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Doklam Plateau Standoff or South China Sea: Chinese Active Defence Strategy turns into Incremental Encroachments

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As Comprehensive National Power (CNP) of China is growing, its strategy to impose its national will (as perceived by its few key leaders), exercise its power through its behavior in the international arena is undergoing noticeable change. Besides unprecedented economic growth in last few decades, its technological advancement gave significant boost to its soft as well as hard power.

PLA celebrated its 90th anniversary on 01 August 2017, demonstrating its strengths through various parades, provocative statements, military posturing, live fire exercises, psychological warfare, and propaganda. The obvious question is that does it have sufficient confidence to be able to meet the goals set for it, as laid out in China’s Military Strategy document released in early 2015? Is its ambition moving much faster than its capability development (considering the fact that US defense budget is many times more than China)? Has China started giving teeth to its ‘Active Defense Strategy’ by ‘Incremental Encroachment’, based on extending its sovereignty claims on her one sided historical perspective (South and East China Sea, and Doklam Plateau Standoff being cases in point)? Is it that the goal which China had set for itself for 2049, President Xi Jinping wants to achieve by 2021, or in his next term itself? The article attempts to analyse some of these issues.

Chinese Active Defence Strategy turning into Incremental Encroachments

If threats, strategic and military posturing has been going on in South and East China Sea for few years now, Doklam Plateau is a recent incident, involving limited players as compared to South China Sea (SCS). What is significant is that China is increasing its territorial claims based on its own version of history as it suits them. It declares it as its sovereign territory, and resorts to creeping encroachment over a period of time, stopping just short of war, thereafter continue holding it, thereby resulting in expansion of its territory. Recently, after some increase in its CNP, China has started talking about global role, and its last Military strategy and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) documents published in 2015 give adequate indicators of its expansionist design, ascribing an expeditionary role for PLA, which has influenced China in working out its restructuring plans. China is crafting its strategic design for ‘China centric Asia’ through its assertive behavior. China used this strategy in SCS, attempting to convert atolls into islands in a manner that SCS becomes a “Chinese Lake”, ignoring international and legal opposition. China attempted to adopt the same strategy in Doklam Plateau also and expected that it will work as per its design, till it met a road block called “India of 2017”.

Why Doklam Plateau was Chosen for Ingress by China?

The events leading to Doklam Plateau stand-off and India China differences prior to that, have been widely covered by numerous authors, but the possible reason of China selecting it as the point to needle India could be:-

    India and Bhutan boycotted Belt and Road Forum (BRF) for International Cooperation, the Doklam ingress could embarrass both the countries simultaneously.

    Stressing on 1890 Treaty by China ( Signed between China and British India) takes away the logic of Tibet, as a player in dealing with India, thus a subtle message to Dalai Lama that he is not a stake holder in Tibet.

    Test the depth of Indo- Bhutanese security relationship.

    The area being too close to Siliguri Corridor/Chicken’s Neck, India had to be concerned and had to decide whether to intervene or otherwise in India’s own national interest, thereby conveying a message of standing up or not standing up to a challenge from Beijing in future too.

    As the construction activity was in Bhutanese Territory, a strong Indian reaction was not expected.

    In case India takes action, China can proclaim itself as an innocent victim and blame India to be an aggressor.

China was however surprised by an unexpectedly strong Indian reaction, and then it realized that the point chosen was such, where it had strategic and tactical disadvantages in escalating it. China was also surprised that in multiparty democracy like India, all parties are on the same page as far as stand on sovereignty and Doklam Issue is concerned. The end result is that China is extremely disturbed about it, and churning out fresh provocative statements almost on daily basis, launching psychological and propaganda war, war of words, and resorting to every possible means short of war to put pressure on India to withdraw its troops. The continuation of stand-off is exerting domestic pressure and rattling Chinese Government, which has painted larger than life image of its own power to make everyone follow its dictate. The Indian side on the other side has been relatively balanced, but firm in its stance, making very few statements.

Demarcation of Border/ Defining of LAC Inescapable to avoid Face-offs

Out of 14 countries with which China had border issues, it has resolved with 12 except India and Bhutan, With India, China has been delaying settling the border issue on some pretext or the other, and with Bhutan it has been shifting its claim lines many times. Even if resolution of boundary is considered to be a complex problem, the demarcation, delineation and defining of Line of Actual Control (LAC), (which is not a mutually accepted line as of now), is an inescapable necessity. It needs to be understood that with un-demarcated LAC, troops of both sides will patrol as per their own perceptions of LAC; some areas will be common which both sides will patrol to be its own. Every such patrol will be called as intrusion by the other side, hence such face-offs will continue till it’s demarcated, and the identification of its demarcation is made known to troops manning the borders. The incident of Chinese attempted intrusion on August 15, foiled by Indian troops leading to a short face-off in Ladakh, is one such common incident. Similarly the faceoff in Pongong Tso ( A lake which extends in India as well as China), is a result of non demarcation of boundary between both making resolution of the problem more complex.

