47 China's Electronic Strategies
May - June 2001
by Lieutenant Colonel Timothy L. Thomas, US Army, Retired
Dai Qingmin, director of the Chinese People's Liberation Army's (PLA's)
Communications Department of the General Staff responsible for information
warfare (IW) and information operations (IO), wrote that "new technologies
are likely to find material expression in informationalized arms and equipment
which will, together with information systems, sound, light, electronics,
magnetism, heat and so on, turn into a carrier of strategies."1 Chinese
strategies rely on electrons in unanticipated ways to fulfill stratagems
such as "kill with a borrowed sword" or "exhaust the enemy at the gate
and attack him at your ease."
The Chinese believe that superior strategies can help overcome technological
deficiencies. A comparable equivalent to this theoretical development in
military art would be a Russian virtual operational maneuver group of electron
forces or a US air-land electron battle group.
Dai's article is an important benchmark in PLA military philosophy.
First, he is a very credible and responsible figure. Before his present
job, Dai commanded the PLA's Information Warfare Center in Wuhan. Second,
he defines IW and IO with Chinese characteristics that are different from
US definitions. Third, Dai broke tradition and advocated pre-emptive attack
to gain the initiative and seize information superiority. This offensive
emphasis contradicts China's military strategy of active defense. Finally,
he noted that integrated and joint IO gives more scope and purpose to a
people's war. Dai's article also indicates that China is clearly developing
strategies to implement IW with Chinese characteristics. Other writers
support his view with their own approaches to strategic IW.
The journal China Military Science is produced
by the Academy of Military Science and approximates Joint Force Quarterly.
It carries articles on a variety of current topics of interest to the PLA,
to include information and psychological operations.
General Dai Qingmin:
"Informationized arms . . . together with information
systems, sound, light, electronics, magnetism, heat and so on, turn into
a carrier of strategies."
The Fiscal Year 2000 report on China from the US Secretary of Defense
to Congress (mandated by the National Defense Authorization Act) indicated
growth in Chinese theory and capability. The report noted that since NATO
air forces inadvertently bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade on 7 May
1999, Chinese leaders have accelerated military modernization, pursued
strategic cooperation with Russia and increased proliferation activities.
In particular, China focused on fighting adversaries that had advanced
information technologies and long-range precision weapons. The "active-defense"
doctrine focuses on "People's War under modern conditions," which the secretary's
report termed "local wars under high-tech conditions."2 Released
on 16 October 2000, the Chinese Defense White Paper also emphasized China's
people's war tradition, an empha-sis that surprised many Western followers
of China who thought the idea had lost relevance in the information age.
In fact, its importance has grown.
In September 2000, two weeks before the White Paper was released, the
Daily released an article on China's military telecommunications (telecom)
developments. The article noted that in 1991 Chairman Jiang Zemin called
for building common telecom systems for military and civilian use to meet
peacetime and wartime needs.3 Only in such fashion could military
telecom catch up with its civilian counterpart. One way to do this was
to create reserve forces (a key component uniting civilian and military
sectors in a people's war) with telecom and IW/IO missions. The paper noted,
"We have built a reserve telecom force structure with a reserve telecom
regiment as the backbone, with an information industrial department as
the base . . . have built a reserve contingent of qualified high-tech telecom
and transmission personnel with those specializing in satellite telecom,
relay telecom, digital telecom, telegraph (telephone) telecom, and optical-fiber
telecom as the main force . . . and have built a contingent of highly qualified
personnel with computer experts, network monitoring experts, as well as
radio telecom units serving as the backbone."4
China's reserve forces are now being armed with IW/IO missions and have
become the high-tech link in the country's people's war theory. In the
past, reserve forces' planned role in a people's war was supporting PLA
forces defending against foreign intervention. Today's reserve forces can
do something even the PLA could not for many years—reach out and touch
someone continents away with electronic and information weapons. Properly
targeted electronic attacks could be as devastating to a country's economy
as damage inflicted by an intercontinental missile.
cooperation and integration are growing in China in the information age,
just as it is in the United States. Chairman Jiang Zemin (third from
left) has called for building common telecom systems for military and
civilian needs. One way to do this is to create reserve forces—a
key component uniting civilian and military sectors in a people's war—with
telecom and IW/IO missions.
