Informatized warfare of China is the implementation of information warfare (IW) within the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and other organizations affiliated or controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Laid out in the Chinese Defence White Paper of 2008,[1] informatized warfare includes the utilization of information-based weapons and forces, including battlefield management systems, precision-strike capabilities, and technology-assisted command and control (C4ISR).[2] However, some media and analyst reports also uses the term to describe propaganda and influence operations efforts of the Chinese state.[3]

Definitions

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) defines the term informatization to describe the implementation of information technology in the digital age, and as an evaluation criteria of its military modernization effort. The Central Military Commission aims to transform PLA from conducting people's war to engage in warfare conditions of informatization, which includes moving the military doctrine from weapon platform-centric to cyber-centric. The indicated characteristic of the cyber-centric force is the utilization of network linkages (data-link) among platforms.[4]

Eric C. Anderson and Jeffrey G. Engstrom define "informationization" and informatized warfare in Chinese military doctrine as follows: "[A]t the operational level appears focused on providing an integrated platform for joint war-zone command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) connectivity, and for peacetime command and control (C2) within the PLA’s Military Regions."[2]

The United States Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) defines China's "informatized warfare" as similar to U.S. military's concept of net-centric capability, which means the military's capability to use advanced information technology and communications systems to gain operational advantage over an adversary.[5]

In 1995, the father of Chinese information warfare, Major General Wang Pufeng, wrote "Information war is a crucial stage of high-tech war... At its heart are information technologies, fusing intelligence war, strategic war, electronic war, guided missile war, a war of "motorization" [jidong zhan], a war of firepower [huoli]—a total war. It is a new type of warfare."[6]

In two articles in the People's Liberation Army Daily, of 13 and 20 June 1995, Senior Colonel Wang Baocun and Li Fei of the Academy of Military Science noted several definitions. They concluded:

'We hold that information warfare has both narrow and broad meanings. Information warfare in the narrow sense refers to the U.S. military's so-called "battlefield information warfare," the crux of which is "command and control warfare." It is defined as the comprehensive use, with intelligence support, of military deception, operational secrecy, psychological warfare, electronic warfare, and substantive destruction to assault the enemy's whole information system including personnel; and to disrupt the enemy's information flow, in order to impact, weaken, and destroy the enemy's command and control capability, while keeping one's own command and control capability from being affected by similar enemy actions.'[7]

They went on to state:

The essential substance of information warfare in the narrow sense is made up of five major elements and two general areas.

The five major elements are:

The two general areas are information protection (defense) and information attack (offense):

A July 1998 conference held in San Diego, sponsored jointly by the RAND Center for Asia-Pacific Policy and the Taiwan-based Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies, "brought together Chinese military experts to discuss the non-hardware side of the People's Liberation Army's modernization."[6] In his presentation, James C. Mulvenon stated: "Chinese writings clearly suggest that IW is a solely military subject, and as such, they draw inspiration primarily from U.S. military writings. The net result of this "borrowing" is that many PLA authors' definitions of IW and IW concepts sound eerily familiar."[6]: 175–186 

In December 1999, Xie Guang, the then Vice Minister of Science & Technology and Industry for National Defence, defined IW as:

"IW in military sense means overall use of various types (of) information technologies, equipment and systems, particularly his command systems, to shake determination of enemy’s policy makers and at the same time, the use of all the means possible to ensure that that one’s own systems are not damaged or disturbed".[8]

In a strategic analysis paper for the Indian Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses written in 2006, Vinod Anand examines the definitions of Chinese Information Warfare.[8] He notes that although Chinese understanding of IW was initially based on western concepts, it has increasingly moved towards evolving its own orientation.[9]

Background and characteristics

Further information: Unrestricted Warfare and Three warfares

China's interest in information warfare began after the United States victory in the first Gulf War (1990–1991). U.S. success was the result of information technologies and the total dominance it was able to provide in the battle space.[10] From that point forward, the PLA began to seriously invest in and develop its own concepts of information warfare and what they mean to China.

As a result of technological advancement, China has now entered an era where informationization can be applied to military domains.[8][11]

China's 2004 White Paper on National Defense outlines the importance of informationization.