Although China has resorted to adopting Sun Tzu principle of ‘winning without fighting’, or make India withdraw its troops without fighting in this case, through psychological and propaganda war, provocative statements, military posturing, exercises, cyber power, but India as a country, with strong leadership and operationally experienced military, is well placed to resist any action, without making much noise and maintaining its balance. Military threat or provocative statements cannot be an answer to this problem. The history can be interpreted by both sides to suit their claims, threat to revise policies can be from both sides (if China can talk about rethinking Sikkim/Kashmir policy/ or intervening in Nepal triangle,India can also talk about rethinking Tibet/One China policy or establishing diplomatic relations with Taiwan). The militaries have grown on both sides, the escalation dynamics of conflict will block growth and economic dreams of both countries, and the reality is that none can deter another.The mistrust between India and China is fueled by irresponsible so called Chinese media, publishing articles with vituperative rhetoric, Think-tanks and some ‘so called specialists’ reading the events beyond unimaginable limits (some Chinese media article talking of “Countdown to clash with India is on”, although Chinese establishment is distancing itself from such statement) has further made the resolution of Doklam Plateau stand-off difficult. Chinese efforts to establish bilateral talks with Bhutan have not materialized. Their efforts to involve Nepal have also resulted in response from their Deputy Prime Minister expressing unwillingness to take sides. Japanese Ambassador in New Delhi also said that there should be no attempt to change status quo on the ground by force, has also irked China, which finds no one buying its provocative narrative . Despite the fact that both countries don’t want a war, they would not like to appear weak in resolution process.

Doklam: The Way Ahead

When NSA Ajit Doval went to China to attend NSAs meeting of BRICS on 27and 28 July 2017, any expectations for commencement of meaningful diplomatic engagement was being unrealistic. Any war-game between Chinese and Indian Forces, if conducted by professionals will conclude that a land border conflict will end up in a stalemate, which is disastrous for the image of President Xi Jinping especially in an election year, besides being economically damaging for both countries. In a border standoff of this kind, neither side wants to appear weak; hence both seem to be reinforcing troops along LAC in Doklam Plateau and other areas, as a precautionary measure. It is therefore necessary that the two countries find a peaceful solution, with a face-saving gesture to ease tension. To resolve the current face-off:-

    Diplomatic engagement without preconditions will have to commence immediately setting aside hard stands, war of words, and rhetoric. In case either side doesn’t want to be appearing compromising to its people, Track2/informal talks can begin as a face saving measure, followed by formal talks. Any precondition laid down by either side, is likely to be resented, and prolong the stand-off. Even US is of the view that both sides should talk and resolve the matter.

    Chinese should stop construction of road immediately, honoring sovereignty of Bhutan and Trilateral agreement of 2012.

    Once status quo of pre-standoff period is achieved, military of both sides should pull back to pre standoff positions simultaneously.

    As a long term measure both China and India should expedite demarcation of LAC on ground, and disseminate it up to the level of troops manning the borders to prevent future face-offs, which is avoidable by cooperative political intent followed by intense diplomatic efforts.

South China Sea: Is Chinese Strategy same as Doklam?

The Similarity in Strategy in both Scenarios

 An analysis of similarity in strategy of these two scenarios is relevant for India, as it has stakes in both. The Chinese strategy as described above in case of Doklam Plateau had been earlier tested in South China Sea, with some differences.This is evident from the fact that China on the pretext of sovereignty claims based on its own interpretation of historical maritime boundaries has carried out incremental encroachment into South China Sea, as part of her ‘Active Defence Policy’ which is the same pretext of its ingress in Doklam. The Chinese Foreign Minister had said “The islands in the South China Sea (SCS) have been China’s territory since ancient times, and China has the right to safeguard its territorial sovereignty”. It indirectly means that the world must accept whatever China claims as having been part of Qing dynasty or any other historical period as per its convenience, as sovereign territory of China. While in Doklam it is the Anglo-Chinese Treaty of 1890 wherein neither Tibet nor Sikkim nor Bhutan were consulted or taken into confidence. India along with other users of SCS has stakes in SCS face-off to prevent Chinese future  interference in ‘Freedom of Navigation’ on account of major chunk of shipping trade passing through it, freedom of flight, restriction in offshore drilling deals for oil with Vietnam, and use of other global commons in international waters. 

The Differences in Both Situations

SCS is a global issue with involvement of superpower US along with other users. China’s strategic competition with US in Asia is a reality, and it is increasingly encroaching into US strategic space and influence, which includes SCS. Military posturing, tough statements and other actions of US, have not helped them much in losing ground, as China has not halted its activities. While the infrastructure development by China in SCS being dual use (civil as well as military), keeps progressing, it is viewed as usurping global commons by US and other users of SCS, and strategic encroachment by regional claimants. The strategic and military posturing and occasional hard statements on the claim of ‘Freedom of Navigation’ by US is considered as ‘Disturbance to regional peace’ by China. In comparison India’s timely intervention on behalf of Bhutan has saved the situation for Bhutan.