China's defense industrial complex lags in developing high-technology
equipment; therefore, China must find "selective pockets of excellence"
according to the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. One of these pockets
appears to be internal telecom. The Secretary of Defense's report noted
that military and civilian communications networks might be linked to help
China in a crisis. The September PLA Daily report indicates that
a civil-military telecom system is more likely. The military communications
system is carried over multiple transmission lines to make it survivable,
secure, flexible, mobile and less vulnerable to exploitation, destruction
or electronic attack. The command automation data network can reportedly
support limited preplanned conventional attack options along China's periphery.5
The reserve forces also reportedly have their own websites and simulation
centers. China now has 400 military websites, according to one report.6
On 7 January 2001 several unidentified companies agreed to form the China
C-Net Strategic Alliance, a second-generation Internet-like network for
China's government and industry. No start dates for construction or completion
were offered. The Xinhua News Agency release noted that "the current one
[Internet] has too many faults and is incapable of satisfying the needs
of the Chinese government and companies as they enter the digital age.
It is unknown whether foreigners will have access to the net, or if it
will be compatible with the existing net."7
IW/IO Strategy in China Military Science
The journal China Military Science, which approximates Joint
Force Quarterly, has provided a limited forum for IW/IO articles over
the past year. However, the April 2000 issue was an exception. The journal
contains three articles on IO subjects, and all three are important. One
article is titled "The Current Revolution in Military Affairs and its Impact
on Asia-Pacific Security," by Senior Colonel Wang Baocun. Wang is a well-respected
author on IO subjects and works in the Foreign Military Studies Department
of the Academy of Military Science, which publishes China Military Science.
Wang's article is the only one in the issue in English and reflects a Western
view of IW and the Revolution in Military Affairs. For example, Wang defines
IW as "a form of combat actions which attacks the information and information
systems of the enemy while protecting the information and information systems
of one's own side. The contents of IW are military security, military deception,
physical attack, electronic warfare, psychological warfare and net warfare,
and its basic purpose is to seize and maintain information dominance."8
Wang provided a very different definition of IW when writing for the
same journal in 1997. His description of IW contained the elements of Soviet/Russian
military science, covering the nature, forms, levels, distinctions, features
and principles of IW. Wang listed forms of IW as peacetime, crisis and
wartime; the nature of IW as reflected in offensive and defensive operations;
levels of IW as national, strategic, theater and tactical; and other distinctions
of IW as command and control, intelligence, electronic-psychological, cyberspace,
hackers, virtual, economics, strategy and precision. He listed features
of IW as complexity, limited goals, short duration, less damage, larger
battle space and less troop density, transparency, intense struggle for
information superiority, increased integration, increased demand on command,
new aspects of massing forces and the fact that effective strength may
not be the main target. He stated that principles of IW include decapitation,
blinding, transparency, quick response and survival.9
The two definitions Wang offered reflect two ways of viewing IW in China.
The first definition is through the prism of Western theory, and the second
is through the prism of Soviet/Russian military science, which was used
extensively from the 1950s to the early 1990s. In recent lectures, Wang
spoke of "informationalized warfare," a concept Dai used quite often in
"On Information Warfare Strategies," by Major General Niu Li, Colonel
Li Jiangzhou and Major Xu Dehui at the Communications and Command Institute,
appeared in the same April 2000 issue. The authors define IW stratagems
as "schemes and methods devised and used by commanders and commanding bodies
to seize and maintain information supremacy on the basis of using clever
methods to prevail at a relatively small cost in information warfare."11
Chinese leaders believe that stratagems to technological inferiority can
be achieved by combining human qualitative thinking with computer-assisted
quantitative calculations. The authors suggest devising stratagems that
are based on cognition and technology (information acquisition and processing).
