Chinese Media Warfare Targets the U.S.-Japan Alliance

Posted on Friday, July 31, 2015 by Project2049Institute

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By Sabrina Tsai

On May 29, 2015, Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai warned that U.S. alliances in Asia are being perceived as "anti-China." Positing that some in China do not see territorial disputes in the region as sufficient reason for military alliances, he warned that it is detrimental to U.S. interests that Chinese citizens perceive the U.S. as against them. A rhetorical warning such as this one from Chinese officials point to the bigger questions of how China views U.S. alliances in the region and, more importantly, what China is doing to influence these alliances through political operations.

Chinese Political Warfare

Aside from Chinese intransigence on recognizing its adversarial activities as hostile in the regional security environment -- such as land reclamation in the South China Sea and the arms buildup across the Taiwan Strait -- it consistently engages in psychological warfare to shape the way world events are viewed both at home and abroad. A favorite target of the Chinese state-run media is the U.S.-Japan alliance. In 2015, the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War, China has ramped up its media and information campaigns to undermine the health and progress made between Japan and its partners since 1945. The Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) concerted efforts to commemorate the end of the "world anti-fascist war" intentionally emphasize Japan's wartime legacy instead of regional advancements. In a world of power politics, soft power and hard power maneuvers are conjoined to create a desired political outcome. In the case of China, this is not amiss. 

While psychological-political components are inherent in every diplomatic, economic, and military instrument of national power,[1] China employs a peacetime information campaign that  target individuals' unconscious framework for viewing the world, including its own citizens. Referred to by some as the "Three Warfares," which includes media warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare, Chinese political warfare encompasses a large umbrella of networked state actorswho drive the creation and transmission of information to targeted audiences.  Media warfare is an extended tradition of the CCP and a powerful political tool designed to sway the audience toward a state-sanctioned national narrative. Ranked 176 out of 180 by a French-based watchdog group Reporters Without Borders, China's press freedom is among the worst in the world and is highly controlled by the state for political ends.

Targeting the U.S.-Japan Alliance

Certain thematic trends can be found in the Chinese media in framing events related to the U.S.-Japan alliance. Chinese reporting follows specific themes in order to influence and manage the perceptions of domestic audiences. They utilize the following thematic perception management tactics:

Highlighting regional expert commentators whose views are favorable to the CCP. In critiquing the U.S.-Japan alliance, Chinese media often uses opinions of experts or reporters from Japan and the region whose views align with their own. For example, Chinese reports have highlighted Australian expert Hugh White's criticisms on Japan's efforts to reform security policies, further stating that if Japan was to go to war with China, it would not have a decisive victory since it is uncertain whether the U.S. would actually follow through on its defense commitments to Japan during wartime.

Utilizing opposing voices in Japan's democratic society to its own political advantageJapan's democratic society is backed by mature political institutions and civil society. With the freedom of expression, Japan's populace with opposing views have the latitude and platform they need in order to make their political opinions heard. Chinese media often capitalizes on views found within the pluralist society that favor its political positions. In analyzing Prime Minister Abe's motives for his policies, Chinese media highlights Japan's domestic opposition to legitimize its allegations of PM Abe's intentions as devious at its core.

Controlling how international events related to Chinese interests are covered. Chinese media regularly covers international events that relate to its national interests in a way that presents its side as just to the domestic Chinese audience. For example, a statement of concern released by G-7 summit conveners regarding heightened tensions in the South China Sea was covered by the Chinese media as a "Japanese effort" to "defame" China through a multilateral forum. Tactics like this one is commonly used to shape perceptions within China as a part of its overall psychological warfare. In order to win future wars, CCP leaders know that it would have to mobilize the populace, and peacetime information dissemination helps to ready the mentality of the nation against a specific, common enemy.

In addition to a relentless overhaul of reports criticizing PM Abe through attacks on his character, the CCP has also mobilized ad-hominem attacks against U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) Combatant Commander Admiral Harry Harris for his Japanese heritage. Chinese reporting of U.S. military statements and surveillance of China's land reclamation activities in the South China Sea have pinpointed Admiral Harris' Japanese ethnicity as the driving impetus for "hawkish" policies against Chinese escalations. USPACOM cooperation with Japanese forces have been covered in a way that implies that Admiral Harris has a personal vendetta against the Chinese military simply because of his heritage. Such racist ad-hominem attacks on key U.S. leaders reveal the CCP's political interests in managing domestic perceptions through psychological warfare.

