Chinese Information Operations and Information Warfare

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Chinese Information Operations and Information Warfare are based on concepts and terms similar to those used by the United States, but the Chinese have evolved them to be more suitable and relevant to Chinese culture and to communist doctrine. While the People's Republic of China has adopted the idea of information dominance, its method for going about information dominance differs, using ancient methods such as the Thirty-Six Stratagems.[1]

China's serious interest in Information warfare (IW) and Information Operations (IO) began after the United States victory in the first Gulf War (1990–1991). U.S. success was the result of information technologies and the total dominance it was able to provide in the battle space.[2] From that point forward, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) began to seriously invest in and develop its own concepts of IO and IW and what they mean to the People's Republic of China (PRC).

The idea of a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) including IO and IW has arisen as a school of thought in Chinese warfare.[3] China's leadership has continuously stressed using asymmetric techniques to counter more powerful nations, such as the United States, and IO and IW are a tools that the PLA are using to achieve their goals.[4]

Definitions of Chinese Information Warfare and Information Operations[edit]

The United States is a notable exception by having its IO & IW doctrine unclassified and available on the internet; the IO & IW doctrine of most countries is classified. Hence, current information about Chinese policy and doctrine is not freely available. This section summarises the information available. The reader will note that most of this information is of US origin, and most of it is five or more years old. Notable exceptions are the publicly released versions of annual reports to the US Congress.

A July 1998 conference held in San Diego, sponsored jointly by the RAND Center for Asia-Pacific Policy and the Taiwan-based Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies, "brought together Chinese military experts to discuss the non-hardware side of the People’s Liberation Army’s modernization."[5] In his presentation, James C. Mulvenon stated: "Chinese writings clearly suggest that IW is a solely military subject, and as such, they draw inspiration primarily from U.S. military writings. The net result of this “borrowing” is that many PLA authors’ definitions of IW and IW concepts sound eerily familiar."[6]

The father of Chinese IW, Major General Wang Pufeng, wrote "Information war is a crucial stage of high-tech war. . . . At its heart are information technologies, fusing intelligence war, strategic war, electronic war, guided missile war, a war of “motorization” [jidong zhan], a war of firepower [huoli]—a total war. It is a new type of warfare."[7]

In a strategic analysis paper for the Indian Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses written in 2006, Vinod Anand examines the definitions of Chinese Information Warfare.[8] He notes that although Chinese understanding of IW was initially based on western concepts, it has increasingly moved towards evolving its own orientation.

In December 1999, Xie Guang, the then Vice Minister of Science & Technology and Industry for National Defence, defined IW as:

“IW in military sense means overall use of various types (of) information technologies, equipment and systems, particularly his command systems, to shake determination of enemy’s policy makers and at the same time, the use of all the means possible to ensure that that one’s own systems are not damaged or disturbed.”[8]

In two articles in the Liberation Army Daily, dated June 13 and June 20, 1995, Senior Colonel Wang Baocun and Li Fei of the Academy of Military Science, Beijing, noted several definitions. They concluded:

'We hold that information warfare has both narrow and broad meanings. Information warfare in the narrow sense refers to the U.S. military's so-called "battlefield information warfare," the crux of which is "command and control warfare." It is defined as the comprehensive use, with intelligence support, of military deception, operational secrecy, psychological warfare, electronic warfare, and substantive destruction to assault the enemy's whole information system including personnel; and to disrupt the enemy's information flow, in order to impact, weaken, and destroy the enemy's command and control capability, while keeping one's own command and control capability from being affected by similar enemy actions.'[9]

They went on to state:

Also quoted are some of the more general definitions. For example:

  • "Information Operations (IO) are specific operations and are considered to be at the core of IW ... IO is a manifestation of IW on the battlefield. It can be both of the defensive and offensive types, and can be conducted at the strategic, operational, campaign and tactical levels at times of peace, wars and crises."[8]
  • Information operations are not only used in times of war, but also in times of peace.[1]

Not included in these definitions is the emphasis that the PLA places on asymmetric warfare, particularly using IO and IW to compensate for technological inferiority.[1] This list also omits an element that plays a large role in Chinese IW and IO: computer network operations.[10] Also not addressed is the role of "informationisation" in the development of Chinese capabilities. These are discussed in the following sections.

Asymmetric warfare[edit]

In a 2001 paper in the U.S. Military Review,[11] T L Thomas examines the writings of Major General Dai Qingmin, (Director of the PLA's Communications Department of the General Staff responsible for IW and IO), Senior Colonel Wang Baocun (of the PLA's Academy of Military Sciences) and others on the ways that China is employing "Electronic Strategies" to realise the benefits of asymmetric warfare.

Thomas also summarises the April 2000 issue of the Chinese journal China Military Science which contains three articles on IO subjects. The only article written in English, ("The Current Revolution in Military Affairs and its Impact on Asia-Pacific Security," by Senior Colonel Wang Baocun), presents a quite different approach to an article Wang Baocun wrote only three years previously where he presented a description of IW which contained the elements of Soviet/Russian military science.

In the article "On Information Warfare Strategies," by Major General Niu Li, Colonel Li Jiangzhou and Major Xu Dehui (of the Communications and Command Institute), 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."[12]


Information warfare is a subset of informationization.[8] As a result of technological advancement, China has now entered an era where Informationization is the military concept of the present and future. Informationization "entails embracing all the opportunities and technologies the Information Age can offer and integrating them into military systems".[13]

China's 2004 White Paper on National Defense outlines the importance of informationization.

