Brig Anil Gupta
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) which controls the Peoples’s Liberation Army (PLA) does not plan operations only on the ‘physical battlefield’ only but invests with adequate resources in “Political Warfare” as well. Among “3 Ws” which form the core strategy of political warfare, the first ‘W’ deals with Public Opinion Warfare or the Media Warfare. Media warfare operations are integral to the broad concept of information warfare (xinxizhanzheng). A product of the Information Age, information warfare aims to dominate the information cycle. Chinese believe that the ability to triumph in future “Local Wars under Informationised Conditions”—rests upon the ability to secure “information dominance (zhixinxiquan).” It is achieved by aggressive use of information technology to disrupt the OODA loop (Observe, Orientate, Decide, Act) of the adversary and through various media platforms to create a favourable public opinion for the host country and anti-government opinion against the target country or in other words manage the battle of perceptions.
During wartime or war-like situations, the effort is further strengthened with a view to generate confusion, doubt, anxiety, fear, terror, regret, and exhaustion in an adversary, especially among senior military and civilian leaders. These also aim at generating a sense of uncertainty and indecisiveness at all levels, thereby degrading opposition decision-making processes.
In War Zone Campaign Concept, Chinese operational level military strategy, it forms the first phase of the Campaign and is known as External Calm and Internal Intensity (ECII) aimed at the shaping of the environment to have a just cause for a military build-up. Complementary unrestricted warfare and diplomatic assertiveness are other dimensions of this phase.
GuoYanhua, a Chinese scholar at National Defence University in his book titled Psychological Warfare Knowledge writes, “When one defeats the enemy, it is not solely by killing the enemy, or winning a piece of ground, but is mainly in terms of cowing the enemy’s heart.” To undermine the opponent’s morale outside the battlefield is as important as in the battlefield. Ever since all-powerful Xi Jinping assumed the total control of China he has been laying lot of emphasis on controlling the media not only at home but in other nations as well. While explaining the import of Public Opinion Warfare to the domestic media-men Xi had said, “Nation’s media outlets are essential to political stability and that they need to love the Party, protect the Party, and closely align themselves with the Party leadership in thought, politics and action as guiding public opinion is crucial to governance of the country.” Having successfully managed to control domestic media which is dedicated to the CCP and its ideology, Xi is determined to influence the global media as well.
Xi believes, “ in order to undermine the opponent’s morale, one must emphasize information favourable to oneself through various forms of media as well as through third parties, friendly elements in the opponent’s society, and similar outlets.” China is investing heavily in creating a group of opinion makers, journalists, analysts, politicians, media houses and writers who are pliable and willing to promote Chinese interest in their respective countries. Aim is to use these resources both during peace and war to deter Chinese criticism and spread propaganda independently or jointly with the Chinese media by making their propaganda material to include; articles, videos, tweets, broadcasts and films, viral. They become facilitators and spreaders of Chinese propaganda machinery with a view to create an alarm and fear-psychosis among the local populace, military and political leadership and combat strength forcing them to surrender to/accept the Chinese view-point or be prepared to face dire consequences. Xi Jinping wants to make foreign media complicit in his agenda of making China world’s #1 power. Accordingly, the Chinese government is spending billions of dollars to buy good press in foreign countries including India. Lately, the cases have emerged of China investing heavily in foreign media publications through purchase of advertisement space.
China also runs a fellowship programme for foreign journalists mainly from Asian and African countries. 100 journalists per year including Indians get training under the fellowship programme every year. They are trained to propagate Chinese ideals in their countries. The fact that China is training foreign journalists at home and also is spending huge amounts on ads in foreign newspapers speaks volumes of the Chinese foresightedness in taking control of the media in other countries for perception management. The investment apart from peacetime aim of creating favourable opinion for CCP also has the wartime aim in mind and would certainly be used to further the strategic aim of the communist leadership for going to war.
China has successfully built an ecosystem of such sympathisers and lobbyists in India as well. While the eco-system was first exposed during the Doklam crisis in 2017, it has been hyper-active in the current military standoff in Ladakh. Going by their reports at times one gets the feeling that Chinese have made deep incursions into our territory and are well dug down in fortified positions to present a Kargil-like fait- accompli. While the Chinese media lacks credibility at home their cohorts in India leave no stone unturned to sell the same narrative to the Indians. The sensational and exaggerated reporting by few individuals and media houses not only demoralises the soldiers, sets a pall of gloom in the country but also goes against the national interests. These media houses have hired many senior veterans to add weightage to their reporting. There could be only two reasons for the exaggerated reporting; deliberate spreading of falsified data or misinterpretation of the open-source satellite imagery. On what basis is their analysis based only God knows but one thing is certain that it is far removed from the ground realities.
