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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Expert: China likely not targeting Nashua with nuclear missile

Despite rumors circulating on the Internet that Nashua is in the cross hairs of the Chinese military, residents of the Gate City probably don’t need to worry about a nuclear strike anytime soon.

A graphic appearing on several English-language websites last week purports to reveal China’s nuclear targets in the United States. ...

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Despite rumors circulating on the Internet that Nashua is in the cross hairs of the Chinese military, residents of the Gate City probably don’t need to worry about a nuclear strike anytime soon.

A graphic appearing on several English-language websites last week purports to reveal China’s nuclear targets in the United States.

The map shows bands of orange and red stretching all the way from the West Coast to Chicago, supposedly depicting the fallout from a nuclear strike near Seattle. The map also contains 21 black dots arranged across the country, which some have interpreted to be China’s strategic targets.

One of those dots is centered in southern New Hampshire, in the area of Nashua.

While the map has been gaining attention on the Internet, Taylor Fravel, associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, believes the graphic was created by tabloid journalists and not the Chinese government.

Fravel, who specializes in China and its military, said he knew immediately when the graphic was published earlier last week that it should be taken with a grain of salt.

“These dots don’t make any sense,” Fravel said. “The picture showing the blasts and everything else was actually (made) by the guy who wrote the story for the paper.”

To begin with, it appears the person who made the map has little knowledge of U.S. geography, Fravel said, since the supposed targets include rural parts of New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts, avoiding population centers such as Boston.

Another clue that the map is suspicious is that it was published by the Global Times, an English-language Chinese newspaper that Fravel said has a reputation of playing loose with the facts. While the paper has ties to the government, Fravel said the ruling party wouldn’t turn to the Global Times to release official communications, let alone a map of strategic targets.

“The state would not release anything through the Global Times,” Fravel said.

Despite its dubious quality, the map has its roots in a legitimate news story that appeared in China’s state-run media last week.

Early Monday morning, several major Chinese news outlets published stories about the government’s recent decision to begin using a fleet of aging nuclear submarines to patrol the seas off China’s coast.

The story was accompanied by a photo series showing Chinese sailors at work aboard the ships, attending to nuclear waste, swabbing the decks and performing other duties.

Fravel said the map didn’t appear online until a few days later, when it was published by the Global Times alongside the other photos.

“Global Times is known as being a bit more nationalistic than the mainstream state media,” he said. “It has tabloid quality. It’s a big moneymaker. I sort of think of it as the New York Post of Chinese official state media. That surely doesn’t represent the views of the state.”

Fravel said tabloid journalism also played a role in helping the phony map begin to circulate in the United States. It appears The Washington Times, the conservative newspaper founded in the 1980s by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church, was the first U.S. news outlet to feature the map in a story. It was attached to an article by Miles Yu, who regularly writes a column called “Inside China.”

Yu’s column on Thursday was titled “Inside China: Nuclear submarines capable of widespread attack on U.S.” It summarized the Global Times report, including details about China’s burgeoning military capabilities.

“Chinese state-run media revealed for the first time this week that Beijing’s nuclear submarines can attack American cities as a means to counterbalance U.S. nuclear deterrence in the Pacific,” Yu wrote, citing the Global Times.

Reached by phone on Friday, Yu said the map attached to his column came directly from the Global Times article. He said it was labeled by the Chinese newspaper as a target analysis showing projected damage from a nuclear strike in Seattle. Yu was uncertain what the black dots on the map are supposed to show.

“I think those are urban centers,” he said. “I have no idea what they are. It didn’t explain.”

While the Global Times report portrayed China’s nuclear strike capabilities as a new development, Fravel said China has actually possessed long-range missiles capable of striking the East Coast of the United States since the 1990s.

“I would say the numbers are pretty small. … We’re talking maybe 40,” he said.

Despite the ambiguity surrounding the map, readers of The Washington Times quickly jumped to conclusions about the ominous black dots.

On Friday, the website Drudge Report posted a link to the Washington Times story with the headline: “Chinese state media show plans for nuke strikes on US cities … Damage projections for Seattle and Los Angeles.”

Links to the story also appeared on sites such as newsmax.com, real
cleardefense.com, theblaze.com and modernsurvivalblog.com.

On the discussion forum northeast
shooters.com, which caters to gun enthusiasts, one person was puzzled at why Nashua would be a target.

What “is in Nashua that makes it a nuke worthy target?” the commenter asked. “I mean, (Portsmouth Naval Shipyard) is a far more worthy nuke target. And no Boston? What are those Chinese thinking?”

Although the city is home to one of the country’s largest defense contractors – BAE Systems – Nashua’s other strategic advantages weren’t immediately apparent to the people who responded.

“Why destroy all that infrastructure when they don’t have to?” one person wrote. “They don’t want to destroy us, they want to own us.”

Another commenter from Massachusetts developed a different theory about the benefits of targeting Nashua: “To deprive us of cheap liquor and cigarettes.”

Jim Haddadin can be reached at 594-6589 or jhaddadin@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Haddadin on Twitter (@Telegraph_JimH).