"The PLA, aiming at building an informationalised force and winning an information war, deepens its reforms, dedicates itself to innovation, improves its quality and actively pushes forward the RMA with Chinese characteristics with informationalization at its core."[8]

The U.S. Department of Defense's 2009 Annual Report to Congress on "Military Power of the People's Republic of China" defines local wars under conditions of informationization as "high intensity and short duration fighting against high technology adversaries" ... "capable of fighting and winning short-duration, high-intensity conflicts along its periphery against high-tech adversaries".[12] Additionally, local war under informationization is an effort which seeks to fully develop and link land, air, sea, space and the electromagnetic spectrum into one system.[13] China's military strategy is focused on fighting and winning "informationized local wars."[14]

China's leadership has continuously stressed using asymmetric techniques to counter more powerful nations, such as the United States, and information warfare is a tool that the PLA uses to achieve their goals.[15][16] In a 2001 paper in the U.S. Military Review, T. L. Thomas examines the writings of Major General Dai Qingmin (Director of the PLA's Communications Department of the General Staff responsible for IW and IO), Senior Colonel Wang Baocun (of the PLA's Academy of Military Sciences) and others on the ways that China is employing "Electronic Strategies" to realise the benefits of asymmetric warfare. Thomas also summarises the April 2000 issue of the Chinese journal China Military Science which contains three articles on information warfare subjects. The only article written in English ("The Current Revolution in Military Affairs and its Impact on Asia-Pacific Security," by Senior Colonel Wang Baocun) presents a quite different approach to an article Wang Baocun wrote only three years previously where he presented a description of IW which contained the elements of Soviet/Russian military science.[17]

In the article "On Information Warfare Strategies", by Major General Niu Li, Colonel Li Jiangzhou and Major Xu Dehui (of the Communications and Command Institute), the authors define IW stratagems as "schemes and methods devised and used by commanders and commanding bodies to seize and maintain information supremacy on the basis of using clever methods to prevail at a relatively small cost in information warfare."[18]

In 2003, the CCP approved the three warfares strategy for the PLA, which involves using public opinion (or media) warfare, psychological warfare and legal warfare (lawfare).[19]

While China has adopted the idea of information dominance, its method for going about information dominance differs, using ancient political warfare methods such as the Thirty-Six Stratagems.[20][16] The PLA has also increasingly stressed an operational concept called "cognitive domain operations."[21]

On the defensive side, China employs a combination of legal policies and information technology for censorship and surveillance of dissenters in a program called Golden Shield.[22] This is often referred to as the Great Firewall of China. China promotes the idea of "national cyber sovereignty," which Xi Jinping has described as the avoidance of "cyber hegemony" and the idea that countries should respect each other's national security in cyberspace.[23]

Information operations

Pro-China disinformation campaigns in 2021 showed greater sophistication compared to 2019. It has been difficult to attribute with certainty whether Chinese state actors are behind these actions.[24]

COVID-19

Further information: COVID-19 misinformation by China

Disinformation campaigns sought to downplay the emergence of COVID-19 in China and manipulate information about its spread around the world.[25][26] In January 2023, Google stated that it shut down more than 50,000 accounts promoting disinformation about COVID-19, Taiwan, and U.S. politics. The campaign is believed to be linked to Chinese public relations firm Shanghai Haixun Technology Co.[27] Haixun has planted pro-Beijing stories in dozens of American news outlets online.[28]

Taiwan

Further information: United front in Taiwan and Anti-Infiltration Act

The PRC seeks unification with Taiwan and uses information operations, sometimes referred to as "information war", as an important part of that work.[29][30] Despite the large resource outlay the Chinese have been relatively ineffective in influencing the Taiwanese public.[31] According to James C. Mulvenon rather than risk failure of a militarily forced unification, which could lead to international recognition of the independence of Taiwan, PRC leadership could potentially use computer network operations to undermine the will of Taiwan by attacking Taiwanese infrastructure.[32]

In 2022 Taiwan's Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau revealed that it had identified more than 400 social media accounts being used to push disinformation to Taiwanese citizens as part of Chinese content farms.[33] In 2023, the Investigation Bureau announced that it was monitoring for money laundering undertaken in an effort to finance election interference in Taiwan.[34]

During the 2022 Chinese military exercises around Taiwan, Taiwanese officials accused the PLA of engaging in information warfare with claims of military exercises close to Penghu.[35]

United States

See also: Chinese espionage in the United States and Foreign electoral intervention

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been carrying out propaganda against the West since the 1960s, spreading its ideology and creating division among the population. Its foreign-directed propaganda has been known to back far-left political activists and radical feminism.[36][37][38]

