CHINESE INFORMATION WARFARE – A THREAT TO FREE WORLD

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War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”
George Orwell – 1984

Chinese state and its leadership(Chinese Communist Party – CCP) are getting uneasy at the pace of progress of their global dominance and how the world is reacting to it. They firmly believe that history repeats itself. In their zeal to take China to its lost glory, they are ready to use every means available at their disposal, and they are unable to hide that desire from the world. Public opinion and perception are a very important part of this exercise. Leaders of the counties look for tools and China has found one – Information Warfare(IW). With the advent of the internet age, which has expanded its scope exponentially in the last ten years, it is getting scary, what all can be achieved by individuals and countries like China. It is using this tool externally and internally very effectively. Clueless ordinary citizens, oblivious of the hidden agenda keep justifying for the same leadership and country in the name of patriotism. George Orwell must be turning in his grave, looking at how Chinese leadership has rewritten ‘Orwellian World’.

Sun Tzu, the Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher who is credited as the author of the famous book ‘The Art of War’, states:s “For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting”. CCP is working overtime to make this ancient quote into reality. They are working on a concept called ‘Three Warfare’. This includes – ‘Public Opinion Warfare’, ‘Legal Warfare’ and ‘Psychological Warfare’.

INFORMATION WARFARE(IW)

When anyone knows your past, they can influence your future”

Psychological warfare is integral part of IW. Chinese call IW – ‘xinxi zhanzheng’ and they are aiming for total dominance in this area, calling it – ‘zhi xinxi quan’. 

Information warfare depends upon how fast one gathers data, assimilates it, converts or falsifies it, and retransmit it before the opponents get their wits about it. This includes two components, modern information technology, and age old human component. Information technology consists of hardware and software. A chip serves as the brain of a computer, smartphone and now the latest, Internet of Thing(IoT). China wants to dominate this industry for obvious reasons and that can be gathered from the nervousness in the western world. China is scrambling to buy the world’s biggest of the chip-making companies by hook or by crook. Out of 50 largest chip-making companies, China owns 10. China exports 48% of the worlds mobile phones. They also export 40.9% of world’s computer devices. They are trying to outdo every competition in cellphone tower business. And now one can see same desperation in cellphone 5G dominance. One may argue that every country has its right to do business under WTO. If it was a simple business, then well and good, but here something nefarious is going on.

What you are about to read about Chinese hardware and software, no government would tell you, for various reasons best known to them. ‘Citizen Lab’ at the University of Toronto gives us a glimpse into that dark reality. As per their findings the Chinese government is not only monitoring their own people but a great deal more beyond their borders. Any browser/application used on a smartphone, laptop or a tablet made in China transmits back to host server, details like hard drive serial number, GPS coordinates of the user, user search terms, websites visited and details of the wireless network being used. While downloading free applications we never realize that they come with ‘Software Development Kits’(SDKs). These SDKs have just about entered in every household and office environment keeping a close tab on our every activity. All the above activities have one aim, collect data. Now, this is a great deal of data, and how they intend using it, is not clear. But surely if they want to keep track of a specific person or organization, it becomes very easy.

CPC and PLA work on many fronts simultaneously and on a long-term basis. To further their agenda to tighten grip on Chinese citizens and to spread disinformation internationally. And they have conceived some very powerful and effective tools for that purpose.

Great Firewall of China

Every system big or small has its own firewall to safeguard itself from intrusion. China devised one for the whole country. The “Great Firewall,” China’s digital censorship technology, summons up images of an impenetrable fortress. It sits on the side and looks for keywords. The firewall blocks foreign news, search engines, content that is objectionable like sex or religion and social media, creating a buffer against information that goes against the party line. Chinese populace is very cut up with this crackdown and often joke about their own country. The phrases “strong nation” and “wall nation” share a phonetic pronunciation in Chinese (qiangguo), some began using the phrase “wall nation” to refer to China. While very effective, the Firewall is not an offensive weapon. People were able to dodge firewall using VPN and application ‘Psiphon’. So the agenda of the Great Firewall was further expanded by Great Cannon.

