Sunday Morning Coffee with Jeemes: RELUCTANT MISSIVES: THE FUTURE OF WAR Part III



by Jeemes Akers


                                  Chinese Strategies in the Shadow War

“Current estimates are that 80% of American adults have had all of their personally identifiable information stolen by the Communist Party of China.

Bill Evanina

(Former Director of the U.S. National  Counterintelligence and Security Center)

60 Minutes interview, February 2021[1]

What does Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Party minions plan to do with this information? Adding this information to our DNA data, then combining it with other information about heredity and environment, “suddenly they [the Chinese] will know more about us than we know about yourselves.” [2]

Welcome, my friends, to the war in the shadows …

In recent years, we have seen China as well the other primary adversaries of the United States and the West completely change their playbook. They no longer play by the rules that provided such an advantage to the U.S. military and Western powers. For a century we have dictated the rules of war on our terms. Today, the tables have turned: the kinetic war environment has been replaced by a world of constant digital conflict.

In short, the rules of war have been flipped completely.

David E. Sanger, in his excellent book The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age puts it this way: “The lesson of the past decade is that, unless shooting breaks out, it will always be unclear if we are at peace or at war … We are living in a gray zone, one of constant digital conflict …”[3] Jim Sciutto,[4] further amplifies this idea in his book, The Shadow War; Inside Russia’s and China’s Secret Operations to Defeat America:

“This [conflict that America is uncomfortable waging] is hybrid warfare, in short, a strategy of attacking an adversary while remaining just below the threshold of conventional war—what military commanders and strategists refer to as the ‘gray zone’—using a range of hard- and soft- power tactics: from cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, to deploying  threats to space assets, to information operations designed to spark domestic division, to territorial acquisition just short of a formal invasion.  This is warfare conducted in the shadows—A Shadow War—though with consequences as concrete and lasting as those of all-out war.”[5]

How many of you recognize we are currently embroiled in such a hidden war? Most of the U.S. mainstream media refuses to acknowledge it, economists ignore it, preachers won’t address it, and vote-seeking left-leaning politicians want to divert any attention to it by hiding behind a phalanx of other faux critical issues ranging from climate change, “wokeness,” and gender policies to immigration.

All of these have their place, of course, but unless we start to address the hidden war in the shadows, we will find ourselves involved in an open, global war without even knowing what happened to get us there.

Perhaps it is worth pointing out that Chinese Communist Party overlords will have very little patience with such issues or their intellectual advocates.

But back to the topic de jure.

As I mentioned in Part One, at the end of each CofO semester, in my history classes, I tried my best to convince my students that they live in an era where there is a totally new kind of unseen war. (These classes were prior to the coronavirus pandemic—the so-called “Wuhan virus”—mind you). I previously discussed in detail an article by Peter Pomerantsev[6] pertaining to this topic.

Chinese military strategists have taken the concept of shadow war—gray-zone conflicts—to a new level. Beijing’s “Doctrine of the Three Warfares,” for example, uses what China’s ruling party calls “legal,” “psychological,” and “media” warfare to, “undermine international institutions, change borders, and subvert global media, all without firing a shot.”[7] According to analyst Laura Jackson—Director of a joint Cambridge University and U.S. DOD research project relating to Sino-military topics—the Chinese approach differs markedly from Western, especially American, concepts of war which emphasizes the kinetic and the tangible (infrastructure, arms, and personnel). Whereas the Chinese approach asks more fundamental questions: What is war? And, in today’s world: Is winning without fighting possible?

Those of you who are Sino history buffs recognize today’s strategy harmonizes seamlessly with the ageless Chinese treatise The Art of War, written by military strategist Sun Tzu in the 5th century BC. (But we don’t teach history anymore, right?) When totalitarian Chinese leader Mao Zedong addressed the issue, he criticized those who said the task of the Red Army was merely to fight: “They do not understand that the Chinese Red Army is an armed body for carrying out the political tasks of the revolution.”[8]

