China’s Constant Warfare
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

China’s Constant Warfare


One major Asian navy was conspicuously absent from this month’s festivities in Sydney: the Taiwan Navy. Did Taipei slight Canberra? Should we fault President Ma Ying-jeou for pique, or apathy, or thoughtlessless? Nope, and nope. You’ve heard it all before. Beijing’s wrath would have been fearful to behold had a Taiwanese man-of-war made port for the fleet review. Navies are services sovereign states use to protect their interests. Had Taiwan been allowed to take part in the maritime congress, it would have appeared as though participating governments were affording the island diplomatic recognition.

And that, of course, would never do. Chinese officials go to absurd lengths to maintain a consistent posture toward the island. We even had a furor in the hinterlands of northeast Georgia a few years back. When preparing for a conference of nonproliferation NGOs, an intern dutifully made a nameplate for a Taiwanese professor indicating that he was from, well, Taiwan. Mayhem ensued until the offending nameplate was removed and replaced with one indicating that our colleague hailed from Chinese Taipei. Whatever that is.

Naval Diplomat fave Ralph Waldo Emerson once described “a foolish consistency” as “the hobgoblin of little minds,” beloved of “little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” One wonders what the transcendentalist thinker would make of the Chinese Communist leadership were he alive today. On the one hand, being pedantic about trivia seems like a realm of little statesmen. On the other, who’s to argue with success? Foreign governments defer to Beijing’s demands to keep the peace. Its consistency may not be foolish at all.

And indeed, there is more to Chinese policy than hardheadedness. Shaping attitudes in favor of Beijing’s goals and aspirations is central to national strategy. Last week Mark Stokes and Russell Hsiao of Project 2049 Institute published a longish report profiling the PLA General Political Department. Like all good analysts, Mark and Russell telegraph their thesis at the outset, subtitling the monograph “Political Warfare with Chinese Characteristics.”

A term that pops us repeatedly in the text is the “three warfares,” namely legal, psychological, and media warfare.  The Heritage Foundation’s Dean Cheng appears to have been the first to look into the concept in a serious way. I did some research on it a couple of years back. To oversimplify, Chinese officialdom — not just the diplomatic apparatus but also the PLA — has undertaken a concerted effort to bend opinion among various target audiences. International law and the media are two channels through which it influences these audiences, prosecuting psychological operations.

In one sense, the three-warfares concept is innocuous. Any government worth its salt tries to project a favorable image abroad, swaying popular and elite opinion in its interests. That’s what public diplomacy is all about. But the notion of three warfares waged constantly, in peacetime, by all arms of the Chinese Communist regime, including a far-from-apolitical military, should give foreign observers pause. It bespeaks a combative temperament toward the wider world, and a single-minded zeal toward messaging. In all likelihood, ulterior motives are at work even in routine interactions with mainland interlocutors.

That politics is continual strife is an idea rooted in traditional Chinese statecraft. Sun Tzu, for instance, codified the notion that astute generals and sovereigns arrange things in peacetime to win without taking up the sword. The bareknuckle approach also pervades communist doctrine. Mao Zedong proclaimed, with Clausewitz, that war is a violent political act. But unlike Clausewitz, Mao added that politics is war carried on without bloodshed. Conflict thus spans the war/peace divide, blurring it into nothingness.

Emerson, the prophet of self-reliance, would deplore this all-consuming approach to peacetime diplomacy. But he would recognize it in an instant.

October 28, 2013 at 04:16

"A conflict between China and the United States would be a disaster for both countries. And it would be impossible to describe what a victory would look like," Kissinger said.

"Getting into a war with China is easy," says Michael Vickers, a military analyst and former Green Beret. "You can see many scenarios, not just Taiwan. But the dilemma is. How do you end a war with China?"

October 26, 2013 at 05:06

No, the USA is comfortable with the current situation re Taiwan as war is less and less likely.

Taiwan may well decline even if the USA invites, for the same reason.

There are only two reasons how the Chinese mainland would start a war.

First is if major countries start to recognize Taiwan, if "one-China" is no longer a diplomatic reality. Responsible countries will do no such thing.

Second is if Taiwan develops MAD that can be  miniaturized and deployable.

When China is at real risk of losing Taiwan it would well prepare for war. Now it is not at risk of losing Taiwan.




October 26, 2013 at 04:50

The Taiwan issue is fuzzy in terms of Taiwan's choice of enduring a war over negotiation when pressed to make such a choice. This is the first category of consideration.

Chances are that Taiwan's resolve to fight a war, and hope to win with US aid, is now very low, and will be lower still; however, the use of brute force will induce the resolve. The key for the Chinese mainland will be to compel Taiwan to choose without greatly promoting the resolve to fight. The more overwhelming the advantages, the more believable meaningful autonomy, and the least force applied will serve to compel Taiwan to choose negotiation.

The second category of consideration revolves around the inherent worth and importance of China to the USA. The Chinese did not force the US to have a "one-China policy". It only stipulates Taiwan or us, not both. Base on this, the USA chose the Chinese mainland over Taiwan; 98% of the Chinese vs.1.5% of the Chinese.  Is the reason to choose 98.5% of the Chinese (now including HK ) over 1.5% of the Chinese more valid today than in the 1970's? The answer is yes.

What is just for Taiwan is one issue, what is just for Americans for the generations to come is more important to the US government. Given history, China's design to recover Taiwan, which once claimed all of China, certainly does NOT indicate expansion. Taiwan's history, not that of anyone else’s, induces China to yearn to recover Taiwan. The idea that China's design to recover Taiwan indicates future expansionism is vitiated by history, the unique history of Taiwan.

A defeated China will be the source of innumerable problems.

The USA's decision on Taiwan will be dictated by these categories of considerations, not the fuzzy TRA.

This is a logical non-ethnic explanation of why China is winning without fighting or  the ethnicity is Reagan’s “Peace through strength”.

October 26, 2013 at 04:16

The USA's greatest fear is to be sucked into a war with China; this is already true and will be more so as China gains more power.

One does not fear the impossible, so I do see the USA biting the bullet of going to war with China but only if the situation compels, that is, the worst has already happened.

There is ZERO chance that the USA will act to promote war when peace is likely. There is also the immorality of pushing Taiwan into the inferno of war without a clear indication of Taiwan's willingness.

Breaching Taiwan's immmigration defense with unarmed Chinese, starting say, 2030 2035 is VERY safe for China with little ramifications as far as the USA is concerned. The USA's non-response in this situation is VERY predictable.



October 26, 2013 at 04:06

"This sentence is born out of a confidence in its own strenght and brilliant politics. All these, may be judged differently abroad. "

Which country aboard is going judge? The USA?

I now ask you:

What is the USA going to do when say in 2030 the Chinese mainland starts to breach Taiwan's immigration defense with unarmed Chinese boat people?

Please don't Chinese another poster's comment, just address the question.



October 26, 2013 at 04:01

Pivot is too early and will be too little.

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