China’s assertive actions in SCS have inadvertently distanced her from many old friends having stakes there. The issue of their sovereignty claim over Freedom of navigation claim of others creates suspicion about free flow of global trade. Although China has not obstructed any trade shipping so far, but in future if SCS is allowed to become China’s lake, it may lay down some rules of business inconvenient to other users of SCS and global commons. In case it declares SCS as her ADIZ in future, the freedom of flights over international waters will get affected adversely.  With China’s claim that US is destabilizing/militarizing SCS, hence it may appear to be as China-US issue, but rest of the world including India, whose trade is passing through this crucial global SLOC may not like to see SCS being converted into China’s lake. While China will like to claim her freedom of navigation elsewhere, but her making it a sovereignty issue in SCS may not let it remain a zone of peace. The construction of airstrips, deployment of missiles, radars and other logistics facilities by China are an attempt to convert an ‘Atoll’ in SCS into an ‘Island’. This will help in converting the SCS into “China’s Lake” by using provisions of same UNCLOS, which it has been ignoring. These are not happy signs for other claimant countries and other regional users of SCS including ASEAN, who do not have the strength to stand up against China. They look upon US to fulfill its erstwhile role of ‘Net Security Provider’, in conjunction with other global users of SCS like Japan, India and Australia, without openly opposing China, and extracting best concessions from all.

China’s Blatant Refusal to Accept International Court of Arbitration Verdict

While China did not accept nor paid any heed to the International Court of Arbitration Verdict on the case taken up by Philippines, and has continued to build infrastructure on atolls to convert them into islands, but it definitely conveyed the global message that SCS cannot be treated as Chinese lake, as global SLOC and trade is affected by it.

    It conveyed that Chinese claim of it being her sovereign territory is not being considered convincing. It also gave a message that similar adventurism to claim any global choke-point anywhere in the world, will also invite sharp criticism.

    Increased military movement and exercises in SCS by China as well as US and its allies/friendly Navies is indicative of military posturing and War of words. While US, India and Japan maintain that Malabar exercises are not directed towards any other country, but analysts can read some subtle messages in it. As per Defence Update by US on July 22, 2017, it is looking at capacity building of Regional forces like India, Japan and Australia to check expeditionary and expansionist adventures of China.

    For the time being no recognizable change in South China Sea is visualised. The military posturing and show of force by US and China will continue, along with diplomatic efforts to pull other affected countries into their strategic orbit. The other claimant countries can hope for better concessions from both sides as Vietnam was visited by erstwhile President Obama, as well as Xi Jinping with unprecedented offers once the SCS row heated up. The recent attempts of China trying to negotiate Doklam Issue with Bhutan directly, or trying to get Nepal into this issue is a case in point for similar strategy.

    It certainly divides ASEAN with each country trying to get the best out of the existing situation and from both the superpowers.

    China’s has been luring claimant countries to bilaterally resolve SCS dispute is unlikely to work. It attempted the same by putting out in the media that Bhutan had not objected to Chinese presence in Doklam. This has been adequately refuted by the Bhutanese Foreign Minister in his meeting with the Indian Foreign Minister on the sidelines of the BIMSTEC Foreign Ministers held meeting recently in Kathmandu. The regional Daclaration of Conduct(DoC) and Code of Conduct (CoC) will not be able to check China’s unilateralism. The freedom in use of global commons will have to be contested by regional and other affected countries, including global powers.

    The verdict also gave a message that each contending side reads history, as it suits her in claiming territories, hence historical claims cannot be the overarching basis of territorial resolutions.

    China is neither the first or last country in not implementing international arbitration verdict (in absence of any enforcement mechanism), but the verdict gave the global mood, with some international pressure on Chinese hierarchy. India on the other hand had acted maturely as a responsible nation, by accepting a similar verdict, which was passed to resolve territorial water dispute with Bangladesh last year by the PCA.

Unfortunately, all global and regional players affected have been watching, while China has been conveniently progressing construction. Even the regional claimant countries and ASEAN seem to be growing softer on this issue. The strategic and military posturing and isolated provocative/threatening statements by US and voices of resentment by others will not help. A hard stand by US and other global players will have to be taken to stop further construction and creeping encroachment in SCS as has been done in case of Doklam. It therefore needs to be seen that Doklam Issue and its resolution is a test case in checking Chinese hegemony or otherwise. The resolution methodology of Doklam Issue may bring some lessons for SCS also.  A peaceful India- China border as well as South China Sea is essential for India, China and everyone’s growth and stability in Indo- Pacific region.

Commonality in the Way Ahead in Doklam and SCS

  • China must stop further construction.
  • China has to limit its imagination of sovereignty based on one sided historical claims. It needs to respect the ‘Sovereignty’ and ‘Core National Interests’ of other countries as well, otherwise its arrogance can make other countries take harder stands in future.
  • Diplomatic engagement without preconditions will have to commence immediately setting aside hard stands, war of words, and rhetoric’s.
  • The theory of deterrence to mould strategic choices will not work. If Vietnam could stand up to China and US, and both are finding problems in dealing with North Korea, then deterring India is unrealistic imagination.
  • Military posturing to be controlled by contesting sides.
  • International laws, Conventions, Treaties, Agreements need to be respected by all.
  • The diplomatic exercise to resolve these should continue simultaneously with commercial engagements. Talks are a must for resolving differences in perceptions.

The author is a veteran Infantry General with 40 years experience in international fields and UN. A globally acknowledged strategic & military writer/analyst; he is currently the Chief Instructor of USI of India, the oldest Indian Think-tank in India.

