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Chinese information operations and information warfare

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Informatized warfare of China[1] is the implementation of information warfare (IW) within the Chinese military. Laid out in the Chinese Defence White Paper of 2008,[2] 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).[3] However, some media and analyst report also uses the term to describe the political and espionage effort from the Chinese state.[4]


People's Liberation Army 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 Chinese military leadership 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.[1]

Taking informationization as the goal of modernization of its national defense and armed forces and in light of its national and military conditions, China actively pushes forward with the revolution in military affairs with Chinese characteristics.

— —China’s National Defense in 2008[2]

United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission defines "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."[3]

United States Defense Intelligence Agency 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 IW, 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 Liberation Army Daily, of 13 and 20 June 1995, Senior Colonel Wang Baocun and Li Fei of the Academy of Military Science, Beijing, 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:

  • Substantive destruction, the use of hard weapons to destroy enemy headquarters, command posts, and command and control (C2) information centers
  • Electronic warfare, the use of electronic means of jamming or the use of antiradiation [electromagnetic] weapons to attack enemy information and intelligence collection systems such as communications and radar
  • Military deception, the use of operations such as tactical feints [simulated attacks] to shield or deceive enemy intelligence collection systems
  • Operational secrecy, the use of all means to maintain secrecy and keep the enemy from collecting intelligence on our operations
  • Psychological warfare, the use of TV, radio, and leaflets to undermine the enemy's military morale.

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

  • Information defense means preventing the destruction of one's own information systems, ensuring that these systems can perform their normal functions. In future wars, key information and information systems will become "combat priorities," the key targets of enemy attack.
  • Information offense means attacking enemy information systems. Its aims are: destroying or jamming enemy information sources, to undermine or weaken enemy C&C capability, and cutting off the enemy's whole operational system. The key targets of information offense are the enemy's combat command, control and coordination, intelligence, and global information systems. A successful information offensive requires three prerequisites:
    • 1) the capability to understand the enemy's information systems, and the establishment of a corresponding database system;
    • 2) diverse and effective means of attack; and
    • 3) the capability to make battle damage assessments [BDA] of attacked targets.
      — Senior Colonel Wang Baocun and Li Fei of the Academy of Military Science, Beijing, 1995.[7]

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."[8] 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."[9]

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".[10]

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.[10] He notes that although Chinese understanding of IW was initially based on western concepts, it has increasingly moved towards evolving its own orientation.

This list omits an element that plays a large role in Chinese IW and IO: computer network operations.[11]


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.[12] From that point forward, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) began to seriously invest in and develop its own concepts of information warfare and what they mean to China.

The idea of a revolution in military affairs including information warfare has arisen as a school of thought in Chinese warfare.[13] 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.[14]

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.[15]


The Chinese strategy of information warfare focuses on the use of what China calls "strategems" to build and maintain information superiority. These strategems help China compensate for its deficiencies in technology-based weapons, and may contain efforts to create cognitive errors and to influence the contents, process, and direction of thinking of an adversary. Cyberspace operations are used to achieve information dominance through reconnaissance and espionage, conducting network intrusions to steal and possibly alter data.[16]

The Chinese concept of "Unrestricted Warfare" combines elements of information operations, cyberspace operations, irregular warfare, lawfare,[17][18] and foreign relations, carried out in peacetime, as well as in conflict. The United States is viewed as a militarily superior foe whose advantages can be overcome through strategy and information operations. The U.S. reliance on technology, both in the military and in the civilian population, creates a vulnerability that can be exploited, along with "theoretical blind spots" and "thought errors", such as the absence of a comprehensive theory in DOD doctrine that combines all elements of information warfare.[19][16]

