Tue, Jul 10, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Political warfare requires readiness

By Kerry Gershaneck

When an arbitral tribunal under the UN Convention on Law of the Sea in The Hague in July 2016 ruled that China’s claim to most of the South China Sea was illegal under international law, Beijing’s propaganda organs angrily stated that China “will neither acknowledge nor accept” the ruling.

Two years later, in the wake of a rising outcry against China’s rapid militarization of the contested maritime region, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-run Global Times last month said China would “act tougher” with foreign naval vessels traversing the South China Sea, and that its firmer posture “could lead to military conflicts.”

China’s propaganda organs implement, including via threats, Beijing’s “political warfare” — a little understood but vital weapon in China’s growing arsenal aimed at achieving regional and global hegemony.

“With well-orchestrated political warfare campaigns, China has achieved significant successes in tilting the regional, and even global, balance of power in recent years. Only recently have a few countries been willing to acknowledge it and confront it,” said Anders Corr, a New York-based expert on China’s influence operations.


If, as military theorist Carl von Clausewitz wrote, “war is the extension of politics by other means,” then it is fair to say that China’s political warfare is “an extension of armed conflict by other means.”

There is a dizzying array of terms in the public lexicon associated with the tools that governments employ for influence, including psychological operations, public diplomacy, public affairs, public relations, disinformation, censorship, misinformation, information warfare, soft power, hard power and sharp power.

What is unique about China’s political warfare — and perhaps most difficult for the countries that China has targeted to understand — is that it entails all of these practices together. It is, in effect, total war.

Mao Zedong (毛澤東) and his followers learned from the Soviet Union about traditional methods of influence and interference. They later took these methods to new levels.

Australia and New Zealand have discovered one of China’s most powerful political warfare weapons embedded in their midst: the so-called “united front,” whose role is to build coalitions of groups and organizations to conduct influence operations.

China’s “united front” operations date back to the 1920s, but they have taken on new impetus with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) ascension to the CCP leadership in 2012. Xi has referred to the “united front” as his “magic weapon” for achieving “rejuvenation of the Chinese race.”

A “united front” consists of groups either originated or co-opted by Beijing.

A prime example of the former is the Chinese Association of Friendly International Contacts, an organization that attempts to influence retired US military officers; a good example of the latter are overseas Chinese associations that are persuaded or coerced into actively supporting Beijing.

China’s political warfare also employs what its practitioners reverently call “the three warfares,” that is: strategic psychological warfare, overt and covert media manipulation and the use of law (known as “lawfare”) to defeat enemies.

Using these tools, China shapes public opinion, undermines academic freedom, censors foreign media and Hollywood movies, and restricts broadly the free flow of information that detracts from its agendas and interests.

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