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How AUKUS changed China’s diplomatic position towards the IAEA

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Image source: Wikipedia

The American challenge to China in its places of influence in the “Indo-Pacific” region, and its interference in the Taiwan issue, was a decisive factor in increasing China’s influence and presence in all international forums, especially (the official Chinese objection to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the Australian nuclear submarine deal and an attempt to mobilize the international community against this deal under the auspices of the United States of America). Hence, China, through its membership in the International Atomic Energy Agency, seeks to present its issues fairly internationally, as in the case of (the AUKUS Defense Agreement and the Australian nuclear submarine deal). This was confirmed by Chinese President “Xi Jinping” in his political speeches, that “China opposes American hegemony and its quest to stifle China in its Asian areas of influence”.

  Therefore, all the Chinese political speeches by President “Xi Jinping” came before all international organizations and forums, stressing (establishing a multipolar and multilateral international world with active actors in it to defend the rights of poor and marginalized peoples, and support development initiatives in developing countries), outlining the declared goals for “China’s global strategy in the new century”, which aspires to be one of its main and distinguished poles.

    The American challenge to China by signing the new AUKUS defense agreement and the intensity of American influence in the “Indo-Pacific” region, especially the (South China Sea, Taiwan’s Formosa Strait and the Pacific Ocean regions), that has given Washington the excuse to increase its presence in the Asian region surrounding China, despite the relative success. The Chinese side isolate Taiwan from communicating with the world for a long time, according to the principle of “one unified China”, according to what has been approved upon Taiwan internationally. However, a number of indicators have created a kind of concern at Beijing about the reality of the changing US position towards Taiwan to interfere in its internal affairs, most notably:

 The current US administration, which is led by the President “Joe Biden” called to “grant Taiwan a permanent seat in the United Nations”, after Washington signed the new AUKUS defense and security agreement with Australia and Britain, under the pretext of allowing Taiwan to present its issues with US support, which strongly provoked Beijing.

In addition to the fact that the “New AUKUS Defense Agreement” has provided the opportunity for the United States of America to interfere in (Taiwan’s internal affairs) to restrict China’s influence by inviting Taiwanese officials to visit the United States of America and visiting members of the US Congress to Taiwan, and announcing an increase in the volume of US military sales to Taiwan, and the (constant presence of the American troops, destroyers and warships in the Taiwan Strait to counter Chinese influence), which is inconsistent with all international conventions that (consider Taiwan an integral part of China), the USA has also provoked Beijing by giving an “entry visa” to the Taiwanese officials, and helping out with the “re-election of Taiwan’s opponent president to Beijing with 54% in the face of China”, in addition to Washington easing restrictions on dealing with Taiwanese officials, which continues so far with the current president of Taiwan, “Tsai Ing-wen”, and increasing the volume of American military sales to Taiwan.

The “Aukus Agreement” gave the United States of America the justification for sending American military ships in the Pacific Ocean and Taiwan’s Formosa Strait, under the pretext of protecting the “Indo-Pacific” region and defending the Taiwan Strait in the face of Chinese interference, as well as increasing the sale of American warplanes to  Taiwan, and the indefinite existence of the US forces in the “South China Sea and Taiwan Strait” under the pretext of protecting international maritime traffic, especially after the United States of America signed the “New AUKUS Defense Agreement” with (Australia, UK) and the “Quad Agreement” with (Japan, India, and Australia).

In ​​an earlier period, the US government deliberately changed the name of the organization in which it handles Taiwan affairs to (Taipei Economic and Cultural Representation Office in the United States of America).

   Hence, we understand the intensity of Chinese international calls after the American signing of the Aukus Defense Agreement, to (confront the policy of American alliances and calling for international polarity). Since China and the United States of America are two large countries that belong to the membership of the nuclear club, in addition to the actual influence of each of them internationally, so any action of either China or the United States of America affects the whole world, so “China submitted an objection to the International Atomic Energy Agency against  The United States of America for violating the terms and conditions of its membership in the International Atomic Energy Agency by sponsoring the Aukus nuclear agreement”.

    The signing by the United States of the new AUKUS defense agreement in the face of China, which is “allowed the Chinese side to put pressures on the Iranian nuclear file at the International Atomic Energy Agency and to put actual pressure on Washington”, which came from China’s call for the IAEA’s cooperation with the Iranian nuclear issue in a balanced and objective way to avoid the complex American calculations and China’s resolute response to the withdrawal of the United States of America from the “Iran nuclear agreement” in 2018 during the presidency of “Trump”. This is what China strongly opposes before the International Atomic Energy Agency “IAEA”, especially to embarrass the USA internationally as well, after the American signing of the AUKUS nuclear defense agreement in its confrontation.

  This is what was supported by statements of Chinese officials, calling for the International Atomic Energy Agency “IAEA” to play a constructive role in strengthening diplomatic efforts in favor of Iran in confronting the United States of America,  as a part of the proposed Chinese solutions towards this nuclear issue between Iran and the USA, which China have publicly directed diplomatic and international blame for (Washington’s violation of its international agreements and its negative behaviours of all its international conventions, foremost of which is its unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran).

