The COVID-19 pandemic has been the largest, deadliest, and most impactful event to occur as of yet in the 21st century. The virus has caused the deaths of well over 170,000 people and infected nearly 2,500,000. Trillions of dollars have been lost as a result of economic stagnation, and millions of workers now find themselves unemployed. By the time a vaccine or anti-viral treatment is found, misery and pain will have entered the homes of hundreds of millions of innocent people. When the pandemic has passed, the average person will be ready to pick up, move on, and get back to work. However, governments cannot forget the reason a global pandemic began in the first place, and must be prepared to punish those responsible. The cause of the COVID-19 pandemic lies in the Chinese government’s thirst for power, and its reliance on the suppression of medical professionals, deception of the international community, and denial of basic truths during the early stages of the international response. The actions of Chinese officials may have cost thousands of lives, and perhaps even worsened COVID-19s spread at times it could’ve been halted. This behavior, however, is not new for the People’s Republic. The government in Beijing has repeatedly muzzled free speech advocates within its own borders, ignored international norms in its quest to control the South China Sea, peddled its influence across the world through soft power, and committed cyber attacks against government entities and private industry. If the United States fails to acknowledge China as a foe and effectively confront it, the superpower will see its national interests harmed and strategic goals stifled. This report is the culmination of a nearly nine week investigation into the Chinese government, and recommends, amongst other things, the inauguration of a political warfare campaign against the Chinese government. The research and recommendations presented within focus on high-pay-off, practical, and impactful US actions that will advance strategic objectives in an increasingly dangerous world.
Chinese Strategic Objectives
In order for any state to be successful, it must have attainable goals and aspirations. In the world of International Affairs, these are known as strategic objectives (SO). Strategic objectives are long-term goals that help convert vague visions into detailed plans, projects, and initiatives.
The People’s Republic of China and Chinese Communist Party have four main strategic objectives: the preservation of internal order, sustainment of economic growth and development, security of national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the inauguration of China as a great power. It views these objectives as necessary not only for Chinese advancement, but for the survival of the state itself. Below, the Intelligence Ledger has provided brief rundowns on each of these SOs, and describes how the People’s Republic has sought to advance them.
PRESERVATION OF INTERNAL ORDER The PRC controls territory roughly equivalent in size to that of the United States of America. Yet, with nearly 1.3 billion people, its population is over four times as large. Sixty percent of the population lives in only 24% of the country, and most of those live on China’s expansive coast. The other 74% of China is populated by what the Chinese government calls, “national minorities.” The national minorities are composed of Tibetans and Kazakhs, with Uyghurs and other muslim groups in the relatively rebellious region of Xinjiang. These minorities have strained relations with the government in Beijing, and have close ties with groups in other countries or unofficial relations with other states. China views the preservation of order in Tibet and Xinjiang as vital to its national security. Xinjiang is home to Uyghuri separatists who have engaged in acts of protest, both peaceful and violent, to promote independence. In Tibet, most of the population is loyal to the Dalai Lama, a monk who is in exile and believes in an autonomous state. He has been charged by the PRC with promoting Tibetan independence, and thus has been labeled a traitor. Most recently, the mass protests in Hong Kong have proven extremely disconcerting to the government in Beijing. The mass protests against the central government began in June 2019, when activists called attention to the central governments increasing interference in city affairs. They continued throughout the year, evolving into a movement pushing for democratic reforms within Hong Kong itself and throughout greater China. Although the mass public protests have largely ceased as a result of social-distancing and COVID-19, the tension between the semi-autonomous city and Beijing largely remains. In a speech on national security on April 15, 2020, Luo Huining, head of the People's Republic of China's liaison office in Hong Kong, repeatedly stated that the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong threatens not only the rule of law, but the Chinese way of life, "If the anthill eroding the rule of law is not cleared, the dam of national security will be destroyed and the well-being of all Hong Kong Residents will be damaged." He further declared, "there's a need to put effort into maintaining the national security legal system and enforcement system as soon as possible." As noted previously, the Chinese government views these movements as a national security threat. As such, it devotes a great deal of resources, time, and effort to suppress and stomp out such ideas. It does this by not only using police actions, military force, and political power, but by also severing outside sources of diplomatic support and aid from international actors. SUSTAINMENT OF ECONOMIC GROWTH Since 1979, the People's Republic of China has enjoyed unprecedented levels of economic growth. For the past 40 years, China's real gross domestic product (GDP) has grown at an annual rate of nearly 10%. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, may change that trend. Official government numbers from April of 2020 broadcast a nearly 6.8% decline in GDP for the first quarter of the year, the first ever contraction since China started reporting quarterly GDP data in 1992. Of course, a deep contraction isn't surprising given the massive quarantine and lockdown implemented to contain the deadly virus. More concerning for the Chinese Communist Party, however, is the rate at which countries are shifting their supply chains out of China. On April 8, 2020, the Intelligence Ledger reported that the Japanese government was seeking to move its manufactures supply chains out of the People's Republic. It allocated nearly $2.2 billion of the governments economic stimulus package to help firms move production out of China to Japan, and 23.5 trillion yen is intended to help those relocating to stronger allies of Japan. Such moves are being considered by countries as diverse as the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, and France. The CCP and PRC view sustained economic growth as vital not only for the advancement of its society, but essential for the prevention of civil disorder and the advancement of its foreign policy interests. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, forward thinking capitalists were always looking for smarter investments, not only to increase production output, but to also lower prices so as to undercut their competitors. China provided the opportunity for CEOs to do both, with manufacturers dealing with little to no regulation and significantly lower wages when compared to the United States and other western powers. This combination caused tens of thousands thousands of enterprises from across the globe to flock to the Middle Kingdom’s shores. This economic vitality allowed China to win support for expansion from states who would otherwise frustrate its growth, such as the United States. But in times of need, these foreign investments give China an immense amount of sway over rivals. As the COVID-19 pandemic revealed, global supply chains are extremely vulnerable to external influence. The PRC repeatedly threatened to withhold vital goods needed to combat COVID-19 in the United States. This came to a head on March 13, 2020, when an article appeared from Xinhua, a state-run press agency, that noted if the Chinese government limited or prevented the export of pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, the United States would be “plunged into the mighty sea of Coronavirus.” This geoeconomic strategy has paid off big for the PRC, with many southeast Asian nations and far-off states now reliant on the Middle Kingdom for success. Australia, for example, has become unbelievably attached to China for a positive economic outcome, and thus faces ruinous retaliation if they take a firm position opposing Chinese actions. SECURITY OF NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY & TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY China has a long history of both local and global rivals violating its national sovereignty and infringing on its territory. The authoritarian nation finds itself in an extremely precarious position, with more than 13,743 miles of land border to defend from outside threats. Historically, China has struggled to prevent foreign invasions and expeditions on its home soil. From the 3rd century BC until the 19th century, nomadic tribes regularly raided and threatened China’s frontiers. Since 1850, the borders of China were threatened not by disorganized tribes, but by great powers, namely Germany, France, Great Britain, and Russia. Since the Second World War, China has faced challenges from powerful industrialized nations, specifically the United States, Russia, Japan, and India. Cognizant of this history, the PRC has sought to develop a strong military. Over the past twenty years, it has pursued an aggressive modernization campaign; reducing its vulnerabilities while simultaneously increasing its ability and reach. The modernization, both nuclear and conventional, has advanced relatively quick. China has placed a special emphasis on improving its naval force, and increasing research in hypersonic technology, cyber-warfare weapons, and space platforms. Artificial reefs and offshore islands in the South China Sea not only present the PRC with the opportunity to project hard power, but serve as a strong foothold for defending itself from global threats. In the case of a hot war with western powers, the islands would serve China as posts well placed to provide important intelligence on the naval and land movements of opponents. INAUGURATION OF CHINA AS A GREAT POWER Above all, the Chinese government and Chinese Communist Party hope to see China return to the former position of distinction it held prior to the First World War, except this time with the power to defend itself from foreigners. In 1700, China pumped out an astounding 32% of the world's economic output, while the UK, France, and Germany combined only produced 15%. This was a period of immense success for the introverted nation. Its fortunes, however, disappeared in 1911 as a result of Qing Dynasty's corruption and lack of strategic forethought. China lost its preeminent position in the world, and fell into decades of despair. The PRC has learned from its past, and is determined to avoid previous shortcomings and take its place in the world as a great power. It does this not only by developing its conventional military power, but through geoeconomic strategy and financial development throughout the world.