Colonel Wang Baocun of the PLA's Academy of Military Sciences lecturing
at the US Army Command and General Staff College in January 2001 on "Informationalized
War," a concept that Major General Dai also addresses.
Asians and Occidentals view combining stratagems with technology differently.
The authors note that, "Traditionally, Oriental people emphasize stratagems
and Occidental people emphasize technology . . . Occidental soldiers would
seek technological means when encountering a difficulty, while Oriental
soldiers would seek to use stratagems to make up for technological deficiencies
without changing the technological conditions. Oriental soldiers' traditional
way of thinking is not conducive to technological development, but can
still serve as an effective way of seeking survival in a situation of danger."12
Direct commanders' thinking and force them to make errors by attacking
cognitive and belief systems.
Generate heavy psychological pressure by using intimidation to signal inevitable
victory concentrating forces and coordinating information networks.
Intimidate by demonstrating capabilities.
Adopt active and effective measures to generate surprise, and use decisive
technical equipment and IW means.
Develop and hide IW "killer weapons."
Hide reality by creating a fictitious reality.
Apply deceptive schemes simultaneously or consecutively.
Use all IW means to maintain supremacy.
Mislead the enemy by pretending to follow his wishes.
Release viruses to contaminate information flows.
Control time elements by conducting information "inducement," deception,"
"concealment" and "containment."13
These strategies are designed to force cognitive errors in the enemy and
create a multidimensional threat with which the enemy must contend.
Dai on Information Operation
Strategies and a People's War
A third article in the April 2000 issue is Dai's "Innovating and Developing
Views on Information Operations." Dai defines an information operation
as "a series of operations with an information environment as the basic
battlefield condition, with military information and an information system
as the direct operational target, and with electronic warfare and a computer
network war as the principal form."14 Since these operations
are trials of strength focusing on knowledge and strategies, Dai recommends
a "focus on strategies."
Scientific and technological developments have given strategies a new
playing field. A strategy may carry different contents under different
technological conditions, allowing room for traditional strategies, and
new ones mapped out by new technological means. Options include new information-confrontation
strategies, adding strategic wings to technology or applying strategies
in light of technology.15 If technology finds expression in
arms and equipment, then information systems and even electrons can be
strategy carriers. A good strategy can "serve as a type of invisible fighting
capacity; may make up inadequate material conditions to a certain extent;
may narrow a technological or equipment gap between an army and its enemy;
and may make up for a shortage of information, fighting forces or poor
information operational means."16 Some of these strategies include:
Jamming or sabotaging an enemy's information or information system.
Sabotaging an enemy's overall information operational structure.
Weakening an enemy's information fighting capacity.
Dispersing enemy forces, arms and fires while concentrating its own forces,
arms and fire.
Confusing or diverting an enemy and creating an excellent combat opportunity
Diverting an enemy's reconnaissance attempt and making sufficient preparations
Giving an enemy a false impression and launching a surprise information
attack on him at the same time.
Blinding or deafening an enemy with false impressions.
Confusing an enemy or disrupting his thinking.
Making an enemy believe that what is true is false and what is false is
Causing an enemy to make a wrong judgment or take wrong action.17
Dai also emphasizes that future operations must be integrated. One such
concept will be integrating military and civilian information fighting
forces. Dai believes that information systems offer more modes for people
to take part in IO and serve as a major aux-iliary information fighting
force in a future information war.18 Integrating civilian and
military specialists will breathe new life into Mao Zedong's theory of
people's war. Chinese IW specialist General Wang Pufeng first noted this
condition in 1995.19
Ideas for uniting a people's war with IW are finding fertile ground
in China's 1.5-million reserve force. Several IW reserve forces have already
been formed in the cities of Datong, Xiamen, Shanghai, Echeng and Xian.
