China Prepares for Psychological Warfare

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The recent unveiling of China’s new PSYOP (Psychological Operations) aircraft, the Gaoxin-7(高新七号), marks an important step forward for People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) psychological warfare capabilities.

Based on a Y-8 airframe (similar to the U.S. Military’s C-130), the Gaoxin-7’s primary mission is to conduct PSYOP missions against enemy forces. Although specific details are few and far between, People’s Republic of China (PRC) media has compared the Gaoxin-7 to the U.S. Air Force’s (USAF) EC-130J “Commando Solo” in terms of its mission and capability. The EC-130J Commando Solo is essentially a flying broadcast station which can transmit media in AM, FM, HF, TV and military communication frequencies to enemy positions. Its transmission capability is so powerful that it is required to operate at least 200 miles off the coast of the United States during training missions so as to avoid interfering with civil communications.

PSYOP has had an important role in numerous U.S. Military operations and Chinese military planners have paid close attention to these developments. The EC-130J Commando Solo has also played a central part in these operations. In Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Commando Solo was used broadcasted messages in Arabic which urged Iraqi soldiers to surrender. In both conflicts, large numbers of Iraqi troops surrendered to coalition forces without fighting. More recently, Commando Solo participated in the Libyan Air War and broadcasted messages which urged Libyan soldiers to avoid fighting and return to their homes.

The Gaoxin-7 would play a significant role in any future hostilities or heightened tensions. One area where the Gaoxin-7 could be particularly effective would be in a conflict with Taiwan. PLA psychological warfare efforts could potentially have a devastating effect on Taiwanese troops. As some observers have noted, Taiwan’s military does not have particularly high morale and the public generally lacks confidence in the military’s ability to defend the island.  Prior to, and during, a conflict with Taiwan, the Gaoxin-7 would likely be used to broadcast messages to demoralize Taiwanese troops, and persuade them to surrender. Important PLA psychological warfare concepts such as the humane treatment of POW’s policy (优待俘虏/Yōudài fúlǔ) would likely have a powerful impact on Taiwanese soldiers. Going back to the Mao Era, this policy seeks to encourage enemy soldiers to surrender without fighting in return for fair and humane treatment. When combined with fear-inducing PSYOP measures, and the PLA’s military superiority, the appeal of humane treatment in exchange for surrender would be even stronger.

China has already laid a strong foundation for psychological warfare against Taiwan with the establishment of the PLA’s General Political Department’s 311 Base in Fujian Province. In 2011, this base was designated as the focal point for all psychological warfare efforts against Taiwan, including help transmit China’s Voice of the Straits radio.

Additionally, the PLA has also stepped up PSYOP training against Taiwan. In 2006, the PLA included psychological warfare units in exercises held in the Nanjing Military Region. During the exercise, these units dropped leaflets on mock enemy positions and broadcast PSYOP messages in Taiwanese and English. The addition of the Gaoxin-7 will greatly enhance and extend the reach of the PLA’s PSYOP activities against Taiwan.

In addition to Taiwan, the Gaoxin-7 could also play a key role in the event of hostilities in the South China Sea against countries like The Philippines and Vietnam. Like Taiwan, the Vietnamese and Philippine militaries are significantly out-gunned by the PLA. Here again, the PLA’s policy of humane treatment for POWs could have a powerful impact on soldiers and sailors who have little expectation of victory. With its medium sized airframe, the Gaoxin-7 could operate from some of the PRC-controlled islands in the South China Sea.

With the introduction of the Gaoxin-7, the PLA now wields a powerful new psychological weapon which can be deployed to produce fear and confusion in the minds of enemy troops and leaders. If used effectively, the Gaoxin-7 could greatly reduce the amount of resistance that the PLA would otherwise encounter in future battles.

Aaron Jensen served in the U.S. Air Force for seven years and holds an MA in Asia-Pacific Studies at National Chengchi University (NCCU). He currently studies Chinese at National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) in Taipei, and has written for Strategic Vision for Taiwan Security.

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