Blueprint for Countering China
The blueprint presented by the Intelligence Ledger for countering China is divided into three phases, with each progressively putting more pressure on the People’s Republic of China and Chinese Communist Party. The objective of this plan is not the downfall of the Chinese government or regime change, but rather seeks to shore up America’s global posture, advance US interests, and support democratic advocates within the authoritarian regime.
Phase One seeks to restore Washington's freedom of action by bringing important national interests back home or relocating them to the shores of surefire allies. It further calls for the establishment of American dominance on the last frontier, and perhaps the most important: space. Finally, it recommends the United States develop new relationships with opponents of the PRC and reaffirm old friends of America's commitment to their well-being through both geoeconomic and military power projection.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has shown that America's supply chains are over reliant on China for industrial, retail, and technological needs. In this stage, the US government authorizes financial aid for American businesses in key industries to relocate out of China, either back to the US or to allied nations such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Japan, or South Korea.
The United States government seeks to target extensions of the Chinese government within the United States, specifically with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) in regards to mass media, and counter-intelligence investigations in regards to organizations in key strategic industries (I.E. Huawei).
The United States pursues a Containment Policy against China, similar to the one utilized agains the Soviet Union. Consisting of two approaches (one military, the other economic), the United States would seek to directly combat Chinese influence across the globe. Perhaps the most important and publicized region this influence campaign would be waged in is the Western Pacific and South China Sea. The loss of the Philippines as a military partner in 2020 was a blow to the United States in the diplomatic realm in this area of the world. Its loss, however, does not doom US policy in the region. Fermenting and developing economic, military, and intelligence relationships with nations such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and India can serve to stifle the PRC’s power grab.
One of the most important steps of this phase is the establishment of US dominance in space. Since the launch of its first satellite in 1958, the United States has built up an impressive array of the space based platform. It currently has 123 military and 47 intelligence satellites in orbit. The federal government relies on these systems for intelligence collection, communication, weather prediction, and navigation. On January 11, 2007, the People’s Republic of China successfully used an Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile to shoot down one of its aging meteorological satellites nearly 500 miles high in orbit. The fact it destroyed a meteorological satellite was not concerning, rather the ability the PLA demonstrated to target platforms in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The test revealed that they could reach out and touch key American communication, observation, and GPS platforms. Without these systems, the United States government and commercial sectors would be severely impaired. By improving both defensive and offensive capabilities in space, the United States would not only find itself in a better geopolitical situation, but in negotiating position as well, with considerable leverage over the People's Republic.
In Phase Two, the United States would progress from purely defensive measures to a more assertive and direct policy, directly challenge the PRC for global influence and power. This phase not only continues the essential relationship development initiative with other nations from Phase One, but also seeks to draw attention to controversial Chinese actions on the world stage, make known basic truths denied by the Chinese government, and directly challenge Chinese economic growth through geoeconomic maneuvering and statecraft.
