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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176 thoughts

  1. Indeed a well-researched article. A significant percentage of the total no. of smartphones are manufactured by China. They are also voraciously bought because they are cheaper than their foreign counterparts. In this case, the least we can do is not to use Chinese apps on our phones such as Tiktok. This app has been in news lately for all the wrong reasons.

    1. Your assessment of the apps is absolutely correct. About mobile phones, the issue is not a phone made in China but the phone, or for that matter any equipment made by Chinese owned companies poses threat to privacy. Thanks for reading the blog and kind words, Debjani.

  2. 👍👍👍… 💯% interesting…the type of posts one accidentally come across and thinks they can’t finish reading it, only to start, then realize it’s readable, interesting, absorbable and finishable

  3. As you point out, this has been ongoing for some time. Our own gullibility has been ratcheted up with fear mongering, and we seek refuge in bias confirmation. This is very easy to manipulate. The Chinese are patient and know we will willing fall into their hands like overripe fruit.

    1. Thank you very much, Keith, for stopping by and giving your appraisal. Feedback coming from a polymath like you with tons of experience at CIA is much appreciated. You have rightly pointed out, China is there for a marathon and not a sprint. Democracies have to realize that they cannot see other systems through the same glasses. If we change the approach we would see the results.

  4. 👍👍👍… brilliant post: they’ve made great effort pushing their image far beyond their borders, deeper into other parts of the world, but it won’t befit the citizenry if they clamor for the same leadership all in the name of blind patriotism…one serious area of concern that always rears its head is the fact that back at home—or within their fence—drastic development has brought alot of pollution and negative impact on their environment, which is something the citizenry should also use as a yardstick for evaluating the effectiveness of environmental policies of the party in power.

    1. So rightly said Ihagh. Environmental pollution is a serious concern in China. In fact the figures are cooked up for the consumption of gullible populace. Thanks for stopping by and giving your perspective.

  5. A great post. I’m really into cyber security and never thought about all the almost ubiquitous use of Chinese phones and what a huge attack surface that could be/is in the hands of the state. Our own NSA has backdoored US manufacturers routers & bios’s & God knows what else I haven’t heard about.

      1. Great. Then use the drop-down menu. It would give you the authentic Mandarin script. My Mandarin is sketchy.

  6. I don’t really understand what this article is about because there are so many new words for a middle school student. Can anyone help me to summarize this article?

  7. Frightening and American policy makers don’t seem to have any strategy to resist. American public mostly ignorant of China’s efforts and certainly more effective than any Russian interference in US elections. Russia making the same kind of war against US though. Wonder if Russia and China are using these strategies to weaken each other as well as US ?

    1. Thank you so, Carl for stopping by. It is not that the US policymakers were not aware of what China has been doing, but the greed overshadowed the national interest. If any other country had done what China is doing today, there would have been sanctions against that country.

  8. Je viens sur la pointe des pieds te déposer un café
    https://i.postimg.cc/tCm6B1HR/caf.jpg

    Que ce soit après un doux réveil ou après un bon repas
    Il est d’un gout
    Au doux breuvage légèrement corsé et fruité
    Pour bien commencer en douceur ta journée ou autre
    IL réchauffera ton cœur
    Sous sa douce chaleur dans ces subtils arômes
    De mon café s’échappe une petite fumée aux milles et une douce saveurs parfumées
    Pour un doux réveil après une douce nuit ou après une moment de repos
    Que les arômes de ce doux café
    Viennent en ta demeure s’évaporer
    Pour y laisser ces douces notes parfumées en embaumant ta demeure
    Bonne journée à toi que j’apprécie sincèrement
    Que tu vives avec tes proches de délicieux moments

    Bisous , Bernard

    1. Thank you, Alex, for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. The rise of China is not an issue. The issue is the way it is planning to achieve that at the cost of poor, gullible, corrupt and vulnerable countries. Read my other articles to under the story behind China’s rise.

  9. Anyone who begins with a quote from a favorite author (Orwell) quickly grabs my attention and I read further… I was just reading Orwell’s imaginary interview with Jonathan Swift who hold first place on my author’s list. While they are an excellent beginning, the article must hold my interest and you do succeed. Well done.

    Thank you for following one of my blogs.

    1. Thank you so much, Léa, for stopping by and your kind words. Orwell is my favorite too and that’s why he just crops up in my writings, subconsciously. Regards.

      1. Sandomina, of course my other favorite is Swift and the book by Orwell that I am currently reading contains the imaginary interview of Swift by Orwell. How good does it get? All the best. 🙂

      2. Lemme know how’s the book. I haven’t read it. Presently middle of reading two books and preparing my next article. Thanks for stopping by.

      3. The book is a feast of Orwell and nods to those who inspired him which, alas, made my reading list longer… Merci beaucoup.

      4. Ok great, lemme add this to my reading list. I have so many books to read and so little time. Thanks. Shall get back to you and share my views once finished.

      5. Oh, I do understand. The actual title is George Orwell Seeing Things as They Are: Selecteed Journalism and Other Writings. Scattered between the prose are some of his poetry and footnotes include others who he felt worthy of his comments. That works for me.

  10. I keep thinking about the late 1980s and how everyone (most people I knew living under the shadow of the iron curtain) thought that the Soviet Union would last forever. I postulate now, that with President Xi becoming ever more autocratic, the system will tear apart from within…the only question is when. Your thoughts?

      1. Very aptly put across. We still see the reminiscence of the Soviet era in our day to day life. But if we observe the world polity, it follows the sine curve. When does it find its trough and when does it get to the ridge is for us to discover. For once I feel we are heading for a ridge.

    1. Chinese citizens are getting smarter, and despite the state-sponsored propaganda have started realizing the beauty of free speech in the free world. It is a matter of time before it comes crashing down under its own weight. However, the Chinese leadership is equally savvy and are learning from the mistakes of the rigid Soviet regime at a fast pace. So who wins would depend on two scenarios – deep desire of Chinese citizens to soar high freely in the sky or soar to the limit of the string attached to the master. Chinese would understand their life one day if they understand the words of George Orwell – One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.

  11. Thank you once again for a well-researched and well-written article. It is pretty terrifying for the U.S., which is so wrapped up in its own issues, I doubt it is aware of anyone else. Very sad indeed. I have been a fan of George Orwell for years, and am glad to see his wise writing come to light once again.

    1. Anne, George Orwell is relevant in today’s world, more than ever before. What a vision he had. Coming to the surveillance aspect, many big businesses conglomerates in the US also indulge in snooping other than the government. However, there are ways and means by which those activities are kept under check and challenged. But what would one do if the government and the business entity of a country are one and the same? Thanks once again for your candid views.

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