Each is developing its own specialty as well. For example, Shanghai reserve
forces focus on wireless telecom networks and double-encryption passwords.
In Xian, the People's Armed Forces Department reportedly is working
with several strategies that resemble Dai's idea of turning light, sound
and electronics into strategy carriers. IW Fenduis (divisions) acted as
opposing forces for a military district exercise in Jilin Province (Shenyang
Military Region). Ten IO methods, which could also be considered as electronic
Planting information mines.
Conducting information reconnaissance.
Changing network data.
Releasing information bombs.
Dumping information garbage.
Applying information deception.
Releasing clone information.
Organizing information defense.
Establishing network spy stations.20
Whether these strategies are used in external reconnaissance of foreign
operating systems today is unknown.
A third, significant way the information age has affected China's attitude
toward warfare is that China's 36 stratagems may find new meaning and application.
Some 300 years ago an unknown scholar decided to collect and record China's
stratagems. The Thirty-Six Stratagems: The Secret Art of War emphasizes
deception as a military art that can achieve military objectives.21
In the information age, which is characterized by anonymous attacks and
uncertainty, the stratagem just might be revitalized as a tactic. It should
be easier to deceive or inflict perception-management injuries (guidance
injuries in Chinese) as a result. The information age is developing into
the anonymous persuaders' age.
Some argue that in today's high-tech world, these ancient stratagems
no longer apply. However, a look at just the first five stratagems shows
otherwise. Strategy one is "fool the emperor to cross the sea."22
Lowering an enemy's guard must be an open act, hiding true intentions under
the guise of everyday activities. An IW application would be using regular
e-mail services or Internet business links to mask insertions of malicious
code or viruses. Strategy two is "besiege Wei to rescue Zhao": when the
enemy is too strong to attack directly, attack something he holds dear.
Today's IW implication is that if you cannot hit someone with nuclear weapons
because of catastrophic effects on your own country, then attack the servers
and nets responsible for Western financial, power, political and other
systems' stability with electrons. Strategy three is "kill with a borrowed
sword": when you do not have the means to attack the enemy directly, attack
using another's strength. The IW application is simple—send viruses or
malicious codes through a cutout or another country.
Strategy four is "await the exhausted enemy at your ease": choosing
the time and place for battle is an advantage. Encourage the enemy to expend
his energy in futile quests while you conserve your strength. When he is
exhausted and confused, attack with energy and purpose. The IW application
here is to use the people's war theory to send out multiple attacks while
saving the significant attack until all the West's computer emergency response
teams (CERTs) are engaged. Finally, strategy five is "loot a burning house":
when a country is beset by internal conflicts, it will be unable to deal
with an outside threat. The IW application is to put hackers inside the
West under the guise of a student or business and attack from the inside.
While chaos reigns, steal from information resources.
Integration also implies networking. In the August 2000 newspaper article
"PRC Army Pays Attention to the Role of Network Warfare," a people's war
received as much attention as networking. The author stated that Jiefangjun
Bao [the Chinese armed forces newspaper] maintains that it is necessary
to formulate rules and regulations regarding mobilization and preparation
for "modern People's War," as well as information gathering and processing;
online offensives and defense; and network technology research and exchanges,
to provide norms for preparing and building a "network People's War."23
Attaining information superiority (Dai uses the term 32 times and the
concept "information control" 11 times in his article) is crucial to using
these strategies in a people's war and requires several steps. First, Dai
notes that professional forces (perhaps the PLA) would obtain, transmit
and process war information, and jam or sabotage enemy information or information
systems. Nonprofessional forces (perhaps the reserves) protect specific
targets and injure the enemy's effective fighting strength. Second, electronic
warfare means (designed to sabotage information gathering and transmission)
and network warfare means (designed to sabotage information processing
and use) must be integrated. Third, "soft and hard" are to be used for
forces and offensive and defensive operations.24 The offensive
includes electronic, network and other units to destroy enemy electronic
systems; and the defense consists of telecom, technical reconnaissance,
radar and other units. Fourth, integrated, joint, all-dimensional operations
must cover ground, sea, air and space.25
Dai remarks that to contend for information superiority requires viewing
IO as an "active offensive." This viewpoint appears strongly to contradict
the viewpoint expressed in China's subsequent White Paper that stressed
China's adherence to an active defense posture. However, Dai notes that
for defense to be positive, it must be an "active offensive defense," while
a negative information defense will be passive. This word game appears
designed to keep the "information active offense" in line with the White
Paper.26 In this sense, Dai recommends the Kosovo model of the
Serbs, who actively responded, over the Gulf War model of the Iraqis, who
passively waited for the coalition's next step.
