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Chinese Political Warfare:  The PLA’s Information and  Influence Operations
Xi Jinping addresses the opening of a study session at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee attended by provincial and ministerial-level officials, Jan. 11, 2022. (Photo by Wang Ye/Xinhua via Getty Images)
Xi Jinping addresses the opening of a study session at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee attended by provincial and ministerial-level officials, Jan. 11, 2022. (Photo by Wang Ye/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Chinese Political Warfare: The PLA’s Information and Influence Operations

John Lee

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Introduction

Material power is relatively easy to understand and quantify. Much less attention is given to nonmaterial power, which is admittedly more nebulous and difficult to assess. Even so, if power is broadly defined as the capacity to exercise or impose one’s will over another, then nonmaterial forms of power need to be taken seriously. This means understanding them, increasing one’s capacity to operationalize and exercise them, and institutionalizing their use to achieve national and security interests. The issue of nonmaterial power (especially information and influence operations, which will fall under the term political warfare) is arising because these forms of power have been taken for granted or have been largely ignored by the advanced democracies. Beijing is exploiting our complacency. There is already a rich and growing body of literature on the various information, influence, and institutional resources and activities of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This brief does not seek to reproduce the excellent work already out there.

Instead, it will make the following point:

  • China does not treat institutional and informational warfare as optional or interesting adjuncts to traditional notions of warfare. In fact, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) plays a central and even dominant role in leading influence and information doctrine and operations.
  • These nonmaterial approaches are essential to the Chinese strategy and have real-world objectives and outcomes that are often similar or identical to those that could be achieved through (material) force.
  • The US and allied Defense establishments are well positioned to work with the rest of government to play a similarly central role, not only in countering the Chinese use of political warfare but in leading national and allied efforts to responsibly and ethically deploy political warfare to achieve defense and national objectives and outcomes.

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