  Therefore, the Chinese strategy came after the signing of the AUKUS Defense Agreement led by Washington, by calling on China to the IAEA to strengthen dialogue and cooperation with Iran in the face of American violations in the first place, in order to restore the confidence of the international community regarding (the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program), which is what China is trying to prove  And call him in the face of Washington.  China is also keen to hold and conduct international talks with the European Union and officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency on this Iranian nuclear issue, claiming that “the United States of America has made the world and the Middle East live in a critical stage, due to its violations of all its recognized international covenants”, and the Chinese government’s declaration that dialogue and cooperation with Iran, regarding its nuclear program is the only correct way to resolve this issue in the face of the current provocative American policies.

   The most remaining dangerous and important analysis for me is that China will respond firmly internationally against the United States of America, because of its sponsorship of the Aukus Defense Agreement in its confrontation, especially with the increase in those American and European invitations in the first place, pending the outcome of the new talks with Iran under the auspices and supervision of the officials and supervisors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the final decision to be taken on (consideration of referring Iran’s file to the UN Security Council to take a position or impose sanctions against Iran). Of course, there will be an opportunity here for China and its ally Russia to teach the United States of America and its traditional European allies a harsh lesson by using (veto or objection right) to block any decisions affecting the Iranian nuclear file, which will be the summit of Chinese provocation to Washington internationally after its infringement of its rights by signing the “Aukus Defense Agreement”.

   Here, we find that the role of China will seek at the present time to (extension of the agreement to monitor the Iranian nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency), but in the event of the failure of these talks with Iran due to those American pressures on the International Atomic Energy Agency “IAEA”, and in the event of (the success of the American planning to issue a new resolution by the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency against Iran and referral of the issue to the Security Council), both Russia and China will respond and will definitely refuse to support the issuance of any international or US resolutions against Iran. This represents a real Chinese and Russian challenge to US power after it signed the AUKUS defense agreement with Australia in the “Indo-Pacific” region to curb Chinese influence.

  It remains the most prominent and important here, that (the growing Russian and Chinese support for Iran had a negative impact on the efforts of the United States of America and the European Union to bring Tehran to the negotiating table during the last period due to the Iranian conditions supported by Russia and China), and here we analyze that the current situation which (allows Iran to include more demands and conditions in its list for obtaining more concessions from Washington and its European allies in the nuclear negotiations), and this will therefore be the (harsh and resolute Chinese internationally response to confront US policies, after signing the AUKUS Defense Agreement to restrict and contain China’s influence in the “Indo-Pacific” region).  China will respond forcefully before the International Atomic Energy Agency and the international community against US policies, due to (the American support of the nuclear proliferation and competition by adopting the Aukus nuclear deal in favor of Australia).

    Therefore, monitoring the relationship between the United States of America and China and identifying points of conflict and convergence between the two countries, and the impact of these relations on the international system and the policies of the work of international bodies and organizations, in addition to the Chinese rise and its impact on American hegemony and the adoption of the United States of America (containment strategy) to control this Chinese emergence, all of this, enables us later to understand and analyze the nature of the next stage and all its international ties, especially with regard to the Iranian nuclear file, and China’s accusation of the United States of America violating to the international covenants, especially by signing the AUKUS Agreement, which will lead to (international nuclear conflict and competition that undermines international security stability).

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How Beijing’s Disinformation Campaign threatens International Security in the Post-Truth Era

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China Beijing

Ever wonder how disinformation[1] could have shaped the next information warfare in the post-truth era? With the continuous advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) and our overwhelming reliance on social media, the potential ramifications provoked by state-sponsored disinformation campaign could be disastrous. Indeed, given its relative low cost, low barriers with easy access to basically anywhere that allow free flow of information, disinformation serves as a perfect strategy in the new era of hybrid warfare.

Indeed, western countries have been noticing an alarming surge in political polarization with a pattern of declining public trust for mainstream media[2], implying the increasing susceptibility of the public to fake news. While this kind of information warfare is likely to dominant future warfare as technological advancement continue to upsurge, the liberal democratic structure of the western societies that enables freedom of speech provides fertile ground for adversaries, especially dictated regime to exploit. This article focused primely on China, its ideology, and reasons to deploy disinformation as part of its grand strategy, as well as the tactics Beijing would likely to use in the upcoming information warfare.

Hybrid Tactics as the Grand Strategy—and Disinformation

First announced by the Central Military Commission (CMC) in 2003, the “Three Warfare”—which included the coordinated use of strategic psychological operations, overt and covert media manipulation, as well as legal warfare designed to manipulate strategies, defense policies, and perceptions of target audiences abroad[3]-— acted as political guidelines and mutually reinforcing strategies for the People’s Liberal Army (PLA). While the Three Warfare primely aims at exploiting the adversary’s weaknesses to disrupt their opposition to PRC’s agendas[4], Chinese hybrid warfare has much more potential destruction with the integration of other hybrid tactics such as clandestine diplomacy and irregular warfare.

