Old photos of North Korean military drill falsely shared as China ‘preparing for Taiwan attack’

Photos of a military exercise on a beach have been shared hundreds of times online alongside claims in Chinese and Spanish that they show the Chinese army preparing to attack Taiwan. The posts circulated after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s historic visit to the self-ruled island. But the photos have been shared in a false context. They were actually taken in North Korea as the country celebrated the 85th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army in 2017.

“We will wait and see, thousands of years of peace will depend on this move, if you don’t fight (Taiwan), it proves that you are a coward,” reads the post‘s caption in simplified Chinese shared on Twitter on August 2.

The post — retweeted more than 230 times — includes two photos of a military exercise on a beach.

A third image shows a map that appears to indicate how the Chinese military might attack Taiwan.

Simplified Chinese text has been overlaid on the map which translates to English as: “Ready for battle”.

A screenshot, taken on August 11, 2022, of the misleading post.

The claim circulated online as US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan, making her the highest-profile elected US official to visit the self-ruled island in 25 years.

In response, Beijing staged its largest-ever military exercises around Taiwan and repeated threats to bring the self-ruled democracy under its control, AFP reported.

Taiwan in turn has accused China of using the Pelosi visit as an excuse to kickstart drills that would allow it to rehearse for an invasion, and has staged its own live-fire drills.

The same photos were shared alongside a similar claim in Chinese on Facebook and on Taiwanese discussion forums. They were also published in a Spanish-language post on Twitter that was retweeted hundreds of times.

However, the photos were shared in a false context.

North Korean military drills

A combination of reverse image searches and keyword searches found the photos were published in a news report by the North Korean official daily Rodong Sinmun on April 26, 2017.

They were included in an archive maintained by KCNA Watcha website that monitors North Korean media.

The Korean-language text alongside the photos translates as: “Our people’s army will follow in the history and tradition of the defenders of the leader and revolutionary party army and will strongly defend the socialist republic that shines and advances.

“Dear Supreme Leader Comrade Kim Jong-un oversaw the Korean People’s Army’s live-fire drills on the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army (KPA).”

The article continues: “The combined fire demonstration of the KPA services in celebration of its 85th founding anniversary was staged on the largest-ever scale since the foundation of the armed force.

“More than 300 large-caliber self-propelled guns lined up along the coast and opened fire all at once.”

Below is a screenshot of the two photos published by Rodong Sinmun:

This screenshot of Rodong Sinmun on April 26, 2017 shows the same photos as they appeared in the newspaper, highlighted in red by AFP:

The same photos were also published in reports about the military drill by CNN and Yonhap News Agency in April 2017.

The CNN report’s photo caption reads: “Live fire drills took place in Wonsan, North Korea, to mark the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army, according to North Korean State Media.”

The Yonhap report’s photo caption reads: “This composite photo, released by North Korea’s party organ Rodong Sinmun on April 26, 2017, shows the country’s largest-ever live-fire drill to mark the 85th founding anniversary of its armed forces the previous day. “

AFP’s Spanish-language team debunked false posts sharing the photos here.

AFP has also debunked other misleading claims related to China’s military drills around Taiwan here and here.

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