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Chinese state media stoked allegation Taiwan's president would flee war

TAIPEI — Taiwan's outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen plans to flee in a US plane if war erupts with China, according to an unsubstantiated report first published in 2021 and echoed in the run-up to the island's January 2024 general election.

Another story said Tsai had given her confidantes VIP "runaway" passes.

They are among the many unsupported tales of Tsai's preparations to escape harm that have been fed into the island by Chinese state media outlets, according to an analysis conducted for Reuters by the Information Environment Research Centre (IORG), a Taiwan-based non-government organisation.

The IORG analysis revealed that the narrative that Ms Tsai planned to flee if war broke out with China, and that Taiwan's military drills were rehearsals for this, originated with an outlet controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in June 2021, and was quickly repeated by other official Chinese news sources.

Taipei has repeatedly said the reports are false. The government has not publicly detailed its plans for the leadership in the event of conflict.

Reuters could not independently determine the existence of any such escape plans.

Reuters asked IORG to analyse the origin of the stories about Taiwan's military drills because the exercises drew Chinese ire and significant international coverage.

IORG is a non-partisan group of social scientists and data analysts funded by academic institutions and organisations supported financially by UK and the United States.

The organisation found over 400 stories portraying the military exercises, including the annual Han Kuang drills, as rehearsals for Taiwan's leadership to desert, in what IORG said appeared to be a concerted attempt by Beijing to undermine the ruling Democratic