In this stage, the United States conducts a thorough review of its geoeconomic policy, and refines it to specifically challenge Chinese influence projects, such as the Belt and Road Initiative. Such American policies should be tailored to promote and defend national interests, and to produce beneficial geopolitical results for nations that choose to join the United States in opposition to China. The United States, as evidenced by the short trade war with China during President Trump’s first term, still has an immense amount of sway over the Chinese economy. The US government can utilize this leverage to wage a geoeconomic campaign against China, using the wide range of tools the American economy provides. Current American geoeconomic policies are hampered by neglect, leaving the United States overly reliant on conventional military power. A return to reliance on geoeconomic tools would benefit the United States greatly. Seven specific tools the United States can wield with great efficiency against the PRC include trade policy, investment policy, economic and financial sanctions, cyber, aid, financial and monetary policy, and energy.
In this stage, the United States inaugurates a White Propaganda campaign to counter CCP and PRC narratives worldwide. White propaganda is correctly attributed to the sponsor and the source is truthfully identified. White Propaganda, enforced by a strict set of rules so as to avoid mistruths, could be utilized to inform the citizens of western nations of Chinese acts and guide them as to how they could help counter the CCPs actions. Furthermore, White Propaganda could reach into Chinese territory (radio airways, social media), and seek to relay truths to the Chinese people, something that has been denied to them for decades. This can also be used to draw attention to the PRCs atrocities, such as its crackdown on the Uyghurs, stifling of Tibetan independence, and abuse of pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong.
The United States drastically increases its military presence in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, confronting the PLA and giving partner nations a sense of security that only a superpower can provide.
In Phase Three, the United States would be fully immersed in a grey zone conflict with the People's Republic. The recommendations contained below should only be utilized if the government in Beijing refuses to deal with western powers, and continues its hardline and aggressive approach towards the United States.
In a major step, the United States would switch from purely White Propaganda, to Grey Propaganda within China. Grey Propaganda never reveals the source of the information, and the sponsor's identity is concealed. To be sure, this is not Black Propaganda, where the source of the information is falsely attributed to another government in a deceptive fashion. In order for the propaganda campaign to be successful, the United States must avoid missteps and mistruth. American fingerprints in revealing the information, however, must be concealed. The aim of Grey Propaganda in China should be to promote the viewpoint of the United States in a way that is more palatable to the target audience, working under the assumption that ideas presented by seemingly neutral and inconspicuous outlets would be more persuasive than clear measures of propaganda. This campaign could be conducted through Social Media, Newspapers, Pamphlets, and Street Art.
The United States launches a major clandestine cyber-warfare campaign alongside allies aimed at crippling Chinese power projection. Such actions should target important Chinese industries, intelligence agencies, government apparatuses, and the People’s Liberation Army. Attacks should not, however, target agencies, businesses, or infrastructure important to Chinese civilians. It is vital that the populous develops a positive view of the United States of America, and hampering their daily activities would not serve that purpose.
The United States provides covert assistance in the form of non-lethal aid to protestors in Hong Kong, the independence movement in Tibet, and the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Such aid could come in the form of communication equipment, medical supplies, intelligence assistance, and infrastructure through private businesses or NGOs acting on behalf of the United States. Similar to the Grey Propaganda campaign, it is imperative that US fingerprints be concealed in order to make the movements more appealing to Chinese citizens.
President Kennedy once observed, "In the Chinese language, the word "crisis" is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity." The Chinese government sought to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to advance its own interests, and denied basic truths during the initial stages of the international response. Its foiled response to COVID-19 cost countless lives, and resulted in immeasurable harm. This is not new behavior for the government in Beijing. It has repeatedly muzzled free speech advocates, ignored international norms in its quest for power, peddled its influence across the world through soft power, and committed cyber attacks against western governments and private industry. If the United States ignores China's blatant aggressive and deceitful activities, it will see its national interests harmed and strategic goals stifled. The recommendations and research presented in this report are the culmination of a nearly nine week investigation into the Chinese government, and focus on high-pay-off, practical, and impactful US actions that will advance strategic objectives in an increasingly dangerous world. The Intelligence Ledger, in producing this report, sought to lay out a simple strategic plan for the United States as it embarks on the most important conflict as of yet in the 21st Century.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Army, Department of Defense, or the United States Government.