As a matter of fact, the nature of liberal society and democratic structure makes it difficult to resist hybrid warfare—western nations’ domestic politics could be readily usurped by Beijing’s use of disinformation and geo-economic influence, since the system are “protected by the very same liberal values that these hybrid means are designed to subvert”[5]. Hybrid warfare thus constitute the best strategy for Beijing to weaken opponents’ counterbalancing potential. Free media, for instance, which represents a basic value of liberal democracy, provided sufficient room for hybrid interference. Whilst freedom of speech allows free flow of information, free press is susceptible to fake news and propaganda conducted by coordinated disinformation campaigns, which conceivably result in a delegitimization of the media’s credibility, as well as an internal division among different target audience[6]. In addition, the echo chamber and filter bubbles effect constituted by the news feed algorithm further reinforce information consumption pattern[7] and thus further generates political polarization and potential social turmoil such as the United States capital attack on Jan 6th, 2021. The nature of fake news, indeed, has constituted its easy deployment with great effectiveness.

The Ultimate Nightmare—Deep Fakes for Disinformation campaign 

Constructed by machine learning techniques, deep fakes—images, videos and sound records that mimics one’s speech or action, of which that person had never did or said in reality—are backed by a specific type of deep learning method named as the Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN), where two self-supervised algorithms automatically “learn” from each other. In such method, one algorithm (the generator) produces a synthetic image of a person whereas the other algorithm (the discriminator) reviews the level of authenticity of that image and provides feedback to the former. Generator takes “advises” from discriminator and thus being able to improve every time it creates new image. After thousands and thousands of training cycles, GAN’s algorithms would be either skillful in producing synthetic images or differentiate images’ authenticity. Due to the constant evolvement of AI and its technological sophistication, deep fakes are hence extremely hyper-realistic and difficult to be detected by human eyes[8][9]. Therefore, when deployed as a form of disinformation, deep fakes could bring disastrous implications from democracies to international security.

In relations to Beijing’s strategy, the use of deep fakes could be deployed from the fabrication of public figures and ordinary citizens.

First, deep fakes that aim at politicians, celebrities, and key opinion leaders (KOL) will have an agenda of defamation and/or shaping public opinion. Take the presidential election in 2020 as an example. Both Trump and Biden were being accused of having sexual misconduct during their election campaign. What if, there is a deep fake video portraying such criminal behaviors released the night before election? How would this have reshaped public opinion on their suitability of candidacy? Given the difficulty to debunk fake news in real time, one could only speculate the extent of damage caused to his/her reputation and the country’s democratic system.

Internationally speaking, deep fakes does not only have the potential to damage diplomatic relations but also generating intra and inter-state warfare. What if, a deep fake video illustrating U.S. president stating that America’s nuclear umbrella will no longer shelter her allies? Or Washington is planning on withdrawal of NATO, that collective defense is just a political discourse? How devastated will it be to the alliance relations and U.S. government’s credibility? Such reputation loss is often irreversible, regardless of the authenticity of the news being verified afterwards or not. 

In addition, AI-generated people could be used as “witnesses” to create the illusion of “truth” for disinformation. In fact, certain private companies are already offering disinformation as services, including automated and human-curated accounts, as well as trolling and other AI services[10]. These campaigns are often deployed for a certain political actor, according to an Oxford study in 2020[11].

Moreover, other forms of AI system including Generative Pre-trained Transformer (GPT)[12] which can generate text that synthesize human writings, could bring fake news and information warfare to the next level, especially when it comes to complexed international politics[13]. Together with the use of hyper-realistic deep fakes, fake accounts, personal statements, and opinion pieces would appear to be authentic—further blurring the line between truth and post-truth, meanwhile, undermining confidence in traditional media and state’s authority.

Perceptibly, the integrated use of private companies’ and state-sponsored disinformation—for instance, the 50-cent army, a notorious internet trolls employed by the CCP, which is responsible for about 450 million fake posts and comments every year[14] masquerading themselves as ordinary citizens in attempt to sway public opinion in favor of Beijing[15]—would be heavily deployed as part of the disinformation campaign/ strategy in the next information warfare.

Tailored-made disinformation

The second characteristics of China’s present (and future) disinformation would be tailored-made to certain target groups, especially its diaspora Chinese community. Overseas Chinese’ tendency to “stick to themselves and form distinct diaspora communities within their settling countries”[16] had paved way for Beijing to exert its surveillance, control, and manipulation on its people, regardless of their physical geographical location. And the spread of disinformation could be effortlessly accomplished through these significant features.

For instance, The Foreign Influence Registry Act (Bill C-282) introduced by Canada’s former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu was being deviously altered as fake news that are deliberately personalized for the Chinese audience. By portraying the Chinese community as the targeted groups and “victims” of the bill, these disinformation campaigns attempt to generate a perception that the introduction of the bill is correspond to racial discrimination against the community; thereby drawing an equal sign (albeit casual assumption) between the foreign influence registry act and the suppression of pro-China opinion, as well as control and surveillance on organizations and individuals[17] in the overseas Chinese community. Such rhetoric is indeed a discourse of danger and insecurity regardless of its truthfulness (the Chinese race being discriminated, free speech, business, and cultural exchange opportunity on the line)—it helps construct the “Chinese identity” by composing binary opposition of “us versus them”—thus provoking a certain degree of pro-Chinese sentiment and nationalism, especially for those who have always been in a more pro-Beijing stance. 