While these four perception management tactics are not comprehensive, they cover basic trends utilized by state-controlled Chinese media outlets as a part of its psychological-political warfare against the U.S.-Japan alliance among its domestic audience. These tactics, some more blatantly inappropriate than others (e.g., racism), are unlikely to abate in the near future. The U.S. would be wise to monitor Chinese political warfare tactics more closely in order to strengthen its understanding and preparedness against unwanted political operations aimed at weakening its alliance partnerships.

[1] Fred Ikle, "The Modern Context," in Political Warfare and Psychological Operations, ed. by Frank Barnett and Carnes Lord. (National Defense University Press, 1989), pg. 20, at

Iran and North Korea: Partners in Proliferation?

Posted on Wednesday, July 29, 2015 by Project2049Institute

(Image Source: Yalibnan)
By Ryan Henseler

On July 14, 2015 the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, Germany and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), collectively known as the P5+1, finalized negotiations for a comprehensive nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran. According to the agreement, Iran will be required to disable many centrifuges critical to the uranium enrichment process necessary for weaponization, redesign the Arak nuclear reactor such that it is incapable of generating bomb-grade plutonium, and drastically decrease its stockpile of non-weapons grade uranium. In return, crippling UN trade sanctions will be lifted, which would immediately boost Iran’s economy, including the return of over $100 billion per year in oil exports currently lost due to sanctions. The deal purports to make it nearly impossible for Iran to construct a nuclear weapon within its borders and, “is not built on trust – but on verification.” In addition, UN embargoes on arms and ballistic missile sales to Iran will be extended for another five and eight years respectively.

Despite these recent signs of goodwill, Iran has long maintained cooperative ties with another rogue state, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), better known as North Korea. In 2002, both states were labeled as part of the infamous “axis of evil” by then-President George W. Bush. Both nations share a deep mistrust of the West, and this connection serves as the bedrock of the alliance between the two otherwise ideologically divergent countries. In 2012, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declared, “The Islamic Republic of Iran and North Korea have common enemies, because the arrogant powers do not accept independent states,” essentially restating the ancient Arabic proverb, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

This relationship should be of concern for the United States and its allies moving forward. North Korea has flouted the UN arms embargo in the past, and is unlikely to be deterred by the signing of an accord between the P5+1 and Iran. The DPRK has also been accused of abetting Iran’s quest to obtain nuclear weapons through the illegal trade of uranium and other materials that could be used for weaponization. Though the verification methods spelled out in the agreement should sufficiently account for any illegal activities within Iran’s borders, a pressing question for the future is whether Iran will be able to relocate its nuclear ambitions and continue research and development within North Korea itself.

Cooperation and Suspicion

Iran and the DPRK’s pseudo-alliance began during the Iranian Revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. Military cooperation through arms sales began shortly thereafter during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, and continued throughout the 1990 Persian Gulf War. During this time, North Korea sold Iran various conventional weapons systems, including artillery, machine guns, and surface-to-air missiles, among others. In 2006 the UN released Security Council Resolution 1737, which began the arms embargo against Iran. However, the embargo did not break the partnership, merely moving it underground.

During the same time period, the DPRK was procuring nuclear weapons. North Korea dropped out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003 based on 2002 findings that they were violating the agreement through a uranium enrichment program. In 1994, the US and North Korea inked the General Framework Agreement stating that the DPRK would halt and eventually disband its nuclear weapons program in exchange for US monetary aid in constructing civil nuclear reactors. Various opponents of the Iran deal in Congress have pointed out the current deal’s similarity with the 1994 General Framework Agreement and have voiced fear that Iran will find ways to bypass inspections in much the same way that North Korea did following the 1994 agreement, particularly because “anytime, anywhere” nuclear inspections are not guaranteed in the deal. Instead, they have been replaced by inspections “when necessary and where necessary” which allow Iran a 25 day buffer period before the inspections actually take place.