Great Cannon 

The Great Cannon is slightly different from the Great Firewall. It acts as Man-in-the-middle(MITM). It intercepts traffic en route, changes the content or redirects it to fake information. MITM injects and fires off code along with the content to the user seeking information. This code is capable of changing the content, block any subsequent traffic to the site or just clog up the website so as to deny the information requested. Whoever designed the Great Cannon created a deliberately offensive tool, designed to selectively replace benign web content with malicious content.

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Figure courtesy Citizenlab Canada

Golden Shield 

The Great Firewall and Great Cannon can restrict and deny information but do not keep track of the users. This task is achieved by ‘Golden Shield’. It’s a gigantic national database encompassing surveillance, speech and facial recognition, closed-circuit television, smart cards, credit cards,  and internet surveillance technologies. All these three manage information that enters and leaves China. As we discussed earlier, China treats everything as a war and fights it unabashedly on many fronts. So it just doesn’t stop at manipulating available information but injects its own propaganda and fake news from time to time.

Chinese Propaganda Machine

“Making the Foreign Serve China” was one of Chairman Mao’s favoured strategies, as epitomised by his decision to grant access in the 1930s to the American journalist Edgar Snow. The resulting book, ‘Red Star Over China’, was instrumental in winning western sympathy for the Communists, whom it depicted as progressive and anti-fascist. This was not the first or last instance of the Chinese propaganda machine, playing the victim. They have become adept and masters of psychological games. When it suits them they are victims or else they project themselves future world power. Beijing is seeking to shift the global centre of gravity eastwards, propagating the idea of a new world order with a resurgent China at its centre.

YouTube is another tool being used by China to spread disinformation and fear. Above is the 2:28 minute video, released on August 1, 2018 for China’s Army Day, emotionally underscoring the sacrifices made by service members of the PLA while showing off some of the country’s latest weaponry. At one point in the propaganda video, the narrator says “peace behind me, war in front of me,” which could be interpreted to mean war is “inevitable”. Propaganda tape is a clear-cut threat and challenge to China’s neighbors in keeping with China’s long-term goal.

In India, the Chinese app Helo was found displaying false quotes or graphic images designed to provoke outrage along religious lines, manipulating the longstanding tensions between Hindus and Muslims in the country. India has seen a rise of violent incidents caused by fake news leading the Indian government to threaten to cancel the journalist’s accreditations, if they are found guilty of writing fake news. China has also been accused of inciting military personal using WhatsApp and Telegram messaging Apps, against both military and civilian leadership on subjects plaguing those organizations.

In parallel, a series of fake news campaigns have captured Taiwanese media, with experts tracing several of these stories back to China. Various media outlets, including Chinese dissident media outlet Mingjing, referred to a leaked document from Chinese authorities affirming that Beijing had launched an information war, using disinformation, online harassment and trolling campaigns to manipulate public opinions in Taiwan. China is planting such fake news not only using the internet but every means available at its disposal.

Radio, TV and Print Media

China is deeply involved in the fourth state businesses around the globe following top-down imprimatur from president Xi Jinping to “tell China’s story” to the world. Within the last few weeks, China has leaped into the front ranks of global media by launching its ‘Voice of China’ super-network. With over 14,000 journalists and staff employees, this Asian blitzkrieg in the information war is deployed to neutralize American influence and spread disinformation on every continent. It is pushing to buy newspapers across the globe, and where it is not able to do so outright, it is taking the route of inserts. Cash-strapped newspapers are more than happy to help out China in spreading disinformation while helping themselves. China has spent a whopping $6.8 billion on this disinformation exercise called da waixuan (大外宣), or ‘grand foreign propaganda’.

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Figure Courtesy The Guardian 

Way Forward 

A Harvard study showed that the Chinese government fabricates as many as 488 million fake posts on Chinese social media annually. A more recent study analyzed 50 million comments on Chinese news sites, only to find that one-sixth of them were fabricated. Needless to say, the size and sophistication of China’s Internet management is unprecedented in the world history. Would this propaganda by Chinese government continue unabated? The answer is ‘NO’. Some of the independent Chinese intelligentsias have gone on their own accord on this difficult path. One of them is a Shanghai-based website ‘Sixth Tone’, promoted by Wei Xing. This has caught the attention of major international publications such as the New York Times and Foreign Policy. And inevitably, this relatively new online publication has raised the question of how far it can go in challenging the sophisticated Chinese censors. There is a reason why this new publication is called Sixth Tone. According to its founding editor, Mandarin Chinese consists of five tones. This publication aspires to go beyond the existing tones of news on China, providing a fresh and imaginative perspective for readers in English. Mainstream outlets such as the BBC often cite Sixth Tone as their source when reporting on Chinese social stories. How long this kind of reporting would be accepted by the central leadership is going to be an interesting wait-and-watch game for all the people who follow China.

