China Has Military Programs to Warp Foreign Perceptions, Says Pentagon Report

By Joshua Philipp

The Chinese regime is using influence operations in the United States to warp public perceptions and alter decisions on business and politics. According to a new Pentagon report, China does this to “achieve outcomes favorable to its security and military strategy objectives.”

The 2019 annual report to Congress from the Department of Defense, released on May 2, has a special section on the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) influence operations. It gives a general overview of the types of operations the CCP is running to alter public perception and explains how government and military agencies are involved.

The short section begins with a brief overview of the CCP’s Three Warfares strategy, which has been in military operation since at least 2003. The Three Warfares are psychological warfare, to alter the way a target interprets information; public opinion warfare, also referred to as “media warfare,” to control information released to the public; and legal warfare, to manipulate international and domestic law.

According to the report, the CCP uses the strategy alongside its cyber and military operations. It says the Chinese military “likely seeks to use online influence activities” to support its Three Warfares strategy and “to undermine an adversary’s resolve in a contingency or conflict.”

Alongside the strategy for its military, the CCP has programs to influence news outlets, businesses, academics, and circles that make political policy in the United States.

The report states, “China conducts influence operations against cultural institutions, media organizations, and the business, academic, and policy communities of the United States, other countries, and international institutions.” It says the purpose of these programs is to “achieve outcomes favorable to its security and military strategy objectives.”

“The CCP seeks to condition domestic, foreign, and multilateral political establishments and public opinion to accept China’s narrative surrounding its priorities,” it states, noting examples such as the CCP’s territory grab in the South China Sea and its “One Belt, One Road” international development initiative.

The report mentions the CCP’s infamous United Front Department, which received little public attention until recently: “Chinese influence operations are coordinated at a high level and executed by a range of actors, such as the United Front Work Department, the Propaganda Ministry, and the Ministry of State Security.”

The United Front Department works to extend the CCP’s political power into foreign countries, by establishing a “united front” of Chinese living abroad. The CCP branch works through Chinese consulates, which in turn manage “tongs” (Chinese fraternal and hometown associations), the “triads” (Chinese mafia organizations that operate under some tongs), the Chinese Student and Scholar Associations (CSSAs), and Confucius Institutes. The CCP uses this network to control overseas Chinese communities and to subvert foreign societies.

“China also sometimes uses coercion or blackmail to manipulate overseas Chinese citizens to conduct influence operations on behalf of China, such as threatening ethnic Uighurs living in the United States with imprisonment of their family members,” it says. “Chinese intelligence services often facilitate these operations.”

It notes that under programs such as the Thousand Talents Programs, the CCP uses this network for economic theft. Through this, the regime “prioritizes recruiting people of Chinese descent or recent Chinese emigrants whose recruitment the Chinese government views as necessary to China’s scientific and technical modernization, especially with regard to defense technology.”

The CCP also uses this network to “harnesses academia and educational institutions, think tanks, and state-run media to advance its soft power campaign in support of China’s security interests.”

As examples, the report notes that “Chinese students abroad and academic organizations are used to spread the Party’s narrative on Tibet and the Dalai Lama.” It says the CSSAs and Confucius Institutes “organize events to support China’s sovereignty claims and lodge complaints and organize protests against academic institutions that conduct activities which differ from China’s policies.”

In addition, it notes that as of 2018, the CCP’s main state-run news agency, Xinhua, has ignored a Department of Justice request to have its U.S. staff register as foreign agents under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

As the report properly assesses, “China’s leaders probably consider open democracies as susceptible to influence operations, including the United States.” As The Epoch Times has reported previously, the strategy at play is the CCP slogan to “strangle you with your own institutions,” using the idea that the open nature of Western societies makes them easy to manipulate.

The CCP’s influence operations are mainly focused on “establishing and maintaining power brokers within a foreign government,” the report states. It uses this to “promote policies that China believes will facilitate China’s rise, despite China’s stated position of not interfering in foreign countries’ internal affairs.”

In order to accomplish this, it notes, the CCP directs its operations on diplomacy to build “personal rapport with influential people,” to provide “assistance,” and to offer programs on trade and diplomacy under the guise of “win-win” deals. The report says, “This approach allows China to offer expedited, small-scale accomplishments for partners abroad, often in exchange for seemingly symbolic gestures that support China’s long-term strategic goals.”