The Iran-North Korea alliance deepened in 2012 with the completion of a deal which pledged cooperation in several fields, particularly scientific research, information technology (IT), engineering and operation of joint laboratories. Naturally, this deal raised concerns about the possibility of an increase in missile and weapons technology trade between the countries. For years, North Korea has been accused of illegally selling Iran both conventional weapons and nuclear materials, possibly even weapons-grade uranium. In addition to being a political ally, the DPRK is Iran’s main supplier of ballistic missile technology and Pyongyang is reliant on the revenue created by these sales.

In 2002, it was suspected that Iran was involved in a cover up involving the spilling of a secret shipment of uranium from North Korea to Iran on a Tehran airport tarmac. While the cover-up was eventually investigated by US intelligence officials with help from those of its allies, there are few present-day signs that Iran’s cooperation with the DPRK has faltered.  Iran’s main opposition movement, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) recently released information that showed extensive nuclear cooperation between the current Iranian government and the DPRK through visits from nuclear experts on both sides as recently as April 2015. Perhaps even more alarming, it was reported that Iranian officials were present at North Korea’s latest nuclear test in 2013.

Surprisingly, Iran has managed to not allow its extensive cooperation with the DPRK to influence its relatively strong commercial relationship with the Republic of Korea (ROK), despite the enduring tension between the political systems on the Korean Peninsula. Economic ties, particularly in crude oil trade, between the ROK and Iran remain strong, but their relationship is largely limited to commercial dealings due to major ideological differences and their choice in key allies (the DPRK for Iran and the United States for South Korea). Most South Koreans view Iran negatively, and high-level political cooperation between the two is largely non-existent. However, their relationship, even if it is based solely on mutually beneficial trade, shows that democratic nations that strongly disapprove of Iran’s nuclear ambitions are willing to maintain good relations if they feel it is in their economic best interests.

Role of China?

A final interesting piece of this puzzle is the possible contribution to or at least tacit approval of the Iran-North Korea partnership by the PRC. The PRC has long been Iran’s most powerful friend, though the relationship seems more transactional than anything. China is the largest purchaser of Iranian oil and is Iran’s largest trading partner in both imports and exports, making a robust relationship with Beijing of particular importance to Tehran. Many experts see the PRC as the biggest winner of the Iran deal, as the lifting of economic sanctions will allow Chinese businesses such as banks and oil companies more access to Tehran, and avoiding a potential war between the US and Iran is crucial to Chinese trade interests.

In 2005, the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), a coalition of democratic resistance organizations based in Tehran, accused the PRC of directly selling beryllium and components for centrifuge construction to Iran, and argued that these were unlikely to be used for civilian purposes. In 2011, Malaysian police confiscated a shipment from China to Iran that they suspected contained parts that could be used to construct nuclear warheads, one of multiple shipments between the countries that have been confiscated in recent years.

Although Chinese entities have been implicit in selling materials to Iran, the degree of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) government involvement is unknown. China’s ports and airspace have been used in the passage of shipments from North Korea to Iran on multiple occasions. Suspicions of Chinese intentions still exist largely due to China’s cooperation with Pakistan’s illicit nuclear program in the 1980s and more current hot button issues such as the PRC’s recent advances in the South China Sea (SCS). It is questionable whether the PRC, as a member of the P5+1 and a contributor to the Iran agreement is intentionally allowing Iran to pursue nuclear weapons. In any case, China should be more proactive in preventing North Korean transactions involving dangerous materials from passing through its borders. Of course, the US should not count on China to solve this problem alone, and must closely monitor the state of relations between the DPRK and Iran and vigilantly look for illicit transactions between the two sides going forward.

China's Fifth Generation Air Power Development

Posted on Wednesday, July 15, 2015 by Project2049Institute

(Image Source: Key Publishing)

By Ryan Henseler

Throughout its history, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has lagged behind the aerial programs of other world powers such as the United States. Now, the PRC has set its sights on producing indigenously designed “fifth generation” fighter jets comparable to the US F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II. Many US officials and pilots suspect that the Chinese have been using hacked US technology to aid their indigenous development programs. The PRC is also leveraging additive manufacturing technology (better known as 3D-printing) in order to increase speed and efficiency in manufacturing aircrafts and compete with the US. The J-20 Black Eagle could be fully operational by 2018, and a second model, the J-31 Gyrfalcon, by 2020. If true, China’s new generation of fighters could have a substantial impact on its ability to either defend what it considers to be sovereign airspace, or to mount an aerial offensive in a wartime scenario, particularly against Taiwan (ROC).  

