On The Global Times

There is some debate as to what degree The Global Times, the relentlessly jingoistic English-language daily published in Beijing, is in sync with the government and the party. While some China-watchers suggest that the GT is a pure party mouthpiece, others believe that it Zhongnanhai’s leashed pit-bull, useful to scare the neighbors, but in no way representative of the leash-holders true nature.


Let us stipulate the following:

  • The Chinese government is not monolithic, and thus does not hold a single unified viewpoint on anything;
  • Opinions expressed in the media are often trial balloons; and
  • State media have, in the past, often represented minority points-of-view in the party.

All the above said, it is also true that Xi is wont to visit key media outlets – including The Global Times – to underscore that it is the duty of all media “love the party, protect the party, and closely align with the party leadership in thought, politics and action.” It is apparent to anyone watching the media in China – and that’s a lot of what we have to do in my business – that whatever tolerance there might have been for a degree of editorial heterodoxy is evaporating fast, if it has not already turned to fog.

Thus the assertion that The Global Times is offering opinions at odds with the thinking in Zhongnanhai to be far less credible today than three years ago. Lacking evidence to the contrary, we can only believe that the GT speaks with the voice and support of the highest party leaders.

For the PLA, Has War Already Begun?

“China’s ‘Three Warfares’ and India”
Abhijit Singh
Journal of Defence Studies
October-December 2013
pp. 27-46

Cymraeg: Sun Tzu. mwl: Sun Tzu. Português: Sun...

Sun Tzu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The author, who is a research fellow at India’s Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, offers up a highly readable paper with a fascinating proposition: China is already at war with India.

Singh calls out what he calls China’s “Three Warfares” (3Ws) strategy, by which China wages war against an adversary by influencing public opinion, conducting psychological operations, and laying the legal groundwork to support its territorial claims. The PLA, through “work regulations” issued in 2010, is now focusing that effort on India.

It does not demand much effort to see that China is pursuing the same approach in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. What is disturbing is that this effort is not directed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but by the PLA. This is not diplomacy as far as the Party is concerned: this is asymmetrical warfare.

The paper is a fascinating, short, and essential read for those looking to understand China’s near-abroad foreign policy, and who inside of Beijing’s guarded compounds is actually running the show.

What the World Thinks about China and the US

America’s Global Image Remains More Positive than China’s
Pew Global Attitudes Project

July 18, 2013

The Pew Research Center has released the full text and backup materials for a report that the Center interprets as saying that the US is still largely seen in a better light than China worldwide.

The entire report is worth a read, but I came away with a few interesting tidbits after diving into the data a bit.

There are chunks of Asia that view China more favorably than others, and that view the US more favorably. Distance, it seems, lends enchantment: Koreans, Japanese, Filipinos, and Australians prefer the US, while the Indonesians, Malaysians, and Pakistanis favor China. The reasons for these preferences are likely complex, but they hint at the possible emergence of rival spheres of influence in the region.

It is also fascinating that the nations preferring China are predominantly Muslim. This gets even more interesting when you note that China is viewed far more favorably than the US in the Middle East – and in no other region. At first blush, China seems to have avoided Muslim approbation for its handling of its Uighur population. At the same time, the comparison is deceiving. Diving into the data, it is clear that the people of the Mideast are divided at best over whether China is a positive or negative influence.

One other matter that caught the eye was that Europeans believe that China is already the world’s dominant economy, but the rest of the world agrees that China has not yet passed the US. Again, divining reasons for such perceptions is difficult, but recent Chinese dollar diplomacy in the EU could not have hurt.

The report is available for free download, but for those without a lot of time, there is a slideshow available for a quick peruse.

Doing Better at Doing Well

Lessons from Department of Defense Disaster Relief Efforts in the Asia-Pacific Region
Jennifer D. P. Moroney, Stephanie Pezard, Laurel E. Miller, Jeffrey Engstrom, Abby Doll



US Air Force personnel deliver relief supplies...

US Air Force personnel deliver relief supplies to Burma (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If there is a unifying thread across the string of natural and human disasters that have torn across the Asia-Pacific region in the past eight years, it is that in each instance large chunks of the U.S. military dropped what they were doing at the time and placed their resources in the service of the governments trying to save lives, save property, recover the dead, and lay the groundwork for a speedy recovery.

