China: Weaker Than the U.S, Poorer Than the U.S... and Beating the U.S.

in china •  last year


In a former entry I showed how, despite all the media hype, China is really in no position to rival the U.S. for pre-eminence, neither militarily nor economically. And yet in spite of that (and in spite of the fact that most intelligence analysts in both Beijing and Washington know it), in the span of less than six months, the global narrative has come to be one of a world under Chinese leadership. For the record, a "Chinese world," if it ever comes to pass, will be a dark, dark world indeed, as I will show sigh in a later entry (sorry) wherein I will shine a light on China's stunningly long history of Imperialism and racism on a scale that makes any Western power look innocent. But for the meantime, how did we even get to a position where a country that lags behind the U.S. in every measure is even being discussed as a world leader?

Some clues can be found in the cunning mindset displayed in Chinese literature. Their folklore, from their ancient philosophers to their modern cartoons, is absolutely replete with the theme of weaker powers overcoming stronger ones, especially by patience. This theme is present in nearly every culture, but in China it is nearly as fundamental as the themes of "man vs. nature" or "good vs. evil" in Western Literature. It is no hyperbole to say this idea forms the basis of China's entire attitude toward conflict. It is the central idea not only of their myths and legends, but also their treatises on politics and strategy. To put it simply, they've been in the business of weakness overcoming strength for more than 2 millenia. For the purposes of this article I'm going to focus on three primary sources (Penguin Books' edition of Sun Tzu's Art of War, as translated by John Minford with commentaries, Lord T'an's Thirty-Six Strategies, collected by the Japanese Sinologist Hiroshi Moriya and translated by William Scott Wilson, and Toshi Yoshihara's 2001 report Chinese Information Warfare: A Phantom Menace or an Emerging Threat).

The PLA's "Three Warfares" Strategy

While many in the West speak of avoiding a war with China, it is worthy of note that according to the PLA's definition of the word "war," they have been engaged in one against us since Mao Zedong's era.

In war, better to take a state intact than to destroy it. (Tzu, 14)

In commentary on this quote, Chinese classic analyst He Yanxi said "To cause the enemy to surrender through the sheer psychological impact [literally, the energy dynamic] of one's strategy is the best of all strategies. (Tzu, 131)" Zhang Yu, another analyst famous for his elaboration on Cao Cao's work, references a book called Master Weiliao when he says "Victory through the Tao consists in assessing the enemy, then causing him to lose heart and his army to disperse. He remains intact externally but powerless to act. (Tzu, 131)" Well, "powerless to act" has for years quite accurately described the U.S. stance toward using our vastly superior firepower against the threat China poses to her neighbors who have signed mutual defense accords with us. Let there be no mistake, this is deliberate, and China (who is aware she cannot beat us if we commit to a fight) has been seeking this end, namely, to make us unwilling to make that commitment to fight, for decades.

Mao Tse-tung counseled, “To achieve victory we must as
far as possible make the enemy blind and deaf by sealing his
eyes and ears, and drive his commanders to distraction by
creating confusion in their minds.” Few concepts mesh so
contextually with Mao than the Chinese approach to
Information Warfare (IW). As the People’s Republic of
China struggles with its national military strategy, IW
offers opportunities to win wars without the traditional
clash of arms
(Yoshihara, iii).

The means through which this end is achieved basically boil down to the dissemination of false information (or in many cases, nothing more than sympathetic propaganda) through the Western media and universities, making the public have an unfavorable view of a confrontation with China. In the Taiwan-based "The News Lens International," Professor Michael Clarke explains further.

Herein lies the key distinction between Chinese and Western conceptions of information wars. Information warfare in the U.S. context is understood as an adjunct to more kinetic strategies of conflict, while China’s conception is not only applicable in times of conflict or crisis but also across what might be termed a peace–crisis–war spectrum.
Each branch of China’s three warfares illustrates this distinction. Psychological warfare is centered on "disseminating particular information via various channels" to influence or disrupt an adversary’s decision making capacities and foster doubt about its capabilities in such a way that its will to act is degraded. Public opinion warfare is geared to influence both domestic and international public opinion to support Chinese objectives and dissuade adversaries from pursuing contrary actions.