‘Soft-Power’ is not a China thing and time is not ripe for ‘Hard-Power’, therefore China is using a different approach: ‘Sharp Power’, a term coined by Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig of the ‘National Endowment for Democracy’. Sharp Power, which is neither hard nor soft power, has the effect of limiting free expression and distorting the political environment. It is sharp in that it seeks to pierce or penetrate the political and information environments of targeted countries. China’s employment of direct propaganda and disinformation, according to RAND Corporationc, are likely to challenge liberal democratic values. China’s burgeoning power is already intensifying competition with the United States for leadership and influence within the international system. However, China would do the biggest harm to itself and its economy if it kills the internet, while toeingt the line of CPC, PLA and the criminal minded Chinese internet Mafia.

Almost every person eminent or commoner, with whom I interacted, displayed trepidation, thinking of a day when China would control the internet and every other media, using ‘Great Firewall’, ‘Great Cannon’, ‘Golden Shield’, and ‘CGTN’(CCTV) around the globe. They detested the idea of China controlling their laptop & mobile phone’s data, spying through the CCTVs outside their home, and webcams of all their smart equipment inside their home. They shuddered at the idea of living in an ‘Orwellian World’.

Question is “for how long and why should we accept this behavior”? Time has come for the collegial world powers to coalesce and eradicate such behavior while countervailing the perpetrators of these noxious activities.

 

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103 thoughts

  1. As usual a well researched blog with extremely relevant information. What needs to be seen is how long the population will submit to the suppression of freedom and feeding of fake news/information. This is a call that only the people of China can take.

    1. Well said Debu. It’s not just about Chinese populace but our lives also get affected, and the Chinese grip is going to get tighter in times to come.

  2. the article touches in depth about past present and way ahead for this critical peice.. lot of salient points such as propaganda by chienese have been explained boldly and frankly… A great article with conviction…

  3. Their lack of scruples and sense of entitlement makes for a dangerous & volatile combination. They just don’t give a damn what anyone says.

    1. You nailed it, Prasad. However everything is not lost, Odysseus of the world would restrict this juggernaut soon or else this Icarus of China would come down to mother earth due to its own folly. And none get any schadenfreude out of this.

  4. Another interesting piece from your bouquet on interpreting the Chinese Juggernaut. The Americans are very concerned with the inroads made by the Chinese in their media and world over. The Chinese have a stated aim of being world leaders in AI, which they are using to great advantage in the Information Domain as well, it is a part of an overall well thought out strategy to dominate the world. The Americans have woken up and the 5G War has just begun, lets wait and watch if the Chinese advance can be slowed……

    1. Thanks, Atul. Despite the fact lots of damage has already taken place, hope world bodies at least now wake up from their slumber and take some concrete steps to stop this juggernaut.

  5. Insightful article. It is my opinion however (you may call it conspiracy theories) that all this and much more has been achieved in greater but more covert detail by Western nations. Countries like the UK and the US have had a huge headstart over China. Their machinations have not been exposed to the degree that similar Chinese moves which have gained attention. Secondly these countries have made their moves slowly without the speed of China.
    What may deter the actions of China is fear. There will be massive realignment of countries. Policies of appeasement to China will cease if the EU and the US force drastic changes on companies and corporations which currently operate in China in a restricted manner.
    We are seeing the outlines of the next war.

    1. Well articulated Mad. Yes, surely western countries are also doing their work quietly for a long time. The only difference between a democratic and autocratic system is inbuilt checks and balances. Even a most powerful US President can’t step out of line without breaking a law. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Very well articulated. The proliferation of chinese hardware is indeed a cause of worry. China has been innovative to bypass the checks placed on some of its companies.

