the Korean Peninsula.

So the truth is, if Pyongyang had decided to fire another missile into the Sea of Japan or detonate another nuclear device in April, there was indeed absolutely nothing Washington could have done to stop that.

Later the White House suggested that the president deliberately gave misinformation on the whereabouts of the fleet. It was done with two objectives: to demonstrate the president’s resolve to tackle North Korea head-on in front of the media, and to deceive and confuse Pyongyang.

In the meantime, some analysts believed Trump was pulling that trick on TV in order to turn up the heat on Beijing and urge it to step up its efforts to restrain the North Korean regime from doing anything stupid.

There was also a view that the misinformation about the naval deployment given by Trump was actually intended to distract Pyongyang’s attention so as to guarantee the safe shipment of the THAAD missile units to South Korea.

The “armada” saga in fact raises a fundamental question: who else can we rely on for true information about what is really happening on the Korean Peninsula when even the US government was lying in public?

Actually we do have some other sources and signs through which we can tell whether war is really likely to break out across the 38th parallel.

For example, it would be an unmistakable indication that situation on the Korean Peninsula is truly worsening if other countries, particularly China, started evacuating their diplomats and nationals from the region, like they did when the Libyan civil war broke out in 2011.

Another way we may find out whether the US is truly preparing for war against North Korea is by paying attention to the information released by mainstream media in Japan and South Korea and international NGOs based in the two countries.

It is because if Washington was really determined to wage war, Tokyo and Seoul would definitely be the first to know, and no matter how tight-lipped officials may be, under most circumstances, mainstream media outlets and international NGOs in these countries would always get wind of that.

And if foreign aid workers started pulling out, we can then tell that something big was probably going to happen soon.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 12

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]



Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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