China’s answer to the fundamental questions of the nature of war and if a major power can win today’s war without fighting, is contained in a three-dimensional war-fighting process known as the “Three Warfares.” The strategy was endorsed by the CCP Central Committee and the Central Military Commission in 2003. The strategy is a response to nuclear, kinetic and “hearts and minds” approaches then (and still) popular in the U.S. military. It envisions longer time frames and seeks to alter the strategic environment in a way that renders kinetic engagement irrational. In other words, it is war by other means. The strategy rests on three warfare pillars:

The first “warfare” is Psychological Warfare—influencing or disrupting an enemy’s decision-making capability. This warfare type seeks to use China’s economic and diplomatic leverage to create doubts, diminish a potential adversary’s the will to fight, restricts imports and exports, etc. (See my earlier missive from January 2021, “The Winner of the 2020 Global Sweepstakes: China.”)

The second Warfare is Media Warfare—a constant, on-going and long-term activity aimed at influencing potential enemy’s attitudes and perceptions. As such, Chinese military, educational and commercial entities leverage all information-based systems at their disposal, including the Internet and global Chinese media networks, to weaken a potential enemy’s will to fight. At the same time, police and internal PLA elements target domestic populations.[9]

The final type of warfare is Legal Warfare—exploiting domestic, foreign and international legal systems to achieve Sino-centric political or commercial objectives. Among the many examples of this is China’s use of legal arguments to expand legal claims to territory and resources in the South China Sea using historical legal claims, selective use of UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provisions, and other legal conventions.[10]  More recently, Chinese electronics giant Xiaomi suing the U.S. treasury and defense departments after being blacklisted during the Trump administration.[11]

The Wuhan virus—if you accept the huge assumption that it was a deliberate Chinese operation—tucks rather neatly into all three “warfares.” I have written about that in previous missives.

Why hybrid war? In 2006, the Central Military Commission judged that Chinese military capabilities “were incompatible with winning local informatized [i.e., high-tech wars].”[12] In other words, they are buying time until they are able to compete in a modern war. At the same time the U.S. military is obsessed with protecting transgender rights in the ranks, the Chinese military is busily preparing for war. China’s President Xi—now technically allowed to rule for life after the Party eliminated term limits in 2018—has embarked on an ambitious plan of military reform and modernization.[13] Xi has urged the military on repeated occasions during the last several months to “not fear death” and be prepared for war.

We indeed live in interesting times.

[1] Andy Meek, “China has reportedly stolen personal data from 80% of Americans,”, Feb. 2, 2021.

[2] Ibid.

[3] David E, Sanger, The Perfect Weapon, Crown: New York, 2018, p. 308.

[4] James Ernest Sciutto (born 1970) is a well-known journalist, news anchor and Chief National security Correspondent for CNN, specializing in various aspects of national security. He was part of President Obama’s national security team, serving as Chief of Staff to U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing from 2011 to 2013. He majored in Chinese history at Yale University, graduating in 1992. His controversial report in early October 2019 that an intelligence operative was forced to be pulled out of Russia due to Trump administration missteps was roundly criticized by other media outlets, administrative sources and the intelligence community itself.

[5] Jim Sciutto, The Shadow War, HarperCollins: New York, 2019, from Chapter One, “Inside the Shadow War.”

[6] Peter Pomerantsev, “Brave New War: A New Form of Conflict Emerged in 2015—from the Islamic State to the South China Sea,” The Atlantic, posted on-line on 29 December 2015.

[7] Laura Jackson, “The Three Warfares—China’s New Way of War,” from Legatum Institute Forum “Information at War,” September 2015. Sciutto’s book also has a chapter devoted to Beijing’s gray war strategies.

[8] See among many others, Peter Mattis, “China’s ‘Three Warfares’ in Perspective, Texas National Security Review, Jan. 30, 2018.

[9] See Alex Marlow’s excellent book Breaking The News: Exposing the Establishment’s Media’s Hidden Deals and Secret Corruption, (New York: Threshold Editions), 2021, for the extensive connections linking media magnate Michael Bloomberg to Beijing’s ruling elites.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Andy Meek, “China has reportedly stolen personal data from 80% of Americans,”, Feb. 2, 2021.

[12] Mattis, Three Warfares.

[13] Ben Westcott, “Xi Jinping set out to save the Communist Party. But critics say he made himself its biggest threat. CNN, July 25, 2021.

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