China’s “Three Warfares”: People’s Liberation Army Influence Operations — September 7, 2020
Edwin S. Cochran, U.S. Department of Defense, Retired

The following article—whose author is both a retired US Army officer and retired Department of Defense civilian employee with multiple publications—focuses on Chinese information operations. Readers might wish to speculate on matters such as why the Chinese have organized the way they have, whether the organization leads to optimal integration of tools of national security/political power, and how vulnerable specific populations and even intelligence cultures are to specific types of information operations. One might even conclude that the only thing that has not changed in thousands of years has been the technology available to influence others.

This article examines the role of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the conduct of Chinese influence operations, a broad range of non-kinetic, communications-related, and informational activities that aim to affect cognitive, psychological, motivational, ideational, ideological, and moral characteristics of a target audience. China conducts influence operations on a global scale as part of a grand strategy that seeks China’s “rejuvenation” as a great power and the PLA is a key executor. PLA influence operations are encapsulated in the “Three Warfares” concept of media (or public opinion) warfare, psychological warfare, and legal ware. Media warfare is essentially the control and exploitation of communications channels for the dissemination of propaganda and sets the conditions for dominating communications channels for the conduct of psychological and legal warfare. Psychological warfare disrupts an adversary’s decision-making and ability to conduct military operations through perception management and deception. Legal warfare uses domestic and international law to claim the “legal high ground” to assert Chinese interests. PLA organizations responsible for information operations include the Central Military Commission (particularly the Joint Staff Branch and its Intelligence Bureau, the Political Work Division Liaison Branch, and the Office for International Military Cooperation), the Strategic Support Force, and PLA-controlled media enterprises.

IBPP Editor Comments: During the last few years, even the general public is becoming more and more aware of information operations—e.g., propaganda, disinformation, psychological operations/warfare, and any activity or non-activity that is intended to influence thinking, emotions, motivation, and, ultimately, behavior. Goals are only limited by one’s imagination—political, religious, business, personal, socio-cultural…and even the imagination can be a target of influence. In fact, with applications from some postmodernist philosophers, like Gilles Deleuze, efforts can be made to change conceptions of no-longer simple concepts like border, adversary, ally, physical-psychological space, and identity of people and things. (In fact, The Israeli Defense Forces have ‘weaponized’ postmodernist philosophy applied to politico-military conflict).