We should not be surprised at the PLA employing this tactic. It's been part of the Chinese wartime ethos for 2500 years, and I'll show examples of that in the next section. For this section, I simply want to emphasize this statement, and it cannot be emphasized enough. China's "propaganda war" is, in fact, a war, and China views it as such. It's goal is the same as a war: the subjugation of a foreign power (namely, the U.S., and by continuation, what they call the "U.S. Led international order," meaning the world... put simply, they are out to subjugate the planet and they view us as the planet's current leader) and destruction of that foreign power's ability to resist their will. Let me hammer that home one more time: for those who say "we don't need to wage war against China," I hope to leave no questions by the end of this article that China already views themselves as being at war with us.

Examples of The 36 Strategies in China's "Three Warfares"

If one felt inclined, one could probably cite examples of all 36 of these strategies in China's Cold War for global supremacy, but Steemit has a character limit on entries and I'm writing a blog-entry and not a Masters Thesis, so I'll just hit the high points.

Strategy #1: Obscure Heaven, Cross the Sea

If your preparation is too ambitious, your attention will be slack. If you are always looking about [and grow complacent], you will have no doubts [at precisely the time you should be having them]. Yin resides inside of Yang, not in its opposition. Great yang becomes Great yin (Moriya, 8).

The basis of this strategy is to make an enemy drop his guard by getting him used to something, and then exploiting the "something" as part of your strategy once he has come to accept it as normal. Some examples of this areTaiwan and the West Philippine Sea (or "South China Sea" if you're more familiar with the Zhonghua Empire's name for it). China has spent decades, literally decades, claiming both Taiwan and the entire West Philippine Sea are theirs, but they have adopted an attitude of "we'll deal with it later" in public (Yang, 126). This approach has made rival claimants in their territorial disputes decide "well, there is no need to push the issue and lose all this goodwill." Then, after a few decades, China begins beefing up their facilities in the WPS, and when rival claimants complain, China's response is "we staked this claim decades ago and you didn't say anything then (Yang, 104)." They "obscure Heaven" by getting rivals used to the idea that China's claims are on paper only, and then they "cross the sea" by building in areas that are claimed by other parties who have not yet properly enforced their claims.
Another more potentially volatile example is their constant shadowing of U.S. naval vessels in what they consider "their" territory (which is basically the globe). In 2006, China surfaced a Song-class attack submarine right in the middle of a U.S. Aircraft Carrier Strike Group, well within missile range of the carrier. Numerous officers within the strike group recommended firing on the submarine in response to this brazenly hostile act, but cooler heads prevailed. Of course, Beijing later insisted the submarine's actions were completely benign and that the U.S. was overreacting. Earlier in 2004, a Chinese fighter jet crashed when they buzzed a U.S. recon plane, which Beijing of course insisted was the U.S.'s fault (because China is neeeeeeeeeeeever at fault of course), and more recently, they did it again. The basic attitude from the Pentagon has been "the PLA is going to do stupid things; get used to it." Well, in light of strategy #1, I would opine "getting used to it" is the worst possible thing to do.

Strategy #3: Borrow a Sword to Make your Kill

When your enemy is already known but your allies are uncertain, draw your allies into killing your enemy. Do not brandish a sword yourself. Draw your conclusion from the damage done (Moriya, 20).

