Tag Archives: PLA

Countering Chinese Expansion Through Mass Enlightenment

By James E. Fanell and Ryan D. Martinson

From Newport to New Delhi, a tremendous effort is currently underway to document and analyze China’s pursuit of maritime power. Led by experts in think tanks and academia, this enterprise has produced a rich body of scholarship in a very short period of time. However, even at its very best, this research is incomplete—for it rests on a gross ignorance of Chinese activities at sea.  

This ignorance cannot be faulted. The movements of Chinese naval, coast guard, and militia forces are generally kept secret, and the vast emptiness of the ocean means that much of what takes place there goes unseen. Observers can only be expected to seek answers from the data that is available.

The U.S. Navy exists to know the answers to these secrets, to track human behavior on, above, and below the sea. While military and civilian leaders will always remain its first patron, there is much that USN intelligence can and should do to provide the raw materials needed for open source researchers to more fully grasp the nature of China’s nautical ambitions. Doing so would not only improve the quality of scholarship and elevate the public debate, it would also go a long way to help frustrate China’s current—and, to date, unanswered—strategy of quiet expansion. Most importantly, sharing information about the movements and activities of Chinese forces could be done without compromising the secrecy of the sources and methods used to collect it.

The Constellations are Visible…

The basic story of China’s maritime aggrandizement is printed in black and white, no need to read tea leaves. There exists a public life in China, even if highly circumscribed. Chinese journalists are paid to write articles that satisfy the urges of an inquisitive and patriotic public. Chinese scholars spend careers trying to understand the intentions and capabilities of their own country—like academics elsewhere, they banter back and forth in defense of “truth,” and bruised egos. Government agencies release reports that catalog their achievements, outline key objectives, and mobilize their personnel for the new tasks at hand. The Chinese military, communicating through service publications, seeks to inculcate a collective consciousness of what it does and why it does it. All of these sources are open to the foreign observer.

The available information provides important clues about the nature and extent of Chinese activities at sea. This is true for all three of the sea services: the coast guard, the maritime militia, and the PLA Navy.  

The movements of the Chinese coast guard are particularly amenable to open source analysis. China does not operate a single maritime law enforcement agency analogous to the United States Coast Guard. It instead funds several different civilian agencies, each with a different mission. Prior to the creation of the China Coast Guard in 2013, the agencies most active along China’s maritime frontier were China Marine Surveillance (CMS) and Fisheries Law Enforcement (FLE). Both agencies released surprising amounts of information through official newspapers, annual reports and yearbooks, and other channels.

In this Sept. 23, 2015, photo, provided by Filipino fisherman Renato Etac, a Chinese Coast Guard boat sprays a water cannon at Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. A landmark ruling on an arbitration case filed by the Philippines that seeks to strike down China's expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea will be a test for international law and world powers. China, which demands one-on-one talks to resolve the disputes, has boycotted the case and vowed to ignore the verdict, which will be handed down Tuesday, July 12, 2016, by the U.N. tribunal in The Hague. (Renato Etac via AP)
Sept. 23, 2015. A Chinese Coast Guard boat sprays a water cannon at Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. (Renato Etac via AP)

These sources include significant quantitative data. For instance, it is possible to track the expansion of CMS presence in disputed waters that started in 2006. In that year, CMS began to regularize its sovereignty—or “rights protection”—patrols, first in the East China Sea, then in the Yellow Sea and South China Sea. Each year, the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) published data on these operations. In 2008, CMS conducted a total of 113 sovereignty patrols. These missions, which covered more than 212,000 nm, established CMS presence in all of the waters over which China claims jurisdiction. Four years later, in 2012, the service conducted 172 sovereignty patrols (>170,000 nm) just in the South China Sea alone.

Qualitative data also abounds. Before 2014, both CMS and FLE regularly invited Chinese journalists aboard ships operating in disputed areas. These civilian scribes chronicled China’s campaign to reclaim “lost” land and sea. While primarily designed to inspire and titillate Chinese audiences, their work provides excellent source materials for the foreign observer. For instance the eight-part Chinese television documentary that aired in late 2013 showed extensive footage of CMS and FLE ships operating in the South China Sea, including during hostile encounters with Indonesian and Vietnamese mariners.

Chinese sources also provide raw materials for understanding the activities of the second major instrument of Chinese sea power—the maritime militia. This force is comprised of civilians trained to serve military and other state functions. In peacetime, a segment of the militia, mostly fishermen, constitutes an important tool in Chinese maritime strategy. It sails to disputed waters to demonstrate Chinese sovereignty and justify the presence of the Chinese coast guard and navy. The militia also harasses foreign vessels, and helps protect China’s own.

18 June 2016: Newly-built fishing vessels for Sansha City moored at Yazhou Central Fishing Harbor. Note the exterior hull reinforcements and mast-mounted water cannons. (Hainan Government)
18 June 2016: Newly-built fishing vessels for Sansha City moored at Yazhou Central Fishing Harbor. Note the exterior hull reinforcements and mast-mounted water cannons. (Hainan Government)

China’s maritime militia is particularly active in the South China Sea. The Chinese press eagerly covers their activities in disputed waters, often revealing ship pennant numbers and the names of key militiamen. Websites owned by provincial, municipal, and county governments also highlight their local contributions to the “people’s war” at sea. Using such sources, Conor Kennedy and Andrew Erickson have tracked the militia’s activities at places such as Mischief Reef and Scarborough Shoal, and deciphered its role in pivotal events such as the 2009 assault on the USNS Impeccable.