Moreover, dissemination of fake news through via the use of social media like WeChat, WhatsApp[18], increases the sense of familiarity which consequently surge one’s susceptibility to disinformation[19]. Such propagation would be difficult to debunk given the fact that it is spread through community channels and end-to-end encryption communication apps.

Perceivably, China will be utilizing disinformation campaign by tailoring to certain target groups. Chinese diaspora community would inevitably be one of them as Beijing seeks to mobilize them in operation of actions that is in favor of the central authorities. The other likeliness would be agitators and organizations that have the potential to provoke political unrest. The latter is particularly alarming—especially if (when) deep fakes are tailored to spark radical actions of certain target group, which includes but not limited to far-right groups and extremists—the consequences could be riots and social turmoil, and if not impossible, a civil war.

If you want peace, prepare for war[20]

The nature of disinformation makes it easy to be deployed with great effectiveness but at a relatively low cost. Whilst social media algorithm facilitates echo chambers and filter bubbles which conveniently trap users in reinforced information consumption patterns, the psychology of disinformation often puts people in vulnerable position as mere repeated exposure would be able to surge one’s susceptibility to fake news.

Nevertheless, the world has been witnessing more frequent and intensified disinformation campaign. State-sponsored yet covert disinformation campaign could even take advantages of its clandestine nature to deny responsibility while causing chaos in the other side of the planet by generating political polarization and thus social tear.

Certainly, merely a riot or even a  civil war would not bring the U.S. down. But the time bought via such disinformation campaign and social turmoil could be. What if, such chaos is generated in times of China’s pre-emptive strike to the island? The use of fake news is only a part of Beijing’s hybrid warfare, of which included much more complexed strategies such as the integration of a satellite assault to blackout BMD system in space warfare, and other use of unorthodox methods like Chinese Maritime Militia[21] (“little blue man”) in East and South China Sea.

These situations, although hypothetical, are not impossible. Yet these potential dangers have already been undermining public’s confidence in traditional media and state’s authority, let alone when being seriously tailored and deployed in wartime. As Taiwan’s president Tsai has noted, “Taiwan does not seek military confrontation……But if its democracy and way of life are threatened, Taiwan will do what never it takes to defend itself.”[22] Akin to Taipei’s situation, like-minded democracies that hope for peace and stability must align and prepare for this information warfare as it is fundamentally threatening our liberal democratic society, as well as international security.

After all, from a realist perspective—if you want peace, prepare for war.


[1] Disinformation, as a form of fake news, is regarded as “false, incomplete, or misleading information that is passed, fed, or confirmed to a target individual, group, or country”. For details, see Shultz, R. H. and Godson, R. (2018). Dezinformatsiya: Active Measures in Soviet Strategy, Washington, D.C.: Pergamon-Brassey, 1984, p.41. and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2018, p.7; Theohary, 2018, p.5.

[2] Greifeneder, R., Jaffé, M., Newman, E. and Schwarz, N., 2021. The Psychology of Fake News. New York: Routledge.

[3] Raska, M. (2015). ‘China and the “Three Warfares”’. The Diplomat. Available at https://thediplomat.com/2015/12/hybrid-warfare-with-chinese-characteristics-2/

[4] Miracola, S. (2018). ‘Chinese Hybrid Warfare’, Italian Institute for International Political Studies.  [online] Available at: https://www.ispionline.it/en/pubblicazione/chinese-hybrid-warfare-21853 [Accessed 30 Apr. 2019].

[5] Wigell, M. (2019). Hybrid interference as a wedge strategy: a theory of external interference in liberal democracy. International Affairs, 95(2), pp.255-275.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Greifeneder, R., Jaffé, M., Newman, E. and Schwarz, N., 2021. The Psychology of Fake News. New York: Routledge.

[8] Chesney, R. and Citron, D. (2019). ‘Deep Fakes: A Looming Challenge for Privacy, Democracy, and National Security’. California Law Review, Vol. 107, pp.1753-1819.

[9] Rossler, A. et al. (2019) “2019 Ieee/cvf International Conference on Computer Vision (iccv),” in Faceforensics : Learning to Detect Manipulated Facial Images. IEEE, pp. 1–11. doi: 10.1109/ICCV.2019.00009.

[10] Hsu, K., Sangvikar, D. Zhang, Z. and Navarrete, C. (2020). ‘Lucifer: New Cryptojacking and DDos Hybrid malware Exploiting high and critical vulnerabilities to infect windows devices.’ Palo Alto Networks: Unit 42. 24 June 2020.

[11] Wallace, A. (2020). “Major Data Breaches in 2019.” Toronto Sun. Available at https://torontosun.com/news/world/major-data-breaches-in-2019

[12] GPT is an artificial intelligence system built by OpenAI, an AI research organization based in California.

[13] Kreps, S. and McCain, M. (2019). ‘Not Your Father’s Bots—AI Is Making Fake News Look Real’. Foreign Affairs.

[14] The number is going up every year according to study.