  7. Very interesting article. The good part is that while IT is a great enabler, it also is a great leveler. Traditional power centers are now dissipating and being decentralised. A single person in some remote location, has the potential to be disruptive. So, while the malicious intent of some organisations may appear to go unchecked, it won’t be long before they are themselves targeted. Their size will be their Achilles heel. Finally, technology is evolving fast. No one can accurately predict what direction it will take next.

    1. Thanks, Sam. Exactly what you said is going to make it a very difficult and different world in times to come.

  8. Well written article. China still is struggling with language issue and the economy is slowing down. Cyber space as the next frontier is well known and the players are many. Chinese conviction of being centre of earth and doing all that they can to regain lost glory will propel them towards another apocalypse on this frontier too. Keep writing my friend. Cheers

    1. Well said Atul. There is a lot happening and at a very fast pace. Other countries have to wake up and get their act together. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Carefully worded and well articulated article.
    Keep writing articles with such insight.
    Appreciate simple language in your articles.
    With regards

  10. Another beautiful delivery backed by thorough research.
    Chinese intentions are well known to the world. However, in today’s fiercely competitive world none is ready to bell the cat and in the bargain, lose a lucrative market. As of now it is just a ‘wait and watch’ game. How long this will last is, at best, a guess.

    1. Their intentions are very clear. They want to be the center of the Universe, by any means. We are heading for a very difficult time. Thanks for stopping by.

  11. First of all hatsoff to painstaking efforts of the author to write such an scholarly article. Firstly, Its process of research and study. Secondly presenting it in easy words for everyones comprehension is not easy. The author succeeds in keeping readers hooked till the end. The chinese attempt to thrust themselves at the center of world stage is nicely depicted by blogger. It reflects depth of knowledge of the author. Hope he keeps on writing more and more insightful articles like this.

    1. Vijay, thank you so much for such kind words and stopping by. Dragon’s dance is worrisome for one and all and requires a collective stand and response.

  12. Great article, will it reach the people in china?
    All the civilizations have loyalties of the civilization towards two authorities, country and religion each is capable of keeping a check on the other, when one dominates too much we have mayhem.
    A lot of Islamic countries we see too much religion , and in China , and Russia under Stalin , specifically too much of the state.
    Where there is no competitive balance human life suffers more.
    Will the people of China be able to create a competitor for state dominance ? Or will they suffer and cause rest of the world to suffer.

    1. No Clarence, such an article would not reach ordinary people in China. However, as you stated there are ways and means to circumvent the censorship and people, especially in Hong Kong do it regularly. The consequences of getting caught are too harsh vis-a-vis advantage derived out of it. So most of the people have compromised with the circumstances. Thanks for stopping by and a wonderful review.

  13. Sandy ,an excellent article ! The situation may not as alarming as we people make it to be . I am sure things must be in place to counter this threat ! We may not be aware of it .The free world will not let anything of this sort happen which may harm its freedom . I suppose there are enough contradictions inherent in China itself wherein the basic human tendency to control its own destiny may not let Chinese state to control even its own people leave aside other nationalities. The scenario of erased National boundaries may play sooner than later @ globalisation . The role of national governments may be reduced to just law and order and the policy facilitation .Just food for thought @ Stop trade with China as a Rogue nation !
    An excellent article
    Raghu Vir Gauba

    1. Thank you so much, Raghu, for the kind words. The situation is alarming but yes steps are being taken by various agencies at different levels to counter this threat. Stopping trade with China may not be possible for many reasons, but there are two main reasons. Firstly, the greed of big corporations to continue showing growth in their bottom line, ignoring national security by procuring and producing in China. Secondly, the fickle-minded and self-centered politicians who place their own agenda above the nation and the freedom(and there are examples galore all over the world but especially in Africa and Latin America).

  14. Well researched and written, Sandy.

    Trump is already devising means to ensure that Huawei, the front face of China, is not able to expand and aggressively launch the 5G network and technology. Obviously, the World is taking notice of what the Dragon is doing or intends to do, though in the process they may be masking their own steps and intentions. We are going to witness interesting times, soon. Looking forward to it.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words. Surely the world is taking note of all happenings but very few have capacity and capability to counter China. Will and courage to counter come after that. Hope people come out of their slumber at the earliest.

