AMERICAN RESPONSE TO CHINESE PUBLIC OPINION WARFARE

The Heritage Foundation on November 26, 2012, published Backgrounder #2745 on Asia and the Pacific (Winning Without Fighting: Chinese Public Opinion Warfare and the Need for a Robust American Response) by Dean Cheng. The Backgrounder focused on the growing interest in China for asymmetrical warfare. Excerpts below:

Over the past decade, the People’s Republic of China has exhibited a growing interest in waging asymmetrical warfare. The purpose of this interest is chilling: to enable the PRC to win a war against the U.S. without firing a shot. To this end, the PRC is expanding potential areas of conflict from the purely military (i.e., involving the direct or indirect use of military forces) to the more political. Such expansion will be fueled by manipulation of public opinion, legal systems, and enemy leadership. It is essential that the United States counter the PRC’s new soft-power surge not only by rebutting political attacks, but also by taking the offensive and promoting America’s positions to a global audience.

Chinese writings often refer to the “three warfares” (san zhan): public opinion warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare. Chinese analyses almost always link the three together, as they are seen as interrelated and mutually reinforcing.

1.Public opinion/media warfare is the struggle to gain dominance over the venue for implementing psychological and legal warfare. It is seen as a stand-alone form of warfare or conflict, as it may occur independent of whether there is an actual outbreak of hostilities. Indeed, it is perhaps best seen as a constant, ongoing activity, aimed at long-term influence of perceptions and attitudes. One of the main tools of public opinion/media warfare is the news media, including both domestic and foreign entities. The focus of public opinion/media warfare is not limited to the press, however; it involves all of the instruments that inform and influence public opinion (e.g., movies, television programs, and books).

2.Psychological warfare provides the underpinning for both public opinion/media warfare and legal warfare. With regard to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), psychological warfare involves disrupting the enemy’s decision-making capacity by sapping their will, arousing anti-war sentiments (and therefore eroding the perception of popular support), and causing an opponent to second-guess himself—all while defending against an opponent’s attempts to conduct similar operations.

3.Legal warfare is one of the key instruments of psychological and public opinion/media warfare. It raises doubts among adversary and neutral military and civilian authorities, as well as the broader population, about the legality of adversary actions, thereby diminishing political will and support—and potentially retarding military activity. It also provides material for public opinion/media warfare. Legal warfare does not occur on its own; rather, it is part of the larger military or public opinion/media warfare campaign.

To counter Chinese soft power Dean Cheng suggested that the U.S. should:

 Demand visa parity for U.S. journalists and public access for U.S. broadcasters. The PRC has several hundred journalists operating in the United States, most of whom work for state-owned media outlets. Yet Beijing is unwilling to grant reciprocal access to foreign journalists, including Americans. It should be American policy to demand comparable access for American journalists or else to reduce the size of the Chinese presence in the U.S.

 Fill public diplomacy leadership positions promptly. The U.S. government needs officials who are accountable for carrying out a new public diplomacy strategy. The Broadcasting Board of Governors, for example, is currently operating with most of its members still serving on expired terms.

 Improve strategic communications and public diplomacy training for military public affairs officers. The Chinese see public opinion as playing a key role in shaping the global and operational environment, and during any military conflict, they likely will strive to influence such sentiment. American military public affairs officers (PAOs) need to be cognizant of this and be suitably trained and prepared both to respond and, when possible, to seize the initiative.

 Sustain funding for MISO (Military information support operations). A review of Chinese assessments of American psychological warfare/MISO operations in recent conflicts indicates that the PLA and Chinese decision-makers in general are very concerned with the West’s ability to propagate its message to both senior leaders and the broader populace in wartime as well as peacetime. For the United States to reduce spending in this area unilaterally, especially when total MISO-related spending is about $250 million (equivalent to the cost of two F-35 fighters), would seem to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

The information era provides unparalleled access to both a nation’s leaders and its population. The PRC has made clear that, in the event of a conflict, it will exploit that access to try to influence an adversary in hopes of winning a war without firing a shot. Even today, during a time of peace, the PRC is laying the groundwork for such soft-power operations. It is therefore essential that the United States counter that influence now while preparing to use its own arsenal of political warfare weapons should a conflict ever arise.

Dean Cheng is Research Fellow in Chinese Political and Security Affairs in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.

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