The PLA Navy also releases information about where, when, and how it is operating. Air, surface, and undersea deployments are called “combat readiness patrols” (zhanbei xunluo). Service publications regularly report on these patrols—including, perhaps surprisingly, those conducted by China’s “silent service.” For instance, one October 2014 article in People’s Navy recounts a story of Song Shouju, a submarine skipper from the PLA Navy South Sea Fleet (SSF), whose diesel electric boat was prosecuted by a foreign maritime patrol aircraft and a surveillance vessel during one combat readiness patrol. According to Song, his boat was subjected to 80 hours of active sonar, placing him on the horns of a dilemma. If he surfaced, it would mean a mission failure and “put Chinese diplomacy in an awkward position” (suggesting the submarine was not operating where it should have been). But if he remained below, the boat would risk the consequences of depleting its battery. In the end, the captain decided to stay submerged until the threat had passed, which it ultimately did.1

The PLA Navy is particularly forthcoming about patrols taking place beyond the “first island chain.” These are regularly reported in the Chinese press, both in English and Chinese. In May 2016, for example, six vessels from the SSF—including three destroyers, two frigates, and an auxiliary—completed a 23-day training mission that took them through the South China, the Indian Ocean, and the western Pacific by means of the Sunda Strait, Lombok Strait, Makassar Strait, and the Bashi Channel. At least one Chinese journalist was onboard to cover the 8,000 nm voyage. Again, the available data is not limited to the movements of surface combatants. For instance, a January 2014 People’s Navy article revealed that since 2009, 10 submarines and 17 aircraft from the ESF had traversed the first island chain to conduct “far seas” operations.2 Sources like these have enabled foreign researchers such as Christopher Sharman to trace the connection between Chinese actions and its declared naval strategy.

Chinese missile destroyer Haikou (171) is seen while docking in Hong Kong on April 30, 2012. (Aaron Tam/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese missile destroyer Haikou (171) is seen while docking in Hong Kong on April 30, 2012. (Aaron Tam/AFP/Getty Images)

To follow Chinese activities at sea, one need not rely on Chinese sources alone. Foreign governments also sometimes release data. Often this information is associated with a particular incident. For instance, in mid-2014, the Vietnamese press published numerous articles in English covering China’s provocative deployment of an advanced new drilling rig (HYSY-981) in disputed waters south of the Paracel Islands. More recently, Indonesia released useful information about its response to illegal Chinese fishing and coast guard activities taking place near Natuna Island.

For its part, Japan systematically issues data on Chinese presence in the waters adjacent to the Senkaku Islands. Graphical depictions of these data vividly show Chinese expansion over time, from the inaugural intrusion of two CMS vessels in December 2008 to the regular patrols that started in September 2012 and continue today. Indeed, the quality and consistency of this data has enabled foreign analysts to use quantitative methods to test theories about shifts in Chinese diplomacy.

…But Darkness Still Prevails

The information described above, while useful, nevertheless presents many problems. This is true even in the case of data on Chinese coast guard operations, which are easily the richest available to the open source researcher. A “rights protection” patrol can mean anything from a two-day sweep of the Gulf of Tonkin to a several-month mission to the southern reaches of the Spratly Archipelago. Thus, while the available data unmistakably capture the broad trends of Chinese expansion, they lack the fidelity needed for closer examination of deployment patterns. With the creation of the China Coast Guard, all this is now moot. The Chinese government no longer publishes such data, and Chinese journalists are now seldom allowed aboard ships sailing to disputed waters.

The problem is much worse in the case of the maritime militia. No Chinese agency or department systematically tracks and releases information on militia activities. Because only a portion of fishermen are members of the militia, fishing industry data is a poor proxy. Thus, there is no way to scientifically track the activities of irregular forces operating along China’s maritime frontier. We generally only learn about particular incidents, remaining largely ignorant of the context in which they take place.

Consistent data on PLA Navy activities in disputed and sensitive waters is simply not available. We do know that in recent years the service “normalized” (changtaihua) its presence in the Spratly Archipelago, but Chinese sources provide no definition of what that term means. Thus, while it is clear that the PLA Navy has augmented its surface ship patrols to these waters, we have no means to gauge the scale of that augmentation.3 In the East China Sea, Chinese sources do speak candidly about hostile encounters with the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force. However, the open source researcher has few options for gauging the extent of PLA Navy presence east of the equidistant line.

There is a more fundamental problem that must be reckoned with: in most cases, the foreign observer often lacks the means to validate deployment data found in Chinese sources. Ultimately, one must take the word of the Chinese government, which naturally considers political factors—both internal and external—when issuing such content. Information released by other governments can be valuable, but foreign statesmen have their own motives. Sometimes they seek to downplay differences. For example, it is likely that for many years China and at least some Southeast Asian states had a tacit agreement not to publicize incidents at sea.

In sum, the available open source data can account for only a tiny fraction of what Chinese maritime forces are doing at sea. Moreover, the validity of information that is available must be seen as suspect. This is where naval intelligence can help.

Sharing the Spotlight

Naturally, U.S. naval intelligence professionals, particularly those in the Pacific, pay close attention to the comings and goings of Chinese maritime forces. To this end, they employ a wide variety of sources, from highly sensitive national technical means to visual sightings made by U.S. and allied forces at sea. They also optimize other resources of the U.S. intelligence community to support their mission requirements.4 Suffice it to say, the naval intelligence community is well aware of the disposition of China’s naval, coast guard, and militia forces.

The foundation of this effort is the Pacific Fleet Intelligence Federation (PFIF), established in September 2013 by then United States Pacific Fleet Commander, Admiral Cecil Haney. The PFIF “provides direction for the organization and collaboration of the Pacific Fleet’s intelligence and cryptologic resources to support the maritime Operational Intelligence (OPINTEL) mission” of “tracking adversary ships, submarines and aircraft at sea.” It represents a level of focus and systematization not seen since the Cold War.

The PFIF is a true collaborative enterprise, involving “coordination from Sailors across multiple organizations at various echelons, afloat and ashore, working in unison 24 hours a day, seven days a week providing the most precise maritime OPINTEL to our afloat forces.”5 Efforts are “federated” across nodes in Japan, Hawaii, San Diego, and Washington D.C.6 Relevant data collected by regional allies are also included. The result is the adversary Common Operational Picture (RED COP). Through RED COP, the PFIF provides Fleet Commanders and deployed forces precise geo-coordinate level intelligence regarding the location of maritime platforms across the Pacific Fleet area of responsibility. It also contains a detailed pedigree of the sources used to identify the location of an adversary unit.

How might the USN translate RED COP into information that is valuable to the public  yet does not risk sources and methods? The answer lies in the format of the transmitted product. While American forces require the detailed information contained in the RED COP, the U.S. public does not. Therefore, the USN could issue a standardized series of PowerPoint graphics that contain generic depictions of PRC maritime force disposition across the Indo-Pacific region, if not the rest of the world. Since the technology used today by PFIF watch-standers can automatically produce this type of graphic, this would involve no new burden for naval intelligence professionals.

