China is waging political warfare against the United States as part of a strategy to drive the U.S. military out of Asia and control seas near its coasts, according to a Pentagon-sponsored study.
A defense contractor report produced for the Office of Net Assessment, the Pentagon’s think tank on future warfare, describes in detail China’s “Three Warfares” as psychological, media, and legal operations. They represent an asymmetric “military technology” that is a surrogate for conflict involving nuclear and conventional weapons.
The unclassified 566-page report warns that the U.S. government and the military lack effective tools for countering the non-kinetic warfare methods, and notes that U.S. military academies do not teach future military leaders about the Chinese use of unconventional warfare. It urges greater efforts to understand the threat and adopt steps to counter it.
The report highlights China’s use of the Three Warfares in various disputes, including dangerous encounters between U.S. and Chinese warships; the crisis over the 2001 mid-air collision between a U.S. EP-3E surveillance plane and a Chinese jet; and China’s growing aggressiveness in various maritime disputes in the South China and East China Seas.
"The Three Warfares is a dynamic three dimensional war-fighting process that constitutes war by other means,” said Cambridge University professor Stefan Halper, who directed the study. “It is China's weapon of choice in the South China Sea.”
Seven other China specialists, including former Reagan Pentagon policymaker Michael Pillsbury, contributed to the study. A copy of the assessment was obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. Disclosure of the report is unusual as most studies produced for the Office of Net Assessment are withheld from public release.
The May 2013 report was written before the dangerous near collision in the South China Sea last December between the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens and a Chinese naval vessel. Senior defense officials said the incident could have led to a larger military “miscalculation” between the two nations.
Chinese state media falsely blamed the United States for the incident and falsely asserted that it had declared a no-sail zone prior to the Dec. 5 encounter. The zone was imposed after that date.
According to the final Pentagon report, China’s use of Three Warfares is based on the notion that the modern information age has rendered nuclear weapons unusable and conventional conflict too problematic for achieving political goals. China’s goals are to acquire resources, influence, and territory and to project national will.
“China’s Three Warfares [are] designed to counter U.S. power projection,” the report says. “The United States is one of four key audiences targeted by the campaign, as part of China’s broader military strategy of ‘anti-access/area denial’ in the South China Sea.”
The Pentagon regards China’s high-technology arms, such as anti-satellite missiles and cyber warfare capabilities, as arms designed to prevent the U.S. military from entering the region or operating freely there.
The study concludes that in the decade ahead China will employ unconventional warfare techniques on issues ranging from the Senkaku Islands dispute in northeast Asia to the disputed Paracels in the South China Sea.
For the United States, the Three Warfares seek to curtail U.S. power projection in Asia that is needed to support allies, such as Japan and South Korea, and to assure freedom of navigation by attempting to set terms for allowing U.S. access to the region.
The use of psychological, media, and legal attacks by China is part of an effort to raise “doubts about the legitimacy of the U.S. presence.”
The use of the techniques threatens to limit U.S. power projection in the region through influence operations that “diminish or rupture U.S. ties with the South China Sea littoral states and deter governments from providing forward basing facilities or other support,” the report says.
Another goal of the Chinese is to limit U.S. surveillance operations through harassment of aircraft and ships and to try and restrict routine U.S. Navy deployments.
China is also using the Three Warfares to facilitate its military expansion and global reach, and to secure sea-lanes needed to transport vitally needed oil from the Middle East.
The Pentagon study urged the development of effective countermeasures to Beijing’s psychological, legal, and media warfare efforts.
They include forceful legal action to challenge China’s so-called “lawfare” initiatives, high profile statements of U.S. security support for states in the region, and expanded support for regional political forums.
Militarily, the United States should continue reconnaissance missions by U.S. ships and aircraft and protect them with force protection weapons to deter harassment or attack. Clear rules of engagement should be developed to prevent a recurrence of the 2001 EP-3E incident.
Increased naval exercises and more “freedom of navigation” exercises also should be held within China’s exclusive economic zones in the region to counter Beijing’s claims in disputed waters.
The report also calls for bolstering “public diplomacy” campaigns in Asia, using targeted investment and development in the region, and expanding military talks and exchanges.
The Pentagon defines psychological warfare as efforts to influence or disrupt an enemy’s decision-making capabilities, to create doubts, foment anti-leadership sentiments, and deceive opponents.
Psychological warfare includes diplomatic pressure, rumors, false narratives, and harassment to “express displeasure, assert hegemony, and convey threats,” the report said.
For example, China’s economy has been used to threaten the United States with the sale of its large U.S. debt holdings, and state-controlled Chinese businesses have pressured U.S. businesses in China. Boycotts, restrictions on critical exports, such as rare earth minerals, and threats to use predatory trade practices are other Chinese soft warfare means.
For media warfare, also known as public opinion warfare, the Chinese use constant activities to influence perceptions and attitudes.
“It leverages all instruments that inform and influence public opinion including films, television programs, books, the internet, and the global media network (particularly Xinhua and CCTV) and is undertaken nationally by the [People’s Liberation Army], locally by the People’s Armed Police, and is directed against domestic populations in target countries,” the report said.
Hollywood has also been influenced by threats from the Chinese government, which threatens to block market access in an effort to pressure movie studios to avoid themes Beijing opposes.
Also, China’s state-controlled television network CCTV maintains a full time White House reporter who regularly joins the rotating media pool, a position that could permit influencing U.S. media on China through pool reports.
The goal of media warfare is to weaken an enemy’s will to fight, alter its awareness, and assist psychological and legal warfare goals.
Legal warfare exploits laws to achieve political or commercial objectives.
China has used lawfare to bolster its territorial claims. An example was the designation of the South China Sea village of Sansha, on the disputed Paracel Islands, as part of Hainan Prefecture. The legal measure sought to extend China’s control far into the South China Sea. Vietnam, Philippines, and other states have claimed the islands.
Tools used in lawfare include domestic laws, international legislation, judicial law, legal pronouncements, and law enforcement. They are often used in combination.
The report warns that the three types of unconventional warfare addressed individually are “manageable” problems, but taken together they challenge traditional U.S. concepts of war.
“Our war colleges and military research traditions emphasize kinetic exchange, the positioning and destruction of assets, and metrics that measure success by kill ratios and infrastructure destruction,” the report said. “By adopting the Three Warfares as an offensive weapon, the Chinese have side-stepped the coda of American military science.”
The use of these warfare techniques allows China to achieve strategic objectives using a new military technology that has not been considered in the past by the West.
To solve the problem, the report recommends setting up a White House office to coordinate countermeasures to the Three Warfares.
“If the Three Warfares is not a ‘game changer,’ it certainly has the capacity to modify the game in substantial ways,” the report said.