One such analyst who is a retired Colonel from the Armoured Corps has never served in the High Altitude mountains, the present scene of standoff, has no knowledge of high altitude warfare or the existing terrain claims to be equipped with not only latest and accurate information but also inside information as well. Certainly, the Indian Army does not share information with him, he most probably gets inside information from the Chinese. He has developed the art of false or fake reporting and has been exposed also on numerous occasions. In a recent incident during the current standoff, he was exposed by the Press Information Bureau (PIB) when he was accused of misrepresentation of what the Defence Minister had said. He tweeted, “Defence Minister Rajnath Singh publicly admits Chinese soldiers have crossed into India’s side of the LAC in large numbers.” The same was labelled as “Fake” by PIB. Earlier also in April 2019, he was snubbed by the IAF wherein its twitter handle @IAF_MCC tweeted, “Today in an article written by — he has incorrectly speculated that the IAF Court of Inquiry constituted to investigate the Mi -17 crash at Srinagar has been put on hold. This is his imagination and IAF categorically denies this.” He also regularly wrote Opinion Column for a Chinese newspaper South China Morning Post. In his articles he had been using derogatory language for Prime Minister Modi and also undermining national stand on certain important issues like the J&K and surgical strikes carried out by Indian Army. The content of one article titled “Modi plays politics with Indian Army, soldiers pay with lives,” is quite demoralising for the soldiers as well.
Another of his ilk is a retired Army Commander who has served in the high altitude terrain. He served 13 years in Infantry before switching to Mechanised Infantry. He specialises in using sensational headings to spread alarm. He certainly has the ground knowledge but from where he gets the information about the exact Chinese dispositions claiming to be well within the Indian Territory is unknown. While he may have had some ground knowledge, when he served there 30 years ago, it is fatuous to make exaggerated claims of the adversary’s so called incursions without any knowledge of the current dispositions of either side. Thus, his hasty conclusions are not based on facts. There is no denying the fact that such articles loaded heavily in favour of the enemy, which even Pakistan media quotes to belittle Indian Army, are welcome to generate discussion but the General must realise that his articles are expected to be authentic and impartial because of the coveted appointment of Northern Army Commander held by him. His articles are informative though exaggerated but his conclusions are mostly pre-mature and tilting towards advantage adversary.
A few articles have appeared in the print media in last couple of days which have dissected all his articles point by point and proved his contention to be pre-conceived and anti-government.
There is one more popular defence analyst, China expert and ex-Indian Army who is busy in shifting narratives to suit the Chinese design. All this while the lobby has been insisting that the Chinese have occupied 60-80 sq km of our territory in the current standoff and he is not likely to vacate it adding the same to its kitty as part of its ‘Salami slicing’ tactics. They are claiming with certainty that Chinese have occupied the Galwan Valley for good and would not move an inch backwards (all false claims). The factual position as is well known by now is that Galwan standoff point is opposite PP14 and the Chinese are on the other side of the LAC.
However, this gentleman has changed the entire narrative after the Chinese possibly realised that their bluff has been exposed and PP14 is the actual Galwan flash point 7-8 km away from the DBO road and there are no Chinese troops anywhere near PP 14 on the Indian side and are located on his side of the LAC. In a video titled, “India has no Military Options in Ladakh,” he has totally changed the narrative to say that China is not interested even in an inch of Indian Territory. He is promoting the Chinese bogey to say that “China today has the capability of a decisive war with cent percent capitulation of Indian political and military leadership without spilling the blood of the blue soldiers or even firing a bullet.” He says with certainty that the battle would not be fought in the physical domain but the information domain. In his talk, he gives the complete capability to the Chinese and claims that the Indian Army has no counter for it. He is also very critical of the operational level leadership of the Indian army claiming that they lack vision. He is, however, very certain of the capabilities of the Chinese Generals whose battle experience is almost nil and their appointments largely depend on their loyalty to the Communist Party. He feels PLA is fully trained and equipped for the Cyber and Space War and will beat India with non-kinetic capability in a non-contact battle. To my mind, it is part of the Chinese propaganda warfare and the mind games to create fear in the minds of India’s politico-military leadership. The Defence Expert through lot of abstracts and intangibles is shamelessly trying to sell the Chinese narrative.
Chinese strategic aim of the current standoff is to embarrass the politico-military leadership of India. Our veterans through their exaggerated writings as “Military Experts” have contributed handsomely to the Chinese aim. While the troops are giving the Chinese tit for tat, these lobbyists are busy demoralising them.
Chinese like the Soviets, during the cold war era, has developed a vast network of moles and covert sympathisers in our fissured society, operating under the umbrella of the same democracy they are trying to subvert. The Indian people have called the bluff of Chinese media like Global Times and rejected its video war but certain gullible and pliable media houses at home have been contributing to the Chinese cause. Our national will is very strong, fortunately, there are saner elements who have only been reporting, as the media should be doing, without being judgemental. Therefore, the efforts of the “experts” to supplement the Chinese psychological operations may not succeed this time but they shall remain a potent threat to national security.
(The author is a Jammu based veteran, political commentator, columnist, security, and strategic analyst. The views expressed are entirely personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)