“The PLA, aiming at building an informationalised force and winning an information war, deepens its reforms, dedicates itself to innovation, improves its quality and actively pushes forward the RMA with Chinese characteristics with informationalisation at its core.”[8]

The U.S. Department of Defense's 2009 Annual Report to Congress on "Military Power of the People’s Republic of China" defines local wars under conditions of informationization as "high intensity and short duration fighting against high technology adversaries" ... "capable of fighting and winning short-duration, high-intensity conflicts along its periphery against high-tech adversaries".[14] Additionally, local war under informationization is an effort which seeks to fully develop and link land, air, sea, space and the electromagnetic spectrum into one system.[15] China's military strategy is focused on fighting and winning "informationized local wars."[16]

Examples of Chinese use of IO[edit]

Chinese Information Operations against the United States[edit]

Computer Network Operations, including cyber operations, are being undertaken by both Chinese citizens and the Chinese government. Because the United States has a weak critical infrastructure, it is vulnerable to Chinese Cyber Operations.[17] As was described to the United States Congress:

“In 2007, the Department of Defense, other U.S. Government agencies and departments, and defense-related think tanks and contractors, experienced multiple computer network intrusions, many of which appeared to originate in the PRC”.[18]

In response to cyber operations undertaken by China against United States companies and infrastructure, Amitai Etzioni of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies has suggested that China and the United States should agree to a policy of mutually assured restraint with respect to cyberspace. This would involve allowing both states to take the measures they deem necessary for their self-defense while simultaneously agreeing to refrain from taking offensive steps; it would also entail vetting these commitments.[19]

Chinese Information Operations and unification with Taiwan[edit]

The PRC is actively seeking to unify Taiwan with mainland China. Rather than risk failure of a militarily forced unification, which could lead to de facto independence of Taiwan,[20] PRC leadership has taken a different approach. By using computer network operations, the PRC believes it can undermine the will of Taiwan by attacking the Taiwanese infrastructure.[20] In the meantime, the PRC will use computer network operations to delay any U.S. response, thereby causing Taiwanese surrender before the U.S. can help.[20]


  1. ^ a b c Wang, Vincent Wei-cheng, and Gwendolyn Stamper. "Asymmetric War? Implications for China's Information Warfare Strategies." In American Asian Review. Vol. XX, no. 4, winter 2002.
  2. ^ Ventre, Daniel. "China's Strategy for Information Warfare: A Focus on Energy.", Journal of Energy Security. 18 May 2010. (Accessed 23 April 2011)
  3. ^ Michael Pillsbury, ed., China Debates the Future Security Environment (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 2000), 293.
  4. ^ Toshi Yoshihara, Chinese information warfare: a phantom menace or emerging threat?, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle, PA, November 2001. ISBN 1-58487-074-5 (Accessed 23 April 2011)
  5. ^ James C. Mulvenon and Richard H. Yang, Editors, The People's Liberation Army in the Information Age, (Washington DC: RAND, 1999)
  6. ^ James C. Mulvenon, "The PLA and Information Warfare", Chapter 9 in Mulvenon & Yang, Editors, "The People's Liberation Army in the Information Age", (Washington DC: RAND, 1999), pp.175-186
  7. ^ Wang Pufeng, "Xinxi zhanzheng yu junshi geming" (Information Warfare and the Revolution in Military Affairs), Beijing: Junshi kexueyuan, 1995. Quoted in Mulveron, 1999, "The PLA and Information Warfare"
  8. ^ a b c d e Anand, Vinod. "Chinese Concepts and Capabilities of Information Warfare." Strategic Analysis, Indian Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Vol:30, Issue:4, October 2006. (Accessed 15 April 2011).
  9. ^ a b Senior Colonel Wang Baocun and Li Fei, (1995) "Information Warfare". Excerpted from articles in Liberation Army Daily, June 13 and June 20, 1995. Reproduced at the Federation of American Scientists website, (Accessed 21 April 2011.)
  10. ^ Edward Sobiesk, "Redefining the Role of Information Warfare in Chinese Strategy", GSEC Practical Assignment 1.4b, Option 1, March 1, 2003. Reproduced at SANS Institute, Information Security Reading Room. (Accessed 20 April 2011).
  11. ^ LtCol Timothy L. Thomas, US Army, Retired, "47 China's Electronic Strategies", Military Review, May–June 2001
  12. ^ Niu Li, Li Jiangzhou, and Xu Dehui, "On Information Warfare Stratagems," Beijing Zhongguo Junshi Kexue, 12 January 2001, 115-22. Translated and downloaded from /f_049.htm FBIS[permanent dead link].
  13. ^ Ferguson, MAJ Robyn E. "Information Warfare with Chinese Characteristics: China's Future of Information Warfare and Strategic Culture." Masters Thesis, US Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 2002. (Accessed 23 April 2011)
  14. ^ U.S. Department of Defense, Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2009, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Washington, D.C. (Accessed 28 April 2011).
  15. ^ Krekel, Bryan (16 October 2009). "Capability of the People's Republic of China to Conduct Cyber Warfare and Computer Network Exploitation" (PDF). Prepared for The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 February 2011. Retrieved 3 March 2011.
  16. ^ "Is China a military superpower?". CSIS China Power.
  17. ^ 2009 Report to Congress, U.S-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 2009, Washington D.C., pg.20
  18. ^ U.S. Department of Defense, Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2008, Washington, D.C., pg.14. (Accessed 28 April 2011).
  19. ^ Etzioni, Amitai, "MAR: A Model for US-China Relations," The Diplomat, September 20, 2013, [1].
  20. ^ a b c James C. Mulvenon. "Chinese Information Operations Strategies in a Taiwan Contingency" Archived 2011-11-03 at the Wayback Machine, 15 September 2005. (Accessed 20 March 2011).