Some may argue that placing an adversary unit in a location where there is no “plausible deniability” could expose a source or method of intelligence collection. Four factors eliminate this risk. First, the generic placement of an adversary platform on a PowerPoint graphic would, by definition, not contain the level of fidelity required to determine the source of the contact. Second, as mentioned above, nearly all locations of maritime forces at sea are derived from multiple sources. This fact further complicates the task of determining any one particular source. Third, generic graphics would be published monthly, or biweekly at the most. This would dramatically reduce the potential risk to sources and methods. Fourth, and most importantly, there may be times when the Fleet Director of Intelligence (or higher authority) may deem the location of a particular ship, submarine or aircraft to be too sensitive. In such instances, they can simply remove the platform(s) from the briefing graphics. This would provide a final, fail-safe check against revealing any sensitive intelligence collection sources or methods. Together, these four factors would eliminate the possibility of compromising sources and methods, even with sophisticated algorithms of “pattern analysis.”

Such an initiative would not be entirely without precedent. The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) already produces the “World Wide Threat to Shipping” and “Piracy Analysis Warning Weekly” reports, which provide graphic and textual laydowns of the global maritime domain as derived from unclassified sources. The recommendations outlined in this essay would represent an expansion of current efforts under the auspices of ONI, using the PFIF’s all-source data as the primary source.

Office of Naval Intelligence (U) HORN OF AFRICA/GULF OF GUINEA/ SOUTHEAST ASIA: Piracy Analysis and Warning Weekly (PAWW) Report for 6 - 12 October 2016
10 Day Piracy small boat operations weather forecast from Office of Naval Intelligence (U) HORN OF AFRICA/GULF OF GUINEA/SOUTHEAST ASIA: Piracy Analysis and Warning Weekly (PAWW) Report for 6 – 12 October 2016.

The Rewards of Mass Enlightenment

Releasing such data would immediately benefit efforts to understand Chinese maritime strategy. It would open up whole new swaths of scholarship. Chinese actions could be directly correlated to Chinese words. Incidents could be placed in their correct context. Theories about China’s pursuit and use of sea power could be proposed and tested with new levels of rigor.

Better open source analysis would also benefit the intelligence community itself. The strengths of academic scholarship—such as understanding strategic and organizational culture—could be applied to the same questions that preoccupy USN analysts, perhaps yielding fresh insights. Efforts to contextualize the activities of China’s maritime militia, for example, would be especially welcome, given its peculiar social, cultural, and political roots.

While scholarship is valuable in and of itself, the ultimate purpose of such an initiative would be to improve the ability of our democracy to respond to the China challenge. Elected officials, who ultimately decide policy, take cues from public discourse. Thus, if wise policies are to be crafted, the broader American public must be fully aware of the threat that China’s pursuit of maritime power poses to American interests. This is especially important given that any proper response would require the whole nation to bear costs and accept risks. Unlike Russia, China’s actions are carefully calibrated not to arouse a somnolent American public. This places a very high premium on information about the actions that China is taking.  

To be sure, information is not an antibiotic. Ingesting it in the right quantities at the right frequencies may not cure the disease. Indeed, there is already enough data in the public domain for Americans to see the key trends. Yet there remain some very smart people who cannot, or will not, recognize the perils we face. Even so, the correct antidote to intellectual biases is ever more information; as data accumulates, the naysayers must either alter their theories or risk self-marginalization.

Sharing facts about Chinese activities at sea is not just good for democracy, it is also smart diplomacy. At this point, merely shining the spotlight on Chinese maritime expansion is unlikely to persuade China to radically alter its strategy. The China of Xi Jinping is less moved by international criticism than the China of Hu Jintao or Jiang Zemin. However, releasing detailed data on Chinese activities at sea would likely have an impact on foreign publics, who will use it to draw more realistic conclusions about the implications of China’s rise. Moreover, making such information widely available would help counter spurious Chinese narratives of American actions as the root cause of instability in the Western Pacific. Both outcomes are in our national interest.

To adopt the approach advocated in this essay would require a political decision. On matters of national policy, naval intelligence professionals must yield to civilian leaders.7 In the end, then, this essay is for the politicians. And so is its last word: share with the scholars.

James E. Fanell is a retired U.S. Navy Captain whose last assignment was the Director of Intelligence and Information Operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet and is currently a Fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.

Ryan D. Martinson is a researcher in the China Maritime Studies Institute at the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Navy, Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

1, 周卓群, 李克一 [Zhang Yuannong, Zhou Zhuoqun, and Li Keyi] 潜航深海磨利刃 [“Sailing Submerged in the Deep Ocean to Sharpen Our Blade”] 人民海 [People’s Navy], 8 October 2014, p. 3.

2.  [Gu Caohua]   中抓建,造深蓝铁 [“Seize on Construction While in Action, Mold a Blue Water Iron Fist”] 人民海 [People’s Navy] 8 January 2014, p. 3.

3. 李唐 [Li Tang] 海化巡覆盖万里海疆 [“Normalized Naval Patrols Cover the Maritime Frontier”] 人民海 [People’s Navy] 23 June 2014, p. 1

4. James E. Fanell, Remarks at USNI/AFCEA conference panel: “Chinese Navy: Operational Challenge or Potential Partner?”, San Diego, CA, 31 January 2013.

5. James E. Fanell, “The Birth of the Pacific Fleet Intelligence Federation”, Naval Intelligence Professionals Quarterly, October 2013.

6. Ibid. James E. Fanell, “The Birth of the Pacific Fleet Intelligence Federation”, Naval Intelligence Professionals Quarterly, October 2013.

7.The authority for conducting an effort such as this would require approval from the Director of National Intelligence and the various “Original Classification Authorities” as outlined in Executive Order 1352. “Executive Order 13526- Original Classification Authority”, The White House Office of the Press Secretary, 29 December 2009, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/executive-order-original-classification-authority

Featured Image: A sailor of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy aboard the aircraft carrier Liaoning. (REUTERS/XINHUA)

Military Activities on the Continental Shelf

This piece was originally published by the Lawfare Institute in Cooperation with Brookings and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By James Kraska

The recent Philippine-China Arbitration Award determined that China’s construction of artificial islands, installations and structures on Mischief Reef, Subi Reef, and Hughes Reef were unlawful interference with the Philippines’ exclusive sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the seabed of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf. Since the three features are low-tide elevations (LTEs), rather than islands, they are incapable of appropriation and are merely features of the Philippine continental shelf, albeit occasionally above water at high tide in their natural state. Although the tribunal’s legal judgment with regard to China’s activities was correct, its reasoning was a bit too categorical. This article adds further fidelity to the tribunal’s determination by distinguishing between lawful foreign military activities on a coastal state’s continental shelf, and unlawful foreign activities on the continental shelf that affect the coastal states sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its resources – a distinction that evaded the tribunal’s analysis.

