In June 2011 I wrote a blog post with the ever polite title China’s View Is More Important Than Yours. I was frustrated with the Western-centric, inward-focused view of many commentators, which put themselves at the center of debates over digital conflict, neglecting the possibility that other parties could perceive the situation differently. I remain concerned that while Western thinkers debate war using Western, especially Clausewitzian, models, Eastern adversaries, including hybrid Eastern-Western cultures, perceive war in their own terms.
I wrote in June 2011:
The Chinese military sees Western culture, particularly American culture, as an assault on China, saying “the West uses a system of values (democracy, freedom, human rights, etc.) in a long-term attack on socialist countries…
Marxist theory opposes peaceful evolution, which… is the basic Western tactic for subverting socialist countries” (pp 102-3). They believe the US is conducting psychological warfare operations against socialism and consider culture as a “frontier” that has extended beyond American shores into the Chinese mainland.
The Chinese therefore consider control of information to be paramount, since they do not trust their population to “correctly” interpret American messaging (hence the “Great Firewall of China”). In this sense, China may consider the US as the aggressor in an ongoing cyberwar.
Today thanks to a Tweet by Jennifer McArdle I noticed a May 2015 story featuring a translation of a People’s Daily article. The English translation is posted as Cybersovereignty Symbolizes National Sovereignty.
I recommend reading the whole article, but the following captures the spirit of the message:
Western hostile forces and a small number of “ideological traitors” in our country use the network, and relying on computers, mobile phones and other such information terminals, maliciously attack our Party, blacken the leaders who founded the New China, vilify our heroes, and arouse mistaken thinking trends of historical nihilism, with the ultimate goal of using “universal values” to mislead us, using “constitutional democracy” to throw us into turmoil, use “colour revolutions” to overthrow us, use negative public opinion and rumours to oppose us, and use “de-partification and depoliticization of the military” to upset us.
This article demonstrates that, four years after my first post, there are still elements, at least in the PLA, who believe that China is fighting a cyber war, and that the US started it.
I thought the last line from the PLA Daily article was especially revealing:
Only if we act as we did at the time of the Battle of Triangle Hill, are riveted to the most forward position of the battlefield and the fight in this ideological struggle, are online “seed machines and propaganda teams”, and arouse hundreds and thousands in the “Red Army”, will we be able to be good shock troops and fresh troops in the construction of the “Online Great Wall”, and will we be able to endure and vanquish in this protracted, smokeless war.
The Battle of Triangle Hill was an engagement during the Korean War, with Chinese forces fighting American, South Korean, Ethiopian, and Columbian forces. Both sides suffered heavy losses over a protracted engagement, although the Chinese appear to have lost more and viewed their attrition strategy as worthwhile. It’s ominous this PLA editorial writer decided to cite a battle between US and Chinese forces to communicate his point about online conflict, but it should make it easier for American readers to grasp the seriousness of the issue in Chinese minds.