In today’s battlefield, multiple domains of warfare are addressed, as in a coordinated symphony, to accrue maximisation of impact. The Chinese have been working in all domains to mix their soft and hard power to deliver a blow that creates opportunities for exploitation. How far have the Chinese advanced?
The term “Hybrid Warfare” was first introduced by US Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Frank G Hoffman in 2006. The paradigm shift post 9/11 in 2001, presented the Military thinkers and policymakers, across the world, with altogether a different dimension of future warfare. In this new form of warfare, the challenge was not only that the enemy was no more bound by rules of warfare or boundaries of Land, Sea or Air, but also that the face, location, strength, support, tactics and intent were now in the realms of speculation.
The extensive research, seminars, symposiums, and interactions on the subject that commenced in 2008 steered nations to revise their policies, doctrine and refinement not only in the normal military domains but also in almost other domains like Cyber, Space, IT, Financial Sector including banks and Stock Markets, Critical grids like; Railway, Power, Energy, Transportation, and Perception Management through fast-expanding social networks. Not surprisingly, while most nations were coming to terms with this new, multidimensional concept of warfare, China-the Sleeping Dragon, had already set itself on this path, well before the powerful Western Block even coined this term in 2006.
The Road This Far
The five main principles of Sun Tzu’s “The art of war”, had never been lost sight of the strategic planners in China. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1998-1991 period, was analysed much in-depth in China as another powerful nation of Communist ideology. One of the major lessons, well documented in their White Paper of 1998, was about Economic Security being the pivotal point for State Security.
Since then, China has progressively opened up its economy over the past two decades, allowed greater flexibility for business with increased autonomy and relaxed policies for foreign and domestic trade. Such measures coupled with an industrial policy that encouraged domestic manufacturing has made China the second-largest economy with a GDP of more than 15 trillion USD and the world’s number one exporter.
The white paper further states the need to build an all-encompassing doctrine for unknown areas of future warfare like geopolitical control of maritime assets, minerals, energy resources, info-technology and outer space. So much so that, in the white paper of 1998 itself, a need to develop Anti- Satellite Capability (ASAT) was mentioned as a pre-requisite for control of own space assets and limiting/denial of the same to adversaries.
Series of white papers issued by China between 1998 to 2019, focussed on a vast number of domains covering this new emerging face of warfare. These white papers covered almost every aspect ranging from conventional forces to nuclear, biochemical, cyber, space, terrorism, psychological operations and information domain in military warfare.
Additionally, economic dominance through stable growth, opening up a business for foreign companies, control of land and sea trade routes, capital investments in international financial giants like banks and corporate houses were also covered. Special emphasis was laid on infiltrating the domain of world opinion-makers through universities, increasing diaspora abroad, securing positions in UN organisations, controlling electronic and social media as a major investor or stakeholder.
Path of Dominance
A closer analysis of the sequence of certain major events that unfolded with the passage of time, highlights the underlying aspect of China has not only taken a lead but of having also strongly established itself in all domains of hybrid warfare environment. The specific areas of dominance as a part of hybrid warfare are in their chronological sequential order are explained further:
- Outer Space Dominance: On 11 January 2007, China displayed its ASAT (Anti-Satellite) capability by destroying its own low polar orbit satellite in space. The critical point was that it was launched from a Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL) mobile vehicle that was also similar in design to its Nuclear Weapon TEL. In 2012, BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) that was first launched in the year 2000, was being showcased to the world, as an alternative to GPS, for military use by the Chinese Armed Forces.
- Economic Dominance: In 2013, Xi-Jinping launched the most ambitious plan of China–The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI/OBOR) to not only create opportunities for its own capitalists to amass huge wealth but also create a Debt Trap for countries who fell for the lucrative OBOR offer. It was nothing more than an Economic Trojan Horse!! The initial target countries were mostly from the African continent and CAR, all cash-starved countries that were easy prey to fall for the trap. Pakistan is already in a deep Debt Trap under the CPEC project of China. One of the benefits, of economically enslaving such countries, was in the form of uncontested selection to UNHRC by their support, in addition to control over various ports for sea trade routes. The expansion included European countries and Australia as well.
- Sea Control and Trade Route Dominance: In 2013 itself, China resorted to island-building in the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Island regions to increase its maritime limits. The South China Sea disputes involved both island and maritime claims among several sovereign states with China; namely Brunei, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Today each of these countries is either embroiled in political turmoil or has been tamed by China under a debt trap.
- Bio warfare and Cyber Dominance: In 2019, Corona or Wuhan Virus, took the world by shock and surprise. Dr Li Meng, the famous Chinese virologist, claimed that the coronavirus emerged from China and was unleashed by CCP as a Bio-warfare. Dr Shi Zhengli the senior virology scientist at Wuhan lab, as well as Bota Xiao, a molecular biomechanics researcher from South China, had also made similar claims. However, at a later date, while Dr Shi Zhengli and Bota Xiao withdrew their statements, Dr Li Meng moved to America from Hong Kong for obvious reasons and is still actively pursuing her claim. It has been the biggest bio- warfare unleashed on humanity. It has destroyed not only the top economies of the World except China but has also placed China in the driver’s seat. Legally, China covered itself well at UN and WHO, by means known to all. All the “Perception Cyber Warriors” of CCP along with well-placed opinion-makers, extensively exploited its already established dominance over the paid media houses and social networks like Twitter, Facebook etc to quickly absolve China of any culpability as the originator of this pandemic.
- Psychological Operations Dominance: An extremely secretive nation till very recently, China has started overhyping its achievements, especially in the military equipment domain. Each such display of equipment, e.g., a swarm with 1000 drones is publicised to deliver a message conveying the huge potential of such equipment. A large number of Chinese helicopters, fighter aircraft, tanks etc., are below par, however, they would be projected as the most lethal instruments on the battlefield. Their conceptual premise is to lower the morale of the targeted country and its forces.
China has always been a complex nation to study for its intent and plans. The world mostly wakes up to their real objectives, plans and methods of execution, post the event or remarkably close to its finality. It is evident that China had set its eyes to propel itself as a superpower way back in 1998 itself. In the path to capture and demonstrate its rising dominance in every facet of hybrid warfare, China has ensured showcasing of its capabilities at regular intervals. Beginning in 2007 with the demonstration of its unambiguous ASAT capability and indigenous BeiDou Satellite Navigation System, China has continued to tighten its grip on multiple domains.
In the last two decades, it has very effectively used its BRI Debt Trap, to not only extend its strategic reach towards gaining Sea Dominance but also to gain “forced” support of these nations at the UN. The recent pandemic leading to unprecedented devastation of human life and associated steep fall in the economy of countries, across the world, is a bone-chilling reminder of the enormous destructive capability that China has acquired. Simultaneously, China also demonstrated its deep penetration and control of social media as a perception management capability. China used the media platforms after this bio-warfare to sell its own narrative globally.
The unfolding of events indicate the vision and capability of the Dragon to effectively analyse future threats, forecast, make extensive plans and execute them almost flawlessly and in the most ruthless manner. The closely guarded secrets remain a secret till the execution of a planned event takes place at the intended place and time with a commendable achievement of objectives. It is now a matter of interest to watch the counter plans of world powers unfolding in taking control of most domains of hybrid warfare while reigning in China from causing any more damage to nations across the World.
Air Cmdre SP Singh (Retd)
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BharatShakti.in)