It is important to understand the lawful scope of foreign military activity on the seabed of a coastal state’s EEZ or continental shelf, as the issue is likely to recur. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, for example, is exploring the idea of “upward falling payloads,” or pre-positioned containers or packages that lie on the ocean floor and wait until activated, at which time they “fall upward” into the water column to perform undersea missions, such as powering other unmanned systems. With some narrow exceptions, such as emplacement of seabed nuclear weapons or seabed mining, the use of the deep seabed is a high seas freedom enjoyed by all States. The more compelling question, however, is the extent foreign states may emplace naval devices or construct installations or structures on the continental shelf or within the EEZ of a coastal State for military purposes.

Article 56(1)(a) of UNCLOS provides that coastal States have certain “sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living….” in the EEZ. Coastal States also have “jurisdiction as provided for in the relevant provisions [of UNCLOS] with regard to “(i) the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations, and structures.” Under Article 60, coastal States enjoy the “exclusive right” to authorize or regulate the construction of structures, a rule that is extended to the continental shelf by virtue of Article 80. Coastal State jurisdiction over artificial islands and structures is not all encompassing, however, and is limited to jurisdiction “as provided for in the relevant provisions [of UNCLOS].” The relevant provisions of the EEZ, of course, relate principally to exclusive coastal State sovereign rights and jurisdiction over living and non-living resources in the EEZ and on the continental shelf, and not sovereignty over the airspace, water column, or the seabed.

In the recent Philippine-China Arbitration Award, the tribunal determined that China’s artificial island construction on Mischief Reef was an unlawful violation of Philippine sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its continental shelf. Since Mischief Reef is a LTE and not a natural island, it constituted part of the Philippine continental shelf and seabed of the EEZ. China failed to seek and receive Philippine authorization for its artificial island construction, and therefore violated Articles 56(1)(b)(i), 60(1), and 80 of UNCLOS (Arbitration Award, para. 1016).

Foreign States, however, are not forbidden to construct installations and structures on a coastal State’s continental shelf per se. Only those installations and structures that are “for the [economic] purposes provided for in article 56” or that “interfere with the exercise of the rights of the coastal State” over its resources require coastal State consent. (See Article 60(1)(b) and (c)). 

But even if China converts its installations and structures into military platforms, their size and scope are so immense that they dramatically affect the quantity and quality of the living and non-living resources over which the Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdiction. Although normally installations and structures that are built pursuant to military activities are not subject to coastal state consent, the industrial scale of Chinese activity lacks “due regard” for the rights and duties of the Philippines and its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over resources under Article 56 of UNCLOS.

If China had merely emplaced a small, unobtrusive military installation or structure on the seabed or landed an unmanned aerial vehicle at Mischief Reef as part of occasional military activities, it would not have been afoul of UNCLOS. Such incidental use of the seabed or an LTE (which is part of the seabed) are within the scope of permissible military activity in the same way as emplacement on the continental shelf of a small seabed military device. Foreign States may use the seabed for military installations and structures, and even artificial islands, as these purposes do not relate to exploring, exploiting, managing and conserving the natural resources. Only those military activities that rise to the level of or of sufficient are of such scale that they do not have “due regard” for the coastal state’s rights to living and non-living resources of the EEZ and continental shelf are impermissible.

The distinction is important because creation of the EEZ and recognition of coastal state sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the continental shelf was never envisioned to limit normal military activities. Current and future naval programs, in fact, may utilize a foreign coastal State’s seabed EEZ and continental shelf in a manner that is completely in accord with UNCLOS.

Where do we draw the line, however, between an insignificant presence and negligible interference that is lawful, and large-scale disruption that is unlawful? Like all legal doctrine, what constitutes genuine interference to coastal State sovereign rights and jurisdiction must be reasonable, i.e. not de minimis or trivial, but rather a substantial and apparent effect on the resources in the zone, as I discussed in Maritime Power and Law of the Sea. Emplacement of military devices or construction of military installations or structures in the EEZ and on the continental shelf of a coastal State must be judged by reasonableness, and not be of such scale or cross a threshold of effect that it interferes in a tangible or meaningful way with the coastal State’s resource rights.

China’s operation of military aircraft from a LTE is not a priori unlawful, any more than operation of military aircraft from a warship in the EEZ would be illegal. The reason that PLA Air Force military aircraft flights from the runway at Mischief Reef are objectionable and a violation of the Philippines’ coastal State rights is the magnitude of the activity and its effect on the living and non-living resources. Operation by a foreign warship of a small aerial vehicle that lands temporarily on an LTE, for example, would not be unlawful. Likewise, if a naval force emplaced a military payload inside a container and placed it on the seabed of the EEZ – that is, on the coastal State’s continental shelf – that would also be a lawful military activity.

James Kraska is Howard S. Levie Professor of International Law at the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law, U.S. Naval War College, Distinguished Fellow at the Law of the Sea Institute, University of California at Berkeley School of Law, and Senior Fellow, Center for Oceans Law and Policy, University of Virginia School of Law.

Featured Image: MARCH 10, 2016- Philippine Naval Ship, BRP Sierra Madre, sails near disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea (REUTERS/Erik De Castro)

The PLA’s Latest Strategic Thinking on the Three Warfares

This piece was originally published by The Jamestown Foundation, and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Elsa Kania3WF

Beijing’s response to the unfavorable South China Sea arbitration outcome has highlighted an important aspect of its military strategy, the “three warfares” (三战). Consisting of public opinion warfare (舆论战), psychological warfare (心理战), and legal warfare (法律战), the three warfares have been critical components of China’s strategic approach in the South China Sea and beyond. In peacetime and wartime alike, the application of the three warfares is intended to control the prevailing discourse and influence perceptions in a way that advances China’s interests, while compromising the capability of opponents to respond.

Beijing has sought to delegitimize the arbitration process and achieved some success in undermining the coalescence of consensus in support of the ruling, while engaging in coercive signaling and deniable attempts to punish the Philippines. China’s response has also included “regularized” “combat readiness patrols” over the South China Sea by H-6K bombers, as well as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks against Philippine government websites (China Military Online, August 6; China Military Online, July 19; InterAksyon, July 15). Consistently, Beijing has attempted to advance narratives that frame itself as the upholder of international law, while claiming that the U.S. is to blame for the “militarization” of the South China Sea (China Military Online, June 23). For instance, official media has frequently characterized the arbitration process as a “farce,” and China’s ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, has argued that the arbitration case would “undermine the authority and effectiveness of international law,” justifying China’s rejection of it as a defense of “international justice and the true spirit of international law” (Xinhua, July 12; PRC Embassy to the U.S., July 13).

These aspects of Beijing’s response should be contextualized by China’s theoretical framework for the “three warfares.” Beyond the South China Sea, this approach has been manifest in a variety of recent cases, including also the East China Sea dispute, China’s opposition to THAAD, and intensifying pressures on Taiwan. The PLA’s evolving strategic thinking on the three warfares, which is linked to its emphasis on information warfare, could influence its efforts to utilize such techniques in future contingencies.

Progression of the PLA’s Approach to Three Warfares:

Although the three warfares constitute a relatively recent addition to Chinese strategy, the PLA’s approach to public opinion warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare has been formalized and already advanced considerably. Based on the 2003 and 2010 Political Work Regulations (政治工作条例), the three warfares, under the aegis of “wartime political work” (战时政治工作), were the responsibility of the General Political Department of the former General Staff Department, which, through the recent organizational reforms, has become the Political Work Department (政治工作部), subordinate to the Central Military Commission (CMC) (CPC.com.cn, December 5, 2003; China Brief, February 4). In 2005, the CMC ratified—and the former General Staff Department, General Political Department, General Logistics Department, and General Armaments Department jointly promulgated—official guidelines (gangyao, 纲要, literally “outline” or “essentials”) for public opinion warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare, officially incorporating the concepts into the PLA’s education, training, and preparation for military struggle. [1] While these gangyao themselves are not publically available, the open-source PLA literature on the three warfares, which dates back to the mid-2000s, constitutes a valuable resource for analysis and comparison. [2]

Several recent texts present authoritative perspectives on the three warfares and illustrate the extent of their integration into the PLA’s strategic thinking and officers’ curricula. These include the latest editions of influential PLA texts on military strategy, the 2013 Academy of Military Science (AMS) edition of Science of Military Strategy (SMS, 战略学) and the 2015 National Defense University (NDU) SMS, as well as teaching material used by the NDU, An Introduction to Public Opinion Warfare, Psychological Warfare, and Legal Warfare (舆论战心理战法律战概论). [3] Based on these texts, China’s use of the three warfares constitutes a perceptual preparation of the battlefield that is seen as critical to advancing its interests during both peace and war.

Three Takes on the Three Warfares:

2013 Science of Military Strategy:

The 2013 AMS SMS highlighted the significance of the three warfares as a force multiplier in military operations and political or diplomatic scenarios alike. [4] In particular, the text introduced the concept of huayuquan (话语权) through the use of information, belief, and mentality (信息一信仰一心智). Although, in more general or colloquial usage, the term might seem to imply the “right to speak” or “freedom of speech,” the quan (权) in this context apparently alludes not to rights (权利) but rather to power or authority (权力). In this regard, the concept refers to the capability to control the narrative in a given scenario and might therefore be translated as “discursive power.” [5] To contest huayuaquan requires “the integrated usage” of public opinion warfare, legal warfare, and psychological warfare. These three warfare operations should be complementary and mutually reinforcing in future wars or in political and diplomatic struggle.

According to the text, the use of the three warfares in a particular circumstance should be adapted based on the operational context and intended outcome. In particular, the authors argue that achieving international sympathy and support, while diplomatically seizing the initiative, can “provide a powerful pillar to support the whole operational activity.” For instance, if the operational intention must be hidden, the use of propaganda to influence public opinion can reinforce the stratagem of “making a feint to the east and attacking in the west” (声东击西). [6] So too, three warfare operations can have a strong “psychological frightening force” (心理震慑力) against an adversary. Although this text does not define the three warfares or discuss their usage in further detail, this focus on their importance, including in deception, indicates recognition of their potential utility in a range of circumstances.

2014 Introduction to Public Opinion Warfare, Psychological Warfare, and Legal Warfare:

This 2014 text, which serves as discipline teaching materials (学科教材) for the NDU, presented a comprehensive overview of the three warfares, including their primary missions, historical development, theoretical foundation, basic principles, implementation, and tactics. [7] The text illustrates the NDU’s sustained efforts to develop a “science of the three warfares” (“三战”学), which are considered a “major innovation” in the PLA’s political work, and to integrate the concepts into its curriculum. [8] This is informed by the study of variety of traditional, ideological, and contemporary precedents, from the ancient Chinese emphasis on the use of “strategems” (谋略) to the U.S. military’s perceived engagement in analogous practices. At a basic level, the primary purpose of the three warfares is to influence and target the adversary’s psychology through the utilization of particular information and the media as “weapons.” In particular, the three warfares are seen as critical to increasing the PLA’s “soft power” (软实力) and contributing to its success in future wars. As warfare has evolved toward greater “informationization” (信息化), the three warfares have evidently achieved a “breakthrough” beyond their “traditional scope and model,” becoming an “organic” aspect of national strategy and warfare.

While the three warfares “permeate” the “whole course” of military struggle, their functions have also expanded and are relevant to the PLA’s increasingly “diversified” military missions. In particular, the relevant functions include:

· control of public opinion (舆论控制)

· blunting an adversary’s determination (意志挫伤)

· transformation of emotion (情感转化)

· psychological guidance (心智诱导)

· collapse of (an adversary’s) organization (组织瓦解)

· psychological defense (心理防御)

· restriction through law (法律制约)

In more general terms, the primary missions are to seize the “decisive opportunity” (先机) for controlling public opinion, organize psychological offense and defense, engage in legal struggle, and fight for popular will and public opinion. Under the aegis of these missions, this requires efforts to unify military and civilian thinking, divide the enemy into factions, weaken the enemy’s combat power, and organize legal offensives.

According to the text, the implementation of the three warfares should be guided by certain basic principles. These emphasize integration with national political and diplomatic struggle; revolving around the launching of military operations; rapidly taking advantage of the “decisive opportunity” (先机); engaging in offense and defense, with an emphasis on offense; and the integration of peace and warfare (平战结合). Such principles imply advancing a highly coordinated approach that involves proactive peacetime preparation of the perceptual domain in order to enable the PLA to rapidly seize the initiative in a crisis or conflict scenario.

In its entirety, this NDU text highlights the PLA’s focus on these informational, non-kinetic aspects of modern warfare and its extensive efforts to formulate a complex theoretical approach, with a focus on implementation, education, training, and the construction of specialized forces. Beyond the traditional applications of the three warfares, the text also displays efforts to innovate in the application of these concepts to new contexts, such as counterterrorism and stability protection (反恐维稳), international peacekeeping, protecting transportation and escort (保交护航), and closing and controlling borders (封边控边).

2015 Science of Military Strategy:

The 2015 NDU SMS provides an overview of public opinion warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare and guidance regarding their implementation. According to the text, public opinion warfare involves using public opinion as a weapon by propagandizing through various forms of media in order to weaken the adversary’s “will to fight” (战斗意志), while ensuring strength of will and unity among civilian and military views on one’s own side. Psychological warfare seeks to undermine an adversary’s combat power, resolve, and decision-making, while exacerbating internal disputes to cause the enemy to divide into factions (阵营). Legal warfare envisions use of all aspects of the law, including national law, international law, and the laws of war, in order to secure seizing “legal principle superiority” (法理优势) and delegitimize an adversary. Each of the three warfares operates in the perceptual domain (认知领域) and relies upon information for its efficacy.

The 2015 SMS emphasizes the “tight connection” of three warfares as an “integrated whole” that should be utilized synthetically. From the authors’ perspective, public opinion warfare and legal warfare primarily operate at the strategic level of warfare, whereas psychological warfare is often implemented at the campaign and tactical levels. If effectively implemented, the three warfares have the potential to establish favorable conditions for battlefield success and eventual victory.

For public opinion warfare, the requirements outlined are to “demoralize one’s opponent by a show of strength” (先声夺人), “create momentum to control the situation” (造势控局), “assail strategic points” (抨击要害), and “seek the avoidance of injury” (趋利避害). In particular, it is critical to be the first to release information in a contingency and actively guide public opinion in order to achieve and preserve the initiative on the “public opinion battlefield.” Beyond efforts to exploit an adversary’s shortcomings, the opponent’s attempts to engage in public opinion warfare must also be countered. For example, this approach is reflected in Beijing’s attempts to influence domestic and international public opinion with regard to the U.S. role in Asia—including claiming that the U.S. is at fault for regional tensions and the “militarization” of maritime territorial disputes, while frequently denouncing U.S. “hegemony” and pursuit of “absolute security.”

The principles articulated for psychological warfare focus on “integrating [psychological attacks] and armed attacks with each other” (与武力打击相结合), “carrying out offense and defense at the same time, with offense as the priority” (攻防并举以攻为主), and “synthetically using multiple forms of forces” (综合运用各种力量). In this regard, psychological warfare is envisioned as closely integrated with all forms and stages of military operations in order to intensify the efficacy of conventional attacks. The implementation of psychological warfare should also focus on taking advantage of “opportune moments” and “striking first” to seize the initiative, based on the efforts of multiple forms of psychological warfare forces, including those from the armed forces, reserves, and society. For instance, the intensification of psychological pressures against and attempted intimidation of Taiwan at times of tension or crisis, especially recently during Tsai Ing-wen’s presidency, reflects the application of such an approach, which has been carried out by the PLA’s “Three Warfares Base,” Base 311 in Fuzhou (Taiwan Link, August 8).

The implementation of legal warfare, which seeks to provide legal support to operational success, is informed by the principles to “protect national interests as the highest standard” (以维护国家利益为最高准则), “respect the basic principles of the law” (尊重法律的基本准则), “carry out [legal warfare] that centers upon military operations” (围绕军事行动展开), and “seize standards [and] flexibly use [them]” (把握规范灵活运用). This approach emphasizes the necessity of a nuanced understanding of relevant domestic and international law in order to engage in “legal struggle” and achieve the initiative. In the context of the South China Sea dispute, this has involved the utilization of rather tortuous interpretations of international law to oppose the Philippines’ position and seek to delegitimize the arbitration process.

Conclusion

Based on these texts, the PLA perceives public opinion, psychological, and legal warfare as of distinctive strategic and operational significance, and the three warfares are evidently being incorporated more systematically into its overall thinking on military strategy. While the conceptualization of the three warfares in these recent texts builds upon the prior PLA literature and thinking on the concepts, these sources particularly highlight the complementarities among the three warfares and the importance of their synthetic integration with conventional military operations. This approach is also informed by the PLA’s concerns about countering the perceived “ideological assaults” (意识形态攻击) of “hostile forces” via the Internet (PLA Daily, August 12). In practice, this involves attempts to take advantage of prior peacetime preparation of this perceptual battlefield to establish favorable conditions for going on the offensive to seize the initiative. Since this is a dimension of strategic competition in which China has already demonstrated the efficacy of its efforts, understanding the three warfares will continue to have immediate, real-world relevance.

Looking forward, the PLA’s future approach to the three warfares could continue to evolve in accordance with its recent and ongoing strategic, doctrinal, and also organizational changes. Beyond the recent changes in Chinese military strategy, with the 2014 revision of the PLA’s military strategic guidelines (fangzhen, 方针), overdue changes to its operational regulations (作战条令) or doctrine also seem to be occurring (China Brief, April 21). The PLA appears to remain in the process of working toward the official promulgation of a fifth-generation doctrine, and the underlying campaign outlines (战役纲要) and combat regulations (战斗条令) might include revised guidance for the implementation of the three warfares, given the recent focus on advancing the PLA’s three warfares “science.” Despite the limitations of the available sources, these three texts present the latest available perspectives on the PLA’s evolving strategic thinking on the three warfares and thus can inform analyses of the PLA’s implementation of these concepts.

Elsa Kania is a recent graduate of Harvard College and currently works as an analyst at the Long Term Strategy Group.

Endnotes

1. Wu Jieming [吴杰明] and Liu Zhifu [刘志富], An Introduction to Public Opinion Warfare, Psychological Warfare, [and] Legal Warfare [舆论战心理战法律战概论], National Defense University Press, 2014, p. 1.

2. For prior discussions of the three warfares, see prior analyses, including: Mark Stokes and Russell Hsiao, “The People’s Liberation Army General Political Department Political Warfare with Chinese Characteristics,” Project 2049, October 14, 2013. “China: The Three Warfares,” prepared for Andrew Marshall, Director of the Office of Net Assessment, by Professor Stefan Halper, May 2013. Dean Cheng, “Winning Without Fighting: Chinese Legal Warfare,” Heritage Foundation, May 21 2012. Dean Cheng, “Winning Without Fighting: Chinese Public Opinion Warfare and the Need for a Robust American Response,” Heritage Foundation, November 26, 2012. Dean Cheng, “Winning Without Fighting: The Chinese Psychological Warfare Challenge,” Heritage Foundation, July 12, 2013.

3. The Science of Military Strategy (SMS) is an authoritative text, typically used as teaching materials for senior PLA officers, that articulates the PLA’s thinking on military strategy in multiple domains and contexts. The latest AMS edition of SMS was the focus of a recent book (Joe McReynolds, China’s Evolving Military Strategy, Jamestown Foundation, 2016), but there has been less published analysis on the 2015 NDU text thus far. Since the AMS plays a more direct role in the formulation of military strategy, the 2013 SMS text might be more authoritative than the 2015 NDU edition. Nonetheless, this NDU text also presents a more recent and perhaps reasonably influential perspective that merits closer examination. Concurrently, it is important to recall that such works are primarily theoretical and reflect the viewpoints of these influential institutions, rather than the PLA as a whole. Given such caveats, these texts’ respective content on the three warfares should not be taken as official articulations of the PLA’s strategic or doctrinal approach but rather constitute more theoretical discussions of the concepts that can inform future analysis of these topics.

4. Academy of Military Science Military Strategy Research Department [军事科学院军事战略研究部], eds.,The Science of Military Strategy [战略学]. Military Science Press, 2013, p. 131.

5. John Costello and Peter Mattis, “Electronic Warfare and the Renaissance of Chinese Information Operations,” in Joe McReynolds, China’s Evolving Military Strategy, Jamestown Foundation, 2016.

6. This particular saying from the Thirty-Six Stratagems, which has been variously attributed to Sun Tzu and Zhuge Liang, seems to have originated from various aspects of Chinese written and oral military history.

7. Wu Jieming [吴杰明] and Liu Zhifu [刘志富], An Introduction to Public Opinion Warfare, Psychological Warfare, [and] Legal Warfare [舆论战心理战法律战概论], National Defense University Press, 2014, pp. 1–7, 14–20, 62–69, 121–132, 133–143, 226.

8. The text was formulated with high-level support from NDU starting from 2009 and authored by a committee of scholars under the leadership of two relatively senior NDU professors as a culmination of that process.

9. Xiao Tianliang [肖天亮], eds., The Science of Military Strategy [战略学]. National Defense University Press, 2015, pp. 216–218.

Featured Image: BEIJING, CHINA – SEPTEMBER 03:  Chinese missiles are seen on trucks as they drive next to Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of the People during a military parade on September 3, 2015 in Beijing, China. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

The Nature of the PRC’s National Defense and Military Reform

By Ching Chang

Last November, after an augmented meeting on reformed policies hosted by the Central Military Commission in Beijing, the longtime prepared and formulated reform of the People’s Liberation Army was eventually activated. This Meeting was assembled on November 24, 2015, and attended by all the major senior cadres of the defense establishment and various services. 

Many features of the coming national defense and military reform were disclosed through the defense spokesmen system right after the meeting. Given the length of the meeting and the scale of participants, it is believed that directives of the reform were already settled by high authorities. No substantial discussion likely took place in this significant gathering of defense elites. Flag officers and commanding generals are only told the predetermined implementation plan. Somehow this reform may seemingly be like the traditional saying, “Theirs not to reason why. Theirs but to do and die.”

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The new PLA leadership after reorganization. Edited by LTC. Huang, W. Y., ROCA, a teaching staff of the National Defense University, Republic of China

Later at the end of 2015, the Central Military Commission of the People’s Republic of China released a guideline known as “The Opinions of the Central Military Commission on Deepening the National Defense and Military Reform” (中央軍委關於深化國防與軍隊改革的意見), which provided more detail information about items of the inevitable restructuring process. Many political commentators and military observers put their efforts on features subsequently announced by the Chinese military including establishing new units, redefining AORs (Areas of Responsibility) and name list of the freshly appointed military leadership.

Indeed, grasping the progress of the reorganization can be very helpful to acquire information about many features but it is less productive for us to understand the logic behind the reform process. Understanding the nature of the PRC’s national defense and military reform is more valuable to access the thinking behind the decision making modus operandi of the People’s Liberation Army leadership or even their political masters. By reviewing the history of the military reform planning process started right after Mr. Xi Jinping inaugurated the Chairman of the Central Military Commission until now and the contents of the associated policy documents, we may conclude key attributes regarding the nature of the PRC’s national defense and military reform.

First, this reform is parallel to the tempo of Chinese society by its essence. It is only a part of the overall reform in Xi’s political engineering blueprint. All the issues noted in this deepening national defense and military reform process not only reflect demands from the external strategic environment but also attempt to satisfy the expectations originating from the People’s Liberation Army elites.

Deepening national defense and military reform is a political engineering parallel with the tempo of the whole society. The military can not proceed the reform tasks all by itself.
Deepening national defense and military reform is a political engineering parallel with the tempo of the whole society. The military can not proceed the reform tasks all by itself.

Why may it take more than two years to formulate a guideline for substantiating the military reform? The answer is simple and straightforward. The defense and military reform itself does not act alone. There are many factors associated with other governing mechanisms in Chinese society. The military reform is only a segment of the overall reform endeavor advocated by the Chinese Communist Party. As the defense authority would like to proceed with its reform efforts, it is necessary for them to acquire mature social prerequisites and suitable political conditions.

The overall reform policy was actually settled by the Third Plenary Session of the Eighteenth Chinese Communist Party Central Committee. On November 12, 2013, a policy document known as “The Decision on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reforms” (中共中央關於全面深化改革若干重大問題的決定) was approved by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. In the document containing sixteen chapters, Chapter Fifteen includes Point 55 to 57 which present the following directives:

Chapter XV—National defense and military reform

The People’s Liberation Army must be loyal to the Chinese Communist Party, be able to win and be persistent with its good traditions.

  1. Deepen the reform of the military’s composition and functions. Improve the combined combat command systems of the Central Military Commission and military commands. Push forward reform of training and logistics for joint combat operations. Optimize the structure and command mechanism of the Armed Police Force. Adjust the personnel composition of the military and reduce non-combatant departments and staff members.
  2. Boost the adjustment of military policies and mechanisms. A modern personnel system for officers will gradually take shape with the establishment of an all-volunteer officer system as the initial step. Improve management of military expenditures.
  3. Boost coordinated development of military and civilian industries. Reform the development, production and procurement of weapons. Encourage private businesses to invest in the development and repair sectors of military products.

Given the complexity and the structure of this policy document, this is why it took such a long period of time after Xi was elected to chair the Central Military Commission and declare his intention of military reform in the first Central Military Commission Standing Committee Meeting. Further. The People’s Liberation Army needs resources granted by the whole of society to support its own reform. Chinese society must accommodate decommissioned manpower released by the military during this reform process. The military reform is therefore a segment in the larger social and political reform project. How can you put your eyes only on a single branch but ignore the whole tree?

The leadership of the communist party is unchallengeable in the military reform process.
The leadership of the communist party is unchallengeable in the military reform process.

Second, the military reform in the PRC once again reaffirmed the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership over the People’s Liberation Army. Although many features exposed by the reform themselves are seemingly promoting the military professionalism, nevertheless, according to the decision-making procedures, the political masters of the military still hold a tight grip on the armed forces in China as always addressed by the tradition known as “the party commands the gun.”

As already mentioned, Mr. Xi has clearly blown the trumpet of military reform right after taking the power of military command in the First Plenary Session of the Eighteenth Chinese Communist Party Central Committee. No key decision had been made nor was clear policy declared on military reform until the eventual policy of a comprehensive social and political reform project was settled by the Chinese Communist Party in its Third Plenary Session of the Eighteenth Central Committee occurring 9–12 November 2013.

The Leading Group for the National Defence and Military Reform of the Central Military Commission (中央軍委深化國防與軍隊改革領導小組) was immediately organized and personally chaired by Mr. Xi, the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and held its first meeting in early 2014. The second meeting of this leading group was held on January 17, 2015. At the moment, it was known that the military had already successfully coordinated with other government departments and local governments to support their reform tasks through party arbitration mechanisms. Expected resistance within the military was also eliminated by these external sponsorships. It vividly indicates the role played by the communist party within the reform process.

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The national defense and military reform is in essence an issue very transparent to the Chinese society.

The Proposal of Deepening National Defense and Military Reform Overall Plan (深化國防與軍隊改革總體方案建議) eventually completed drafting in the third meeting of the Leading Group for National Defence and Military Reform of the Central Military Commission on July 14, 2015. It is essential to note that this proposal still needs to be reviewed by the Central Military Commission Standing Committee by July 22 even though both mechanisms are chaired by Mr. Xi. Finally, the proposal was approved by the Political Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, again chaired by Mr. Xi, later on July 29.

After the political decision was made by the party decision-making mechanism, the Central Military Commission Standing Committee in its routine meeting on October 16 started to inspect the Implementation Plan for Administration and Command Structure Reform (領導指揮體制改革實施方案) submitted by the Leading Group for National Defence and Military Reform of the Central Military Commission according to the party-approved proposal. All features of the PRC’s military reform presented to the public was actually settled by this implementation plan, not from any discussion in the augmented meeting assembled on November 24, 2015. In this decision process proceeding between party and military decision making system, even these mechanisms are basically chaired by Xi. There is no doubt the Chinese Communist Party is still effectively exercising its leadership over the People’s Liberation Army. Regardless of the military professionalism indicated by the features shown in the military reform, the party is still the boss of these military professionals.

Last but not the least, the transparency of the military reform is unquestionably significant. There is a general trend of accusing the transparency of Chinese policies or actions in the community of Chinese observers. Rarely do Chinese experts ever thoroughly read these documents openly released by the communist authorities before criticizing transparency. As noted in this article, dates of decision making meetings and documents of reform policies are essentially quite transparent. At least in two documents already mentioned, the Decision on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reforms and the Opinions of the Central Military Commission on Deepening the National Defense and Military Reform, are openly available. All features attracting media concern are already listed by these two documents.

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Many military professionals’ careers will be undermined by the reform process.

This military reform may affect the careers and families of many military personnel. It may also undermine interests of defense industries and local economies. Social engineering of this scale cannot be totally concealed. Three hundred thousand military personnel will be decommissioned by this reform. Many units will be eliminated and their assets need to be disposed of. It is impossible to shut the door and engage with the reform only by the military itself. Can Chinese military experts know the right sources to understand the nature of the People’s Liberation Army’s reform?

The content of these two documents not only address the tasks that need to be done but also consequences that should be actively prevented. This position is considerably pragmatic. Many possible corruptive actions are warned of. To some extent, no intention to ignore the dark side of the human nature that possibly fishing in the trouble water is also evidently presented by the texts of the policy document. These possibly embarrassing issues can be noted by texts with no preservation. The degree of transparency should be undeniable.

However, it is necessary to remember that the title of the Opinions of the Central Military Commission on Deepening the National Defense and Military Reform implies that there are still many uncertainties existing within the future reform process. According to Article Nine of the Procedures for Handling Official Documents in the Administrative Departments of the Government for the PRC, the definition of a document with the title of “opinion” is “An opinion shall be given when providing opinion over important issues and the solutions thereof.” Unlike “decision” its definition is “A decision shall be given in the following situation: deciding on important issues or actions, granting citations to relevant work units and personnel, changing or cancelling inappropriate decisions made by sub-branches.” Are the solutions of all the PRC’s military reform tasks completely settled? Obviously not! Otherwise, the document would be titled with “decision,” not “opinion.”

The features of the military reform involve much information to analyze, but to understand the nature of the People’s Liberation Army reform is the essential foundation to solve this game of jigsaw. Without knowing the fundamental characteristics of this reorganization process, we may only act like a dog chasing its own tail with no result at all.

Chang Ching is a Research Fellow with the Society for Strategic Studies, Republic of China. The views expressed in this article are his own.