Americans get to elect their presidents. Not so in China.
We may have moved from the 45th commander in chief to the 46th, and the attendant changes already are legion, given the dozens of executive orders issued by President Joe Biden.
But our relationship with China, and the man who recently made himself leader for life, hasn’t.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is now the functional emperor of the world’s largest dictatorship, one we must understand is at war with any nation that has a representative government, or which refuses to kneel before it. Just ask the residents of Hong Kong.
As such, we should understand the threat that Xi’s communist regime comprises. As the ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu teaches us: “Know thy enemy.”
Well, here are the essentials all Americans should know.
A Different Way of War
Shortly before 9/11, two senior colonels in the air force of China’s People’s Liberation Army published the book “Unrestricted Warfare.”
Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, both experienced in political warfare, propose in their book that the context of conflict had changed drastically. This change, they argue, required a “new” type of war without limits.
In the text, the two military men focus first on the geostrategic and geopolitical changes that necessitate what they call unrestricted warfare.
This discussion includes excursions on the topic of globalization, the waning power of the classic nation-state, the rise of “superempowered” actors such as hackers and cyberwarriors, as well as a lengthy discourse on the significance of the Persian Gulf War.
And this leads to the two authors’ enumerating the eight principles of unrestricted warfare, the type of strategy to use when fighting a much more powerful adversary. Like America. Here is their toolbox to take us down:
Omnidirectionality. A 360-degree perspective guaranteeing all-around consideration of all the factors related to war, a philosophy whereby war is redefined to be military, quasi-military, or nonmilitary with the “battlefield” existing everywhere and no distinction made between combatants and noncombatants.
Synchrony. Conducting actions in different locations within the same period of time.
Limited objectives. Limit objectives in relation to measures employed. Objectives always must be smaller than measures used to obtain them.
Unlimited measures. Once objectives are limited there should be no restrictions placed on the measures used to achieve them. Hence unrestricted warfare.
Asymmetry. Understanding and employing the principle of asymmetry correctly so as to find and exploit an enemy’s weaknesses.
Minimal consumption. Use the least amount of combat resources sufficient to accomplish the objective. This is analogous to the U.S. principle known as “economy of force.”
Multidimensional coordination. Coordinating and allocating all forces that can be mobilized in the military and nonmilitary spheres covering an objective. Significantly, this includes nonmilitary assets, such as cultural warfare.
Holistic adjustment and control of the entire war process. Continual acquisition of information throughout the campaign to allow for iterative adjustment and comprehensive control.
China’s Strategic Culture
As even a cursory glance will demonstrate, none of these principles are at all new. In fact, several are as old as Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” his influential treatise on military strategy. Others are simply good common sense.
Nevertheless, we shouldn’t disregard this work. Or rather, we shouldn’t conclude there is nothing new about how China has been thinking about and exercising its power in the post-9/11 world and how it will use this approach to attack American interests.
Every nation has its own unique strategic culture, as do even nonstate actors. China’s strategic culture is most shaped by two specific historical experiences: the original period of the warring states that brought us the wisdom of Sun Tzu and the 19th- and early 20th-century experiences of modern China.
The first historical experience imbued the strategic personality of China’s generals and other leaders with the obsession of maintaining internal cohesion to an obsessive degree that far exceeds any reasonable attitude that other nations have toward internal peace and harmony.
The second historical experience created a festering psychological wound in the mind of the political elite that China never again must be exploited and humiliated by (Western) foreign powers, as it was for so long in the modern age.
What has this resulted in today when it comes to China’s strategic goals and actions?
Qiao and Wang may not have expounded a revolutionary new war for their nation, but Beijing most definitely is practicing a very shrewd form of irregular warfare. The approach is focused less on remote political control than on intimidation and economic control.
A Growing Global Actor
Simply looking at China’s actions in Latin America and South Asia, with billions “invested” in countries such as Venezuela and Afghanistan for access to natural resources such as oil and cooper, we see how China uses nonkinetic capabilities to realize its national goals.
Add to that the privatization and cooption of the state perpetrated by China in Africa in places such as Angola and Nigeria, and we can see just how global an actor China has become in recent years. Beijing’s approach is to exploit weak nations and corrupt regimes and exploit the weaknesses of strong nations.
And when it comes to the strongest of its competitors, such as the United States, to quote Qiao from an interview with CCTV state media in 2012 (by which time he had become a general), the goal is “to make trouble for the troublemaker.” He means us.
China wants to be the most powerful state in the world. To do that, it must “dethrone” America. If that happens, international affairs will be dominated not by a nation founded on the principle of “unalienable rights” derived from our Creator, but by a communist dictatorship run by a man who recently made himself premier for life.
Former President Donald Trump understood that not all wars involved bombs and bullets, that economic and political weapons can often achieve what kinetic measures cannot.
Does our new president? We likely shall soon see.
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