There has to now not been an assessment of the effectiveness of that work, nor of the lessons learned. The RAND Corporation has taken on the task of making that assessment, and the results are now available in this concise volume. Taking into account four cases – that of Cyclone Nargis in Burma in 2008; the Padang earthquake in Indonesia in 2009, the monsoon floods in Pakistan in 2010, and the Tohuku earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011 – the study offers some thought-provoking conclusions.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that, left on its own to conduct operations, the US armed forces show a remarkable degree of improvisation and can-do spirit that often overcomes the lack of preparation, and provides the basis for the kind of flexibility that evolving disasters demand. What the study suggests is that not all of this improvisation is necessary, and that with the proper salting of expertise and experience, time and lives could be saved when lessons don’t have to be relearned by different units and personnel in similar situations.

The RAND experts also note that the military needs help playing nicely with others. In this, they echo the oft-repeated entreaties of grand strategist Thomas P.M. Barnett. While the military has learned to overcome its parochial service-first thinking at lower and lower levels of command, this process took over 60 years. Now, however, the military must start thinking not just “mulit-service,” but also “multi-agency” and “multi-national.” The military may be alone on the battlefield, but when the mission is saving people and property, they work best when they work smoothly with the UN, with the Red Cross, local governments, and the Department of State, to name a few.

To the credit of our people in uniform, that stuff is hard, and it is even hard when civilian agencies try to play nice. This is exactly what the study argues. It’s hard, but we have to do it, and better we start now training leaders and operators at every level of the armed forces how to work in an environment like this.

That conclusion seems intuitive to civilians. But to someone in the military – especially someone who has to train people in the face of tightening resources and limited time – it seems like another unfunded mandate from “experts” who have no idea of the challenges in the field. Cross-training a medic is easy. Cross-training a 19 year-old airman third class who specializes in operating a helicopter sonar how to conduct humanitarian tasks is a lot more time-consuming. And what should the military do? Spend more time getting that kid proficient at his highly technical job, given they’re only likely to have him for another couple of years? Or interrupt that time to teach him how to perform technical rescues?

The RAND study, to its credit, doesn’t try to overtask the military, but offers some simple and clever solutions to the problem.

This book is a great read, a must for disaster geeks (I admit to being one) and to anyone with an interest in how we can all get better at saving people after “the Big One.” And for those of us with an interest in China and soft power, it is a silent reflection on how far China must come before its aircraft carriers mean more than menace in Asia.

My Power is Softer than Yours

English: Press room of State Council Informati...

Press room of the State Council Information Office of China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

China’s Soft Power in East Asia: A Quest for Status and Influence?
Chin-Hao Huang
National Bureau of Asian Research
January 2013

China has pledged itself to winning the “soft power” game in Asia and worldwide ever since the phrase became a buzzword among international relations literati following the 204 publication of Joseph Nye‘s Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics. Beijing has spent billions on this campaign, funding schools of Chinese language and culture, big-budget films, and an expanding global media network of foreign language television, radio, magazines, newspapers, and wire services all controlled by the State Council Information Office.

Beijing has done little to help itself in this campaign, especially with its neighbors. Armed belligerence in the South China Sea and the Senkakus, bolstered by questionable legal claims, has made China look less attractive to its neighbors and more like a teenaged dragon out to test the limits of its growing power.

Chin-Hao Huang of USC tells us not to let ourselves get lulled by this ham-handed behavior. China appearing itself in the foot does not mean that the U.S. and Europe can let up their efforts to build attraction and influence in the region. In fact, it doesn’t mean that it is losing the soft-power war, either. Studies indicate that China’s soft power is rated just below that of Japan and the United States by populations in Asia. So, in fact, the U.S.  needs to get better at playing the game right now, both to exploit the current opportunities and as a hedge against the day that China begins playing the coquette again.

We also have to consider the possibility that the elements that invite soft power may vary from culture to culture. We see that in our own efforts to build soft power among Muslim populations worldwide. It may be that by compartmentalizing the Senkakus and South