Recent Advances in the PLAAF

Between 1990 and 1992 the PRC purchased 24 Su-27 Flankers from Russia and slightly modified the design to become the J-11 Flanker B+.  In response, the US sold 150 F-16 Fighting Falcons to Taiwan. The acquisition of fourth generation Su-27s allowed China’s Air Force to enter modernity, and they have become progressively more capable ever since. In 2010, half of the PLAAF fleet still consisted of jets modeled after 1950s and 1960s Soviet MiG-19 Farmers and MiG-21 Fishbeds, but China’s ability to project air power has increased significantly within the past 5 years. Recently, the PRC and Russia completed a deal to transfer 24 Russian Su-35 Super Flankers, a potent “generation 4++” fighter, to the Chinese, in addition to China’s scheduled integration of fifth generation technology.

Currently the PLAAF relies on the J-11 as its primary fighter. However, this model is largely unproven. This aircraft is perhaps most recognized as the fighter variant involved in an August 2014 incident in which a single J-11 intercepted a USN P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft 135 miles east of Hainan Island. Twice the J-11 came within 50 yards of the US aircraft. The aggressive maneuvering by the Chinese pilot was an example of the PLAAF making it clear that US surveillance is not appreciated within the airspace over its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Fifth Generation Capabilities

Since 2008 the PRC has worked to design and manufacture fifth generation concepts, both for its own use and to sell on a global scale. Two companies in China have worked on designs: the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group (J-20) and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (J-31). Both are subsidiaries of the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC). It is likely that the J-20 and J-31 will complement one another when integrated into the PLAAF’s arsenal. The J-20 is closer to becoming operational, with an inaugural test flight in 2011; it is expected to reach initial operating capability (IOC) by 2018. Because both jets are still in prototype stage, their exact capabilities are not certain. However, it is speculated that the J-20 will provide a long-range strike system capable of reaching anywhere in the Western Pacific region, and incorporate a stealth design; the first of its kind in the PRC. In a conflict, the J-20 would likely be deployed in air-to-air combat with the mission of limiting the enemy’s radar coverage and strike range. The J-31 could be a potent complement to the J-20, similar to the planned US partnership of the F-22 and F-35.  While the J-20 is expected to possess superior dogfighting abilities, the J-31 will be “the perfect fighter for the PLA to carry out anti-access area-denial (A2AD) strategies in the Western Pacific”. The J-20 is slightly faster, with a maximum speed of Mach 2.5 compared to Mach 2 for the J-31. Both sport a combat radius of approximately 2000km (1242 miles).

US officials believe that the J-31 will immediately match or exceed the capabilities of US fourth generation fighters such as the F-15 Strike Eagle and F/A-18 Super Hornet, and could possibly even compete with the F-22 or F-35. But this would largely depend on several factors including the quality of Chinese pilots, the quantity of fighters produced, and the reliability of radar and other equipment on board. In late 2014, AVIC President Lin Zhouming made an even bolder prediction, saying, When [the J-31] takes to the sky, it could definitely take down the F-35. It's a certainty.” Even if neither of the Chinese fighter jets is entirely up to par with US fifth-gens, they still could drastically change the dynamic of both a conflict with the US or a scenario such as an invasion of Taiwan.


If the PRC decided to launch an attack across the Taiwan Strait, a contingency that it practices every year, air superiority would be essential for three reasons: the relatively small amount of airspace available over Taiwan; the ROC Air Force’s (ROCAF) ability to saturate its airspace with its own fighters, and the ROC's extensive surface-to-air missile defense system. If the PLAAF is unable to prevent or significantly limit attacks against its naval vessels when crossing the Strait, the mission would almost certainly fail. Ultimately, the PRC’s accumulation of cutting-edge fighter technology could provide the critical air advantage over the ROCAF to carry out a successful invasion, and should be cause for concern at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of war for the US. 

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