For the Chinese, Political Warfare Is War by Other Means

COMMENTARY Asia

For the Chinese, Political Warfare Is War by Other Means

Apr 2nd, 2020 2 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Dean Cheng

Senior Research Fellow, Asian Studies Center

Dean brings knowledge of China's military and space capabilities as a research fellow on Chinese political and security affairs.
People wear protective face masks while visiting Tian'anmen Square on April 02, 2020 in Beijing, China. Emmanuel Wong / Contributor / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Even amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, China’s efforts at political warfare remain in full swing. 

One can insist that “political warfare” is a misnomer—that it’s not even “warfare”—and for the West, including the U.S., that may well be true. 

But that’s not how the Chinese see it at all. For them, political warfare is the hardest form of soft power and is a strategic option that is underway all the time. 

Even amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, China’s efforts at political warfare remain in full swing. 

China assiduously tries to shape the world’s view of COVID-19, and China’s role in it, by denying any responsibility for the rise and spread of the new coronavirus as well as attempting to shift the blame toward the United States. 

In that context, it’s essential to recognize that when the Chinese Communist Party talks about “public opinion warfare,” wages the “three warfares” (public opinion, psychological, and legal), or thinks about political warfare, in each instance it’s doing so as warfare, period. 

Chinese conduct of public opinion warfare and legal warfare are on display in recent actions, including suing the U.S. as the party responsible for the spread of COVID-19. China undertakes these efforts much like military operations. 

Such actions are implemented within the framework of “the principles of war.” 

For the U.S. military, that’s often been simplified to the mnemonic “MOOSEMUSS”:  Mass, Objective, Offensive, Security, Economy of force, Maneuver, Unity of command, Surprise, Simplicity. 

Thus, when conducting public opinion warfare, there must be “mass”; i.e., you have a large number of outlets working at the same time. You also must “maneuver”; i.e., you need to be flexible, and you need to take the “offensive” to exploit openings as they occur. 

“Unity of command” couples with “mass” to ensure that everyone is working toward the same “objective.” 

So, Chinese political warfare efforts writ large will be conducted under a single plan; will rarely involve just one action, comment, or outlet; and likely will be sustained. It will enjoy operational security (OPSEC), the same way that a military operation should. (Leakers will not be feted and celebrated.) 

Similarly, Chinese political warfare will operate as a “combined arms” effort, employing different methods and exploiting the strengths of each. We see this with the Chinese lawsuits accusing the U.S. of starting (or at least spreading) the new coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19. 

That highlights operationalization of these aspects. Multiple lawsuits (legal warfare) follows on the heels of tweets and broader discussions in the Chinese media, all hammering the same ideas. 

One can insist that “political warfare” is a misnomer—that it’s not even “warfare”—and for the West, including the U.S., that may well be true. 

But that’s not how the Chinese see it at all. For them, political warfare is the hardest form of soft power and is a strategic option that is underway all the time. 

That the world is in the grip of a pandemic makes little difference, because for the Chinese Communist Party, war is not politics by other means. Politics is war by other means.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal