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“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”
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: ”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’.
“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.
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.
Figure courtesy Citizenlab Canada
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’.
Figure Courtesy The Guardian
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.