Using a variety of methods, the PRC has recruited American agents of influence to advocate for Chinese interests in the United States. While many of these agents of influence serve China unwittingly, they can be very effective. A 1999 Congressional report found that "the Chinese Government continues to seek influence in Congress through various means, including inviting Congressional members to visit the PRC, lobbying ethnic Chinese voters and prominent U.S. citizens, and engaging U.S. business interests to weigh in on issues of mutual concern."[39]

China also uses its vast market as leverage in order to persuade American companies to lobby for Chinese interests. This is especially true of companies that deal in high technology or dual-use technology, as there are significant export controls placed on such technology. According to the 1999 Cox Report, "Executives wishing to do business in the PRC share a mutual commercial interest with the PRC in minimizing export controls on dual-use and military-related technologies. The PRC has displayed a willingness to exploit this mutuality of interest in several notoriously public cases by inducing VIPs from large U.S. companies to lobby on behalf of initiatives, such as export liberalization, on which they are aligned with the PRC."[40]

Chinese government information operations have also attempted to co-opt local NIMBY sentiment to drive opposition against perceived economic threats such as the development projects that compete with the rare earth industry in China.[41]

In 2024 Network Contagion reported that several member organizations of the pro-Palestinian movement Shut It Down for Palestine (SID4P) are linked to what it calls the "Singham Network" under Neville Roy Singham, who has close ties to the CCP according to Network Contagion.[42] The report accuses the Singham Network of stoking unrest at the grassroot level and amplifying the voice of SID4P and says that at least one member of SID4P has ties to extremist groups with anti-American, anti-Israel, and anti-Jewish agendas.[42]

U.S. elections

See also: 1996 United States campaign finance controversy

Through its agents in America, the PRC has financed a number of political candidates. Katrina Leung, a Chinese spy, contributed $10,000 to the campaign of Richard Riordan, the former mayor of Los Angeles. When he lost his primary to Bill Simon Jr., Leung contributed $4,200 to Simon's campaign. At the direction of her Chinese handlers, Leung also contributed to the 1992 campaign of George H. W. Bush. It is estimated that Leung donated around $27,000 to politicians in the 1990s on behalf of the PRC.[43]

A 2012 report by the Government Accountability Institute[44] cites other examples: It was discovered that officers from the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. "sought to direct contributions from foreign sources to the Democratic National Committee before the 1996 presidential campaign."[45] While these allegations have been denied by the PRC, "Secret communications between Beijing and the Chinese Embassy in Washington establish that the influence-buying plan was 'government sanctioned...'"[46]

In 1996, People's Liberation Army intelligence officer Gen. Ji Shengde provided Johnny Chung, a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee, with $300,000 to donate towards President Bill Clinton's reelection. Chung visited the White House over fifty times during the 1996 presidential campaign, and was responsible for over $400,000 of contributions to the DNC.[47]

In September 2022, Meta Platforms removed fake accounts linked to a China-based influence operation ahead of the 2022 United States elections.[48][49] In the run-up to the 2024 United States elections, the Ministry of Public Security's Spamouflage influence operation was identified as having used fake social media accounts in an attempt to amplify divisions in US society.[50]

Russian invasion of Ukraine

Further information: China and the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Ukraine bioweapons conspiracy theory

During the Russian invasion of Ukraine, state news agency Xinhua and other Chinese state media outlets paid for digital ads on Facebook amplifying pro-Kremlin disinformation and propaganda after Meta Platforms banned Russian state media advertisement buys.[51][52][53][54] In March 2022, China Global Television Network repeated unsubstantiated Russian claims of biological weapons labs in Ukraine.[55][56][57] The CCP-owned tabloid Global Times also echoed Russian state media claims that the Bucha massacre was staged.[58]

Other regions

The Times of India reported that during the 2017 Doklam standoff China used information operations against India.[59]

In 2020, Facebook took down a network of inauthentic accounts that, according to Graphika, were attributed to individuals in China. The information campaign focused on politics in Southeast Asia and was dubbed "Operation Naval Gazing" by security researchers.[60][61]

Other platforms

In June 2020, Twitter shut down 23,750 primary accounts and approximately 150,000 booster accounts which were being used by China to conduct an information operation aimed at boosting China's global position during the COVID-19 outbreak as well as attacking traditional targets such as Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, Guo Wengui, and Taiwan.[62][63] Twitter said that the accounts had pushed deceptive narratives and spread propaganda.[64]

In 2020 Google removed over 2,500 YouTube accounts linked to China. Most of them uploaded spam-like content unrelated to politics, but a subset posted content primarily in Chinese about COVID-19 and racial protests in the United States.[65][66]

See also

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