[15] Farrell, H. (2016). ‘The Chinese Government fakes nearly 450 million social media comments a year. This is why.’ Washington Post. Available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/05/19/the-chinese-government-fakes-nearly-450-million-social-media-comments-a-year-this-is-why/

[16] Forsby, A. (2011). ‘The Non-Western Challenger? The Rise of Sino-Centric China’. Danish Institute For International Studies Report.

[17] Today Commercial News. (2021). ‘Please spread the message: Conservative MP Kenny Chiu proposed <The Foreign Influence Registry Act> to suppress the Chinese community’. Available at https://todaycommercialnews.com/canada/49207# (〈請廣傳! 保守黨國會議員趙錦榮提「外國勢力註冊」法案打壓華人社區〉,加拿大商報,2021年09月09日)

[18] Bramham, D. (2021). ‘Daphne Bramham: Conservatives face ugly barrage over party’s China policy’. Vancouver Sun. Available at https://vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/daphne-bramham-conservatives-face-ugly-barrage-over-partys-china-policy

[19] Greifeneder, R., Jaffé, M., Newman, E. and Schwarz, N., 2021. The Psychology of Fake News. New York: Routledge.

[20] Old Latin saying “Si vis pacem, para bellum” (If you want peace, prepare for war)

[21] Informal navy constituted by the Chinese “citizens”.

[22] Tsai, I. W. (2021).’ Taiwan and the Fight for Democracy—A force for Good in the Changing International Order’. Foreign Affairs. Available at https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/taiwan/2021-10-05/taiwan-and-fight-democracy

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East Asia

U.S.-China Rivalry: Emergence of a New “Cold War”?

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Chinese President Xi Jinping met with US President Joe Biden on Tuesday morning (Beijing time), the first face-to-face meeting virtually since Biden took office. (Photo: Xinhua)

On November 16, 2021, A virtual conference was held between USA’s President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping addressing all the issues related to security, human rights and mainly over the issues of Taiwan. The result of the summit, which started respectfully soon turned into accusations and threats.

The tensions between US and China seem to increase in the past following years. Whether the issue is related to human rights, trade, security, etc., very rarely do they develop a consensus otherwise mostly they result in disagreements. However, some disagreements such as that over the future of Taiwan have escalated to a point where there is a risk of direct military confrontation. From China’s perspective, Taiwan is destined to be theirs using force if necessary. While on the other hand, the USA is prepared and determined to push China back who is using all means i.e., military, economic, and diplomatic blackmail to force Taiwan into submission. Hence, even though both sides refuse to budge and maintain the status quo, both countries are seen to participate in the summit at the same time to put each other on notice.

At the summit held, China’s President Xi Jinping warned the US to stop interference on the Taiwan issue, as it is a matter of Intra-China affairs, and if not stopped the USA will only “get burned”. USA’s President Joe Biden in response prompted their position and defended Taiwan against China’s aggression in the past and warned them of serious consequences If China continued its status on Taiwan’s issue. The disagreement over Taiwan is a sign of a great future conflict of the dominance over Asia and eventually, the whole world. One can also compare their whole picture with that cold war between the US and Soviet Union. Even though, there is a huge difference between the two eras, like USSR’s intention was clearly to become a global power while China as many times stated that they have no such intentions.

However, of seen deeply, there are some similarities where one can find similarities between USSR and China. For example, China emerging as a global power militarily and economically, against the USA which has enjoyed its supremacy after the end of the cold war is and along with Biden framing the conflict between the US and China-based on ideology i.e., a clash between autocracy and democracy and both sides willingness to result to military use if necessary.

China’s Rise and USA’s Decline

China in the last 45 years has exceeded greatly economically, militarily, etc., and can be termed as a global superpower, resulting in US-China rivalry as the US has continued to enjoy its supremacy even though it has declined over the past years. China’s growing economy when compared to USSR was the point why the Soviets collapsed. China in the past 50 years expanded at a greater rate as is also assumed to surpass the US by 2030 further increasing the USA’s concerns.  China is also seen to have advanced developments in naval, conventional, space, nuclear realms, etc.

Starting with when China emerged in 1949 as an independent state. It suffered greatly in the early years due to foreign interventions, turmoil, disintegration, famines, etc. while the USA at that time was the global superpower owning 40 to 50 percent of the world’s economy. After that China’s position became apparent in international politics with China in 2001 joining World Trade Organization (WTO), Belt Road Initiative in 2013, etc. further ensured China’s geopolitical expansion and its geostrategic enlargement. With China’s surprising growth, USA’s power has continued to unravel in the post-cold war era. Beginning with the USA’s debacles of its wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, the 2008 financial crisis, and the disastrous Trump presidency. All this indicated the decreasing power of the US and the rise of other states like China threatening the global supremacy of the US.

With all the rising tensions especially over the issue of Taiwan both the powerful states are still trying to put in their effort to cool down the tensions. As told by US President Biden in the United Nations that he did not want to have a new “cold war” with China and has tried to cool down the rising tensions with Beijing. He told the United Nations last month that he did not want to see a new “Cold War” with China, and both must tread carefully to avoid any aggressive military confrontation in Asia and beyond. Similarly, China is also seeking to avoid using any unnecessary means and threats that could escalate into a larger confrontation. Both the states fully knowing that the world’s survival and wellbeing depends on the two powerful nuclear states.

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