China Information Warfare | Burning Issues



  • From Russia’s meddling in the U.S. 2016 presidential election to China’s ―influence operations‖ in Australiaand the United States, it is clear that the manipulation of information in pursuit of political and strategic objectives has become a major dynamic of contemporary international security.
  • under the label of ―information warfare‖ (IW), such operations have been designed ―to influence regulative processes, social norms and collective perceptions‖ and ―to influence, disrupt, corrupt and usurp the decision-making process of an opponent.‖
  • Most discussion of contemporary IW operations assumes they are primarily externally-oriented in nature and application.
    • In China’s case, there has been substantial analysis of its deployment of its IW concept of the ―three warfares‖ (san zhong zhanfa) – public opinion, psychological, and legal warfare – with regard to long-standing international conflicts such as Taiwan, the South China Sea, and territorial disputes with India.
    • However, China has also deployed elements of this strategy to counter a primarily domestic security challenge: the perceived threat of Uyghur militancy, radicalization, and terrorism in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
    • Although Beijing’s approach to combating Uyghur opposition has always rested on the capabilities of the security forces, this has been augmented by policies that are consistent with a core objective of China’s IW strategies:
    • Domestically, this has been manifest in the implementation of measures to ensure the ―comprehensive supervision‖ of ―stability‖ in the region.
    • China’s strategy here is increasingly reliant on the CCP’s implementation of the concept of ―social management‖ as a means of preserving its hold on power, — embodies an effort to optimize ―interactions vertically (within the Party), horizontally (between agencies), and holistically, between the Party and society‖ via the harnessing of innovative technologies in order ―to improve governance capacity to shape, manage, and respond to social demands.‖
    • This dynamic is perhaps best reflected in the roll out of China’s ―social credit‖ system, which relies on collecting and analyzing meta-data to shape and ―score‖ individual citizens’ economic and social behavior.
    • The effect fuels both passive participation through the state’s access to personal data linked to everyday conveniences (such as electronic payment systems) and active participation by coercing people into allowing the state to monitor and punish individuals for noncompliance.
    • this is emblematic of a system of ―predictive policing,‖ whereby monitoring an individual’s social interactions, use of social media, and physical movement enables the state to make real-time assessments of their perceived ―threat‖ to it at any time.
    • Since 2014 the Xinjiang regional government has systematically implemented this dystopian vision of digitally-powered totalitarianism in the service of ―stability‖ including: installation of China’s ―Skynet‖ electronic surveillance system in major urban areas; putting GPS trackers in motor vehicles; facial recognition scanners at checkpoints; and installation of apps that wipe smartphones of so-called ―subversive‖ material
  • Such tech-heavy endeavors have also been paralleled by an intensification of more manpower-centric measures of surveillance and policing including: implementation of ―convenience police stations‖ in urban areas; deployment of thousands of CCP cadres into the countryside to ―educate‖ the Uyghur population on government policies; and coordinated mass anti-terrorism ―oath-taking rallies‖ by thousands of security personnel in major cities such as Urumqi, Kashgar, and Khotan.
  • Beijing has also engaged in public opinion warfare through consistent publication in state media such as China Daily, Xinhua, and Global Times of op-eds and reporting that explicitly attack Western media coverage of violence in Xinjiang. After the March 2014 Kunming terrorist attack, for instance, China Daily published an trenchant op-ed decrying the West’s ―double standards‖ on terrorism.
  • As information about China’s mass ―re-education camps‖ has reached international audiences, Beijing has also begun to deploy a number of different narratives on these media platforms to combat what it views as ―disinformation‖ about the situation in Xinjiang.
  • The objective is to forcibly move Uyghurs away from their own ethnic identity in order, in Xi’s words, to ―enhance their sense of identity with the motherland, the Chinese nation, Chinese culture, the CCP, and socialism with Chinese characteristics.‖

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