Other Information Strategies
A 1996 article notes that information technology is the core and foundation
of the military revolution. Information and knowledge have changed the
previous practice of measuring military strength, which was calculated
by counting the number of armored divisions, air force wings and aircraft
carrier battle groups. Invisible forces must be considered in calculating
the correlation of forces today. These include:
Computing capabilities, to include capacity.
Ability of reconnaissance systems.27
Each element could affect the information strategy employed by or against
adversaries. These strategies also possess global reach, speed-of-light
transmission and comprehensive integration.
In addition, knowledge and psychological factors must be evaluated as
components of the correlation of forces. Knowledge war entails calculating
significant changes to people, weaponry and military systems. The impact
of a knowledge differential was obvious between US soldiers in the Gulf
and Iraq. The high-tech coalition weaponry would have been practically
useless to Iraqi soldiers, many of whom were illiterate. Future war, characterized
by chessboard-type competition and high-tech knowledge embedded into weapon
circuitry, will be "directed by master's degree holders, commanded by university
students and conducted by experts." In addition, turning knowledge into
weapons will occur more quickly. Networking competence, automation and
real-time systems for early warning, reconnaissance, control and guidance,
and attack will improve, enabling weapons to identify, differentiate and
analyze targets automatically. Military systems will replace quantity and
scale with quality and effectiveness.28 Knowledge war also includes
developing superior strategies based on superior knowledge.
The primary conclusion from a review of Chinese IW stratagems is that
strategy, the military art and science of conducting campaigns on a broad
scale, has undergone a transformation. Concentrations of forces will be
replaced by striking efficacy with information and energy, and lines between
front and rear will blur. Operations will switch from firepower to detecting,
concealing, searching and avoiding, making long-range combat replace hand-to-hand
fighting. A core issue will be the fight for network supremacy, which will
be necessary to win in strategy and battle simultaneously.
In a revolutionary development, clouds of electrons will be able to
disable and destroy countries (usually via economic destruction but also
information-psychological attacks) where once large armies were required.
Electrons and information technologies are the new formations of 21st-century
armed forces in China and other countries. Electrons in combat require
focus on operational effectiveness instead of concentrating military strength.
Building systems for soft destruction (signal deception or interference)
will become as important as firepower, according to some Chinese analysts.
The West should look to the East to explain these stratagems. As the Chinese
note, they allow more time for strategic thinking than their Occidental
A few new areas of emphasis support these strategies. They include the
new criteria for figuring correlation of forces and the new emphasis on
cognitive factors, especially psychological. For China, the information
revolution has also breathed new life into an old yet timely Chinese strategy—people's
war. The country can unite around this concept with its reserve forces
and anyone with a laptop computer. For Western audiences, it is time to
study these changes closely, and to adapt some into our way of conducting
1.Qingmin Dai, "Innovating and Developing Views on Information Operations,"
Beijing Zhongguo Junshi Kexue, 20 August 2000, 72-77. Translated
and downloaded from Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), 9 November
2.The Report to Congress Pursuant to the FY2000 National Defense Authorization
3.Zhang Fuyou, "With Joint Efforts Made by Army and People, Military
Telecommunications Makes Leap Forward," Beijing Jiefangjun Bao,
September 2000, 9. Translated and downloaded from FBIS, <http://sun3.lib/uci.edu/~slca/microform/resources/f-g/f_049.htm>.