In cyberspace, computer network espionage plays a large role in Chinese efforts to pursue a competitive advantage. In 2009, China was suspected of stealing large terabytes of design data for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter from defense contractor Lockheed Martin's computers. In 2012, a Chinese version, the J-31, appeared to rival the F-35.[20] In 2014, a Chinese national was indicted for theft of sensitive trade secrets defense contractors, particularly data relating to Boeing's C-17 military transport aircraft.[21] Industrial espionage such as this yields economic benefits, as well as military and national security advantages for China, while eroding the technical superiority of the United States. Another concern with this type of espionage is that detailed knowledge of the F-35 and C-17 platforms could afford China the ability to hack a plane's command and control system, to alter its course or possibly disable it in a time of crisis. In addition, a network intrusion could allow an undetectable cyber weapon to be planted, lying dormant until activated during a conflict.[16]

On the defensive side, China employs a combination of legal policies and information technology for censorship and surveillance of dissenters in a program called "The Golden Shield".[22] This is often referred to as "The Great Firewall" of China. In addition, the People's Republic of China actively promotes the idea of "cyber sovereignty", putting borders on the internet based on territorial integrity.[23] This may be a way for the government to bypass the democratic free-flow of information that the internet represents.[16]

Reportedly, the CIA has chronicled China's information warfare activities inside the United States, where financial incentives such as personnel and support in funding are aimed at academic institutions and think tanks to dissuade them from research that paints China in a negative light.[24] In a February 2018 hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, FBI Director Christopher Wray described so-called Confucius Institutes, Chinese language and cultural centers at universities that may be used as espionage tools to influence public opinion or to stifle academic freedom by limiting or disallowing discussions on certain topics. China has invested heavily in the motion picture industry as a way to gain cultural and economic influence, though reportedly China's relationship with Hollywood has started to cool.[25][16]

China has also been propagating an image of itself as a peaceful, nonthreatening nation focused on internal development rather than the pursuit of international power. UN Statements such as President Xi Jinping's that China "will never pursue hegemony, expansion, or sphere of influence" exemplify these attempts at influencing perception. Chinese information warfare doctrine suggests that these tactics are part of a broader strategy of encouraging complacency in potential adversaries. Other tactics include using international fora to promote the idea of arms control for "information weapons" in order to maintain control over its own information apparatus and to level the playing field with technologically advanced powers.[26][16]

Asymmetric warfare

The PLA places on asymmetric warfare, particularly using information warfare to compensate for technological inferiority.[15] In a 2001 paper in the U.S. Military Review,[27] 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.

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."[28]


Information warfare is a subset of informationization.[10] As a result of technological advancement, China has now entered an era where Informationization is the military concept of the present and future. Informationization "entails embracing all the opportunities and technologies the Information Age can offer and integrating them into military systems".[29]

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."[10]

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".[30] 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.[31] China's military strategy is focused on fighting and winning "informationized local wars."[32]

Three warfares

China's "three warfares" strategy involves using public opinion (or media) warfare, psychological warfare and legal warfare (lawfare). 3W's was introduced in 2003.[33]


Chinese information operations against the United States

Computer network operations, including cyber operations, are being undertaken by both Chinese citizens and the Chinese government. Because the United States has a weak critical infrastructure, it is vulnerable to Chinese cyber operations.[34] As was described to the United States Congress:

"In 2007, the Department of Defense, other U.S. Government agencies and departments, and defense-related think tanks and contractors, experienced multiple computer network intrusions, many of which appeared to originate in the PRC".[35]

In response to cyber operations undertaken by China against United States companies and infrastructure, Amitai Etzioni of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies has suggested that China and the United States should agree to a policy of mutually assured restraint with respect to cyberspace. This would involve allowing both states to take the measures they deem necessary for their self-defense while simultaneously agreeing to refrain from taking offensive steps; it would also entail vetting these commitments.[36]

Chinese information operations against Taiwan

The PRC is actively seeking to unify Taiwan with China and uses information operations as an important part of that work. China's actions against Taiwan have been described as an active information war.[37] Despite the large resource outlay the Chinese have been relatively ineffective in influencing the Taiwanese public.[38] 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.[39]

