Amid the continuing military stand-off in Ladakh and a series of failed bilateral meetings at varying military-diplomatic levels, Beijing embarked upon the familiar “video war”, releasing clips showcasing China’s modernised and digitised military prowess. The video, released a few days before the scheduled Corps Commander-level meeting, featured a task force doing “infiltration drills.” It showed troops operating at night, crossing the border in the dark to avoid detection with only a laser to guide them and the destruction of en route threats through drones. It showed a sniper team destroying enemy spotlights and a fire strike team neutralising the enemy’s light armoured vehicles with anti-tank rockets. Thus the enemy’s defences were neutralised and thereafter the task force launched the final assault on the enemy headquarters, in which a vehicle-mounted infrared reconnaissance system was used to guide the troops to accurately lock on the targets and destroy them.
The exercise, as per the Chinese mouthpiece Global Times, was done at 4,700 metres, simulating the border with India, deep in the Tanggula mountains. However, seasoned defence strategists and military experts in India were not impressed by it as the video had glaring mistakes. Apart from not displaying the timeline, the troops were wearing summer combat fatigues and not the winter clothing essential to survive at that altitude. China watchers, who refused to be misled by the Chinese media, revealed that a similar video was released by Beijing in July 2017 at the peak of the Doklam crisis. Only it was claimed to be filmed at a different altitude then.
To grasp why the Chinese media resorts to such tactics and propaganda offensives, we have to understand the Chinese strategy of “winning without fighting.” It goes to the credit of the Chinese army that it has not depended on foreign armies to define its military doctrine but has used indigenous knowledge and experience to draft its war strategy.
China is a one-party State with undisputed supremacy of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is the army of the communist party and not of the State. It has a political task to defend China’s national interest which entails providing “strategic support for consolidating the leadership of the CPC and the socialist system.” It is the legacy of Mao’s Red Army, which was “an armed body for carrying out the political tasks of the revolution.” The PLA is controlled by the CPC through the Central Military Commission (CMC) and the Chinese security doctrine as enunciated by the CMC is referred to as “political warfare.”
Adhering to Chinese general and military strategist Sun Tzu’s dictum of “winning without waging a war”, the CPC’s Central Committee and the CMC have laid out the concept of “Three Warfares” as a set of codes for the PLA to conduct political warfare. Referred to as the “political work guidelines of the PLA” the “Three Warfares” strategy entails: Public opinion warfare (through the media), psychological warfare and legal warfare. Their main focus is on control of public opinion; psychological warfare to include blunting an adversary’s determination; transformation of emotions; psychological guidance; the collapse of (an adversary’s) organisation; psychological defence and restriction through law.
Of the three strategies, two have a direct bearing on subverting the enemy, playing mind games, coercion and psychological domination using different platforms. It is a subset of the more widely-known “Information Warfare.” It aims at shaping the international image of China by influencing foreign decision-makers’ perceptions and their approach towards Beijing. It is operated by means of pre-conflict posturing by the military/paramilitary forces or application of other national capabilities (diplomatic, economic, and cultural) with the intention of intimidating adversaries and encouraging acquiescence to Beijing-desired outcomes.
These are not just used against an adversary but also citizens and friendly countries, for building public opinion favourable to the CPC and perception management. In doing so, the well-tried policy of “carrot and stick” is scrupulously adhered to. The same is very visible in the current stand-off as well. Careful scanning of various articles, videos and tweets emanating from China related to the current face-off bears testimony to the fact. These can easily be termed as instruments of propaganda warfare. Most are prepared under simulated conditions not only to scare the adversary but to motivate the PLA since morale is a big issue with the Chinese armed forces.
With this in mind, the Central Committee of the CPC has given the responsibility of implementing China’s “Three Warfares” strategy to the Political Work Department after the recent organisational reforms. The department, which is subordinate to the CMC, works in coordination with the PLA with the aim to create and safeguard the legitimacy of the CPC’s political power from any international as well as domestic threat. (MR, Inputs: Agencies).