Sunday, October 11th 2015
“China’s doctrine of Three Warfares, approved in 2003, recognises how war is changing in the information age. While kinetic force still remains necessary as a potent deterrent . . . Three Warfares aims to undermine international institutions, change borders, and subvert global media, all without firing a shot.” Laura Jackson described the doctrine’s three elements – psychological warfare, media warfare, and legal warfare -- in an essay, “Revisions of Reality: The Three Warfares—China’s New Way of War,” in the Legatum Institute’s September, 2015, report, “Information at War: From China’s Three Warfares to NATO’s Narratives [PDF].” She made recommendations for media initiatives that would challenge Chinese views.
China’s Three Warfares has the following key components:
Psychological warfare seeks to influence and disrupt the decision-making capabilities of an opponent, to foster doubts about an opponent’s ability, to demoralise both military personnel and civilian populations, and thus, over time, to diminish their will to act.
Psychological warfare recognises that the true aim in war is the mind of hostile rulers, rather than any physical entity such as troop numbers or armament supplies. In its application, China targets the thinking of both foreign leaders and their domestic audiences.
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Media warfare (also known as ‘public opinion warfare’) can be defined as a constant ongoing activity aimed at influencing and conditioning perceptions. It is conducted through television programmes, newspaper articles (particularly in China Daily and the Global Times), books, films, and the Internet, as well as through monitoring and censorship of social media networks and blogs such as Sina Weibo (China’s equivalent of Twitter) by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s 2 million official ‘public opinion analysts’.
China’s extensive global media network, most notably the Xinhua News Agency and China Central Television (CCTV), also plays a key role, broadcasting in foreign languages and providing programming to stations throughout Africa, Central Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Chinese media warfare operations reflect familiar themes, including the claims that:
- The West (most notably the US) and certain regional players (Japan) do not respect Chinese domestic law.
- The US, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan are to blame for the multitude of incidents and incursions that occur on China’s periphery, particularly in the East and South China Seas and the airspace above.
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Legal warfare (or ‘lawfare’) involves the exploitation of legal systems, customs, and conventions, both international and domestic, in order to drive towards political and/or commercial gains. . . . . China has experienced rule by law, not rule of law, with the Communist Party viewing the law simply as one of the many tools at its disposal, to be harnessed, shaped, and moulded as it sees fit (or as far as international public opinion will allow) given the particular legal challenge China needs to overcome. For instance, China continuously takes aim at the law of the sea, . . . manipulating it to its advantage in order to establish a greater footing in the South and East China Seas. China aims to both undermine its opponent’s legal cases, which are based upon existing treaty law as embodied in UNCLOS, and also to establish arguments in customary international law for China’s position on an issue by setting precedents.
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Faced with such a challenge, there are a number of practical steps the international community can take to guard against China’s Three Warfares, to protect other South China Sea claimants from the full impact of Beijing’s psychological warfare, and to provide much-needed reassurance regarding the region’s security and prosperity.
- China relies heavily on the West’s free press to transmit the effects of its propaganda campaign to a broader international audience, with international newspapers affording the same legitimacy to state-directed propaganda as to factual, non-partisan reporting. As senior China expert Larry Wortzel argues, “the PLA seems to believe that by constantly repeating its message in the Western press and in other forms of contact, it will be accepted.” To counter this false equivalency, public education regarding the nature of China’s challenge is essential. Regular briefings on the South China Sea, China’s tactics, and the stakes at play are needed to provide informative, reliable, and unbiased commentaries to counter the China narrative and offer the crucial context needed by journalists. Continuous publication of satellite imagery (such as the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative’s “Island Tracker”) will help increase awareness of China’s land reclamation activities.
- Western media news outlets should broadcast directly from the military vessels of the United States and regional claimants operating in the South China Sea area. In the case of China’s maritime militias of fishing vessels or the China Coast Guard performing dangerous manoeuvres that potentially result in a maritime fracas, video footage will prevent China from acquiring ‘victim status’ and help stop the global public from being subjected to a false version of events.
- Global attention should be focused on China’s challenge to international laws. Public education is required regarding the existing provisions and limitations as codified in UNCLOS—particularly the four key definitions of coastal waters, territorial sea, contiguous zones, and Exclusive Economic Zones that China is attempting to put into play via its use of bogus maps and domestic legislation. The international community should also promote a global and regional discussion of sovereignty and pertinent historical facts by referencing legal experts in the media.