This speaks for itself. The best soldiers to send to their death against an enemy are always someone else's, and the Chinese have known it for millennia. Rather than face the U.S, themselves, they back proxies. In previous decades they gave active support to Vietnam and North Korea, letting someone else wear America down and then entering in force when the American force (which was never large in number because we weren't willing to call it an actual war) was already weary and depleted. even then, China admitted that they would have been no match in a direct confrontation, but as Jack Sparrow put it "that's not much incentive for me to fight fair now, is it?" But after 1990's Gulf War, China realized the old "Human Wave" tactics no longer worked against advanced enemies, so they switched gears and started quietly supporting smaller pests like Iran and North Korea, with the intent of doing as much damage as they can to America while their own hands remain clean. And while neither of the "swords" in question is sufficient to kill us, the never-ending series of conflicts has left the American people battle-weary, which I'll get to in Strategy 19.

Strategy #10: Conceal a Sword Behind a Smile

With an easy manner, put your enemy at ease. In obscurity, make your plans. Make your preparations, then move. Do not let your plans change. This is being hard within and soft without (Moriya, 67)

This one is also nearly self-explanatory. China gives lengthy diatribes on their "peaceful intentions," even going so far as to offer to "mediate" disputes between the U.S. and the minor powers they backed for the purposes of wearing us down (how generous of them to volunteer to help fight the fires they started). This has the side-effect of boosting their image as the "peacemaker" while casting the U.S. as the "warmonger," which dovetails nicely with strategies 19 and 25 as I'll get to later, but the primary goal is to appear innocuous while making battle plans. It is also worthy of note that the U.S. has seen right through this and has been calling "foul," but the Chinese have purchased huge swaths of the American media and are using this to prevent any media articles that would call attention to this from being published in America (also Strategy 19). Finally, China puts on an innocent face and accuses the U.S. of "Cold War thinking" and trying to "stir up trouble (Yang, 106, 113, 115, 116, 119)," which, after cultivating goodwill with smaller nations, helps bolster China's portrayal of the U.S. as an instigator. They can then thump their chests and say "mean old Uncle Sam is so angry and hateful that he even accuses little old me of being a warmonger like him," while making puppy dog faces and the world falls for it.

Strategy #19: Pull the Firewood from Under the Kettle

Do not use strength against [a stronger] enemy, but rather wear away his vigor as in the image of Heaven over a lake
(Moriya, 120).

Consider this: the Chinese government has dozens and dozens of facebook pages dedicated to praising China. There is their embassy page with its openly stated goal of "engaging Americans on social media." There is China U.S. Focus, which attempts to claim it is not Chinese government-run but the phrasing makes it obvious. There is Chinese Global Television Network... need I go on? But wait... facebook is banned in China. So... who is the target audience of these pages? The answer is "everyone outside of China." Of all the 36 strategies the Chinese have employed against the U.S., this is the one that has been most central to their plan. The essence of this strategy is "since you can't destroy the enemy, destroy his will to fight." Part of this strategy has been to help support anyone who was causing trouble for the U.S, and trying to make us war-weary, and part of it is to create a situation where even though we could beat them it would cost us something we do not want to lose (namely, a carrier or two, thanks to their DF-21D missile), but those are small potatoes compared to the real application of this strategy. On a more focal level, China's goal is to make the U.S., who is able to crush them like an egg, completely unwilling to do so. This is the backbone of the information warfare strategy I outlined above in the "Three Warfares" section: the mission of China's Information War is to alter public opinion to suit China's interests. In other words, make the American People (and the world, but we're the prime target) like China so the people will not support the government's actions against China. Earlier I spoke of how the Chinese are buying American media firms to apply the same censorship of any China-critical articles abroad that they apply in China., and that is part of it, but mostly, it is part of their information offensive to make Americans sympathetic toward China and buck against anyone who speaks ill of China. They do the same thing by sending CCP members to teach at American universities, where America's youngest, most energetic and most impressionable, can have their heads filled with China's spin on world events. Even the motto of their foreign exchange program is "tell China's story to the world." That saying sounds pretty innocuous by itself but when taken in tandem with the PLA's "information warfare" approach, it begins to take on a different character entirely.
And finally...

Strategy #30: Quit as Guest, Take Over as Host

Take advantage of an opening, insert your foot, and grasp the main chance. Advance is in gradual progress (Moriya, 186).