  15. Excellent article; building up of the flow is smooth and logical; concepts explained well in simple layman terms; title statement well supported by citing empirical evidence. Suggestions – please cite source/authority whenever citing figures in the content of the article itself in brackets or using footnotes/endnotes; answers to questions arising in a reader’s mind whether to use Chinese manufactured smartphones/laptops/electronic devices could’ve been answered; article could also cover usage of Chinese developed OS and GPS systems. Overall an informative read,

    1. Thank you so much, Ajay. Encouraging words from a polymath is an honor. Points are taken. The contents were restricted to avoid making it lengthy and boring.

  16. ¡Fantásticamente bueno! El título de una película italiana era “La China e vicina”…¡La china no solo es vecina: ¡Está aquí y entra en casa sin tocar la puerta…! Hago un poco de análisis político (del Perú y América Latina, nada más y quiero seguir tu blog, pero no me permite hacerlo. Por favor, me gustaría mucho si puedes enviar tus artículos de alguna manera… ¡Gracias por haber leído “manologo”. Si quieres, tengo otro blog más “nacional y político”: eltigredepapel.wordpress.com. ¡Gracias nuevamente! 🙂 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Siddharth for your kind words. As I see you are also writing some very good blogs, and understand that it takes lots of effort and hard work to produce good work. Thanks again for stopping by.

  17. Interesting read. How do you establish the veracity of some of the claims, like the Great Cannon? I don’t think China is alone in its world ruling ambition? Everyone I know dreams of it. The calls these days for recognising our great Indian heritage, whether myth or fact, is no different in my view. American corporations like Google and Facebook are hegemonic in desire. Would they not want us to be totally dependent on them? But the good news is…nothing lasts forever. The Roman empire crumbled. The British did too. Some day the American will. And if Chinese is the next, it will too. Till then, each one of us should make an effort to do the right thing.

    1. Well said Ankur. However, all other countries have checks and balances in place, not China. We can not shrug off what damage China can do. Great Cannon etc are not figmentation of someone’s imagination but based on confirmed intelligence. Thanks for inputs and kind words.

      1. In my view, it did not start with America and it will not end with America. I am also sure the world will keep experimenting with governance systems.

      2. Surely Ankur, one country or civilization can not stake claim to fame. Biggest of the Kings and civilizations have come and gone, so what are the USA, China or India. As Heraclitus stated, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

    1. West is not blind but surely in slumber. The selective approach of accepting beyond the pale behavior would have serious consequences in the times to come. Thanks for stopping by.

  18. Well researched and information rich blog post. It will take time to digest. But undoubtedly closed societies and one party regimes survive on military might and false propaganda. How long can they go on is anyones guess. Mighty USSR had fallen. World of 2019 is different from world of 1970s and 1980s.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words Abhijit. Surely things would change in the coming days. China’s days are numbered as far as this beyond the pale behavior is concerned.

    1. Thank you very much for your appreciation, Ed. It would give me immense pleasure if you republish these articles, after all, knowledge is there to be shared. Many senior defence officials and strategist have also borrowed these articles. Thanks for stopping by.

  19. An exceptionally well articulated write up. I do hope that the powers that be take note and orchestrate responses and actions to ensure that we as a Nation do not lag too far behind.
    India has many strengths and we must leverage them all. The future of AI and it’s utilities will immensely hinge upon security and secure communication systems. We do have adequate brain power. Hopefully this brain power will also have patriotic power to use it for the Nation instead of mere lucre. They must, for our nation will depend on their doing so.
    Jai Hind .
    Col Ajay Ramakrishnan,SM(G)

    1. Thank you so much, Ajay, for sparing your time and kind words. I also do hope that incredible India stands up to bully of Asia.

    1. I must admit, despite knowing a lot( at least I thought so), about China, I hadn’t heard this before. Thanks for the information and the kind words.

  20. Wow!! This is some massive research and insights from your side!
    Writing on International relations or affairs requires a critical analysis that too with an ethical mindset! Indeed an Intellectual work! 👏👏

    1. Thank you very much, Naman, for your kind words and appreciating the hard work put in. Hope to deliver articles of similar standards in future too.

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