Chinese information operations against India

The Times of India reported that during the 2017 Doklam standoff China used information warfare against India.[40]

Chinese information operations against the Philippines

In 2020 Facebook took down a Chinese network which was part of a disinformation campaign against the Philippines. The campaign used false profiles to influence public opinion, particularly related to politics. The campaign was dubbed "Operation Naval Gazing" by security researchers. Facebook is the dominant information source in the Philippines.[41]


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 tradition targets such as Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, Guo Wengui, and Taiwan.[42][43] Twitter said that the accounts had pushed deceptive narratives and spread propaganda.[44]


In August 2020 Google removed over 2,500 channels on YouTube which they suspected of spreading disinformation for China. The deleted channels mostly featured content in Chinese and included coverage of divisive issues like Black Lives Matter.[45]

See also


  1. ^ a b A. Bitzinger, Richard (27 February 2018). "China's love affair with 'informatized warfare'". Asia Times Online.
  2. ^ a b "China's National Defense in 2008" (PDF). Federation of American Scientists.
  3. ^ a b Dr. Eric C. Anderson; Mr. Jeffrey G. Engstrom. "Capabilities of the Chinese People's Liberation Army to Carry Out Military Action in the Event of a Regional Military Conflict" (PDF). U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
  4. ^ DiResta, Renée (20 July 2020). "Telling China's Story: The Chinese Communist Party's Campaign to Shape Global Narratives" (PDF). Stanford University. Archived (PDF) from the original on 20 July 2020. Retrieved 21 July 2020.
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  6. ^ Wang Pufeng, "Xinxi zhanzheng yu junshi geming" (Information Warfare and the Revolution in Military Affairs), Beijing: Junshi kexueyuan, 1995. Quoted in Mulveron, 1999, "The PLA and Information Warfare"
  7. ^ a b Senior Colonel Wang Baocun and Li Fei, (1995) "Information Warfare" Archived 9 June 2012 at the Wayback Machine Archived 9 June 2012 at the Wayback Machine. Excerpted from articles in Liberation Army Daily, 13 June and 20 June 1995. Reproduced at the Federation of American Scientists website, (Accessed 21 April 2011.)
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  9. ^ James C. Mulvenon, "The PLA and Information Warfare" Archived 7 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine Archived 7 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Chapter 9 in Mulvenon & Yang, Editors, "The People's Liberation Army in the Information Age", (Washington DC: RAND, 1999), pp.175-186
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  11. ^ Edward Sobiesk, "Redefining the Role of Information Warfare in Chinese Strategy" Archived 16 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine Archived 16 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine, GSEC Practical Assignment 1.4b, Option 1, 1 March 2003. Reproduced at SANS Institute, Information Security Reading Room. (Accessed 20 April 2011).
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  16. ^ a b c d e f Theohary, Catherine A., author. Information warfare: issues for Congress. ISBN 2-01-823163-4. OCLC 1076278968.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  17. ^ Dunlap, Charles J. (2011). "Lawfare Today... and Tomorrow". In Pedrozo, Raul A.; Wollschlaeger, Daria P. (eds.). International law and the changing character of war. Naval War College. ISBN 978-2-01-102264-6. OCLC 1136455835.
  18. ^ Kittrie, Orde F., author. (2016). Lawfare law as a weapon of war. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-026357-7. OCLC 942888621.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  19. ^ Liang, Qiao. (2007). Unrestricted warfare : China's master plan to destroy America. Natraj Publishers. ISBN 978-81-8158-084-9. OCLC 699160241.
  20. ^ "China's Copycat Jet Raises Questions About F-35". Defense One. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  21. ^ "Chinese National Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Hack into U.S. Defense Contractors' Systems to Steal Sensitive Military Information". 23 March 2016. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
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  25. ^ Faughnder, Ryan; Koren, James Rufus (12 November 2017). "As China cools on Hollywood, the movie business looks closer to home for money". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
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