5.The Report to Congress.
6.Wei Kaqing, "On the Sudden Emergence of Military Websites," Beijing
Guofang Bao, 6 November 2000, 4. Translated and downloaded
from FBIS, 14 December 2000, http://sun3.lib/uci.edu/~slca/microform/resources/f-g/f_049.htm>.
7.Beijing, The Associated Press, 8 January 2001.
8.Wang Baocun, "The Current Revolution in Military Affairs and its Impact
on Asia-Pacific Security," China Military Science, April 2000, 139.
9.Baocun, "A Preliminary Analysis of IW," Beijing Zhongguo Junshi
Kexue, 20 November 1997, 102-11. Translated and downloaded from FBIS,
11.Niu Li, Li Jiangzhou, and Xu Dehui, "On Information Warfare Stratagems,"
Beijing Zhongguo Junshi Kexue, 12 January 2001, 115-22. Translated
and downloaded from FBIS, <http://sun3.lib/uci.edu/~slca/microform/resources/f-g
14.Dai, "Innovating and Developing Views on Information Operations."
19.Wang Pufeng, "Meeting the Challenge of Information Warfare," Zhongguo
Junshi Kexue (China Military Science), 20 February 1995, 8-18.
Translated and reported in FBIS-CHI-95-129, 6 July 1995, 29 and 30.
20.Xianjin Bao, 10 December 1999, provided by Mr. William Belk
to the author via e-mail.
21.Wang Xuanming, The Thirty-Six Strategems: The Secret Art of War
(China Books and Periodicals, December 1992).
22.These strategies and their meaning were downloaded from <http://www.chinastrategies.com>;
the information-age interpretation is the author's.
23."PRC Army Pays Attention to the Role of Network Warfare," Hong Kong
Tonnxun She, 6 August 2000, translated and downloaded from FBIS, <http://sun3.lib/uci.edu/~slca/microform/resources/f-g/f_049.htm>.
24.Dai. "Soft" means temporary sabotage or deception using electronic
jamming, computer virus attacks, network infiltration, carbonized-fiber
bombs, virtual reality attacks and psychological attacks. "Hard" means
permanent sabotage, weakening an enemy's overall fighting capacity, and
includes conventional arms, sabotage attacks with forces, attacks with
electromagnetic pulses and attacks with arms-carrying direction finders.
27.Hai Lung and Chang Feng, "Chinese Military Studies Information Warfare,"
Chiao Ching, 16 January 1996, 22 and 23. Translated in FBIS-CHI-96-035,
21 February 1996, 33 and 34.
28.Jia Xi and Shi Hongju, "Analysis on Key Elements of Knowledge Warfare,"
Beijing Jiefangjun Bao, 18 September 2000. Translated and
downloaded from FBIS, <http://sun3.lib/uci.edu/~slca/microform/resources/f-g/f_049.htm>.
Lieutenant Colonel Timothy L. Thomas, US Army, Retired, is an analyst
with the US Army Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas,
and is an adjunct professor at the US Army's Eurasian Institute, Garmisch,
Germany. He received a B.S. from the US Military Academy and an M.A. from
the University of Southern California and is a graduate of the US Army
Command and General Staff College and the US Army Russian Institute (USARI).
He held various command and staff positions in the Continental United States
and Europe, including director, Soviet Studies, USARI, Garmisch; inspector
of Soviet tactical operations, Conference on Security and Cooperation in
Europe, Eurasian Institute, Garmisch; and S2, 2d Brigade, and commander,
Company C, 313th Military Intelligence Battalion, 82d Airborne Division,
Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He is the assistant editor of the journal European
Security. His article "Grozny 2000: Urban Combat Lessons Learned" appeared
in the July-August 2000 issue of Military Review.
People's Liberation Army