This one is simple enough at a glance. Wait for a power vacuum, then fill it, right? They want the U.S. to be out of the way so they can take over as leaders of the International system. But how can they do that when America is stillvery much on top, both economically and militarily? Well, here's the kicker.
To achieve a dominant position through diplomacy, China does not need for America to decline. All they need is for the world to think America is declining. Hence, the constant stream of rhetoric about "America in retreat," about America having "abdicated global leadership," about America "becoming isolationist..."
This entire portrayal of America having simply quit the world is based off of two things. The first is a highly imaginative spin on Trump's "America First" strategy, and the second comes from making quite a scene about how America has stopped participating in systems that benefit others greatly and ourselves little, or which benefit others and cost us (such as, to be frank, the existence of the U.N, but I digress). By creating this fantasy that America is no longer engaging in the world (a fantasy that can be quickly debunked by America's engagement in the Indo-Pacific, which China really doesn't like because it's their backyard and it gives the nations they have bullied a strong ally against them), China creates an environment where the world (or at least Europe, Africa and the Middle East) will accept them with open arms as they step forward and say "don't worry, we'll lead you." Then, when America snickers and says "you and what Army?" China reverts back to strategy #10 and says "all this talk about 'armies.' Why are you so aggressive?"

In summary, China is a weak nation. That statement is contrary to so much Conventional "Wisdom" that it seems shocking, but given that China wrote most of that "Conventional Wisdom" it shouldn't be. The United States could crush them under our heel and barely break a sweat. And if we don't, then the entire world is about to get a taste of "Democracy with Chinese Characteristics," which is one of Xi Jinpeng's delightful euphemisms for the CCP's suppression of anyone who so much as speaks out of line. In truth, the CCP is the most brutally repressive and murderous regime in the history of the Human Race (run the numbers: they killed more people in the '60's and '70's alone than Genghis Khan did in his entire campaign, or the U.S. in her entire history, Indian Wars and World Wars included). As much as this nation or that may gripe about Uncle Sam's "big brother" role in the world, if you've seen what China has in store you'll see Uncle Sam is a lot less intrusive. But that won't matter soon.
The U.S. is more powerful on her weakest day than China on her best, but like Gulliver, we've been tied down by 1.5 billion Lilliputians; tied down by our own unwillingness to confront the dragon. The time to stand up to China is now, because if the current trend continues, their inferior strength won't matter soon, since they'll have a world behind them. It doesn't have to come to a fight, but China needs to see that we are ready and willing if they force one. They already know they would lose.
The problem is that for them to see that we are willing to fight...
...well, we have to be willing to fight.
So, are we?
Or has Sun Tzu prevailed, and has the CCP already won without a fight?

Works Cited

(Since Steemit has a character limit, I have only cited printed works, and online sources from which I used a direct quotation. Others are simply linked to in the body of the post).

Tzu, Sun. The Art of War. Trans. John Minford. New York: Penguin Publishers, 2003
(ISBN 978-0-14-043919-9)

Moriya, Hiroshi. The 36 Strategies of the Martial Arts. Trans. William Scott Wilson. Boston: Shambala Publishers, 2013
(ISBN 978-1-59030-992-6)

Yoshihara, Toshi. Chinese Information Warfare: A Phantom Menace or an Emerging Threat. Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College, 2001
(ISBN 1-58487-074-5)

Yang, Mifen. Opinion of China. Beijing: China Renmin University Press, 2016
(ISBN 978-7-300-24623-9)

Clarke, Michael. "China Tightens Grip in Xinjiang amid Belt and Road." Lens International. The News Lens. Web. 11 Nov 2017

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You spent a lot of time with this, very nice work!

I'm going to come back and read it more in depth.

Great post! I guess nobody would dare to challenge China in terms of population, they ALWAYS work as one with 1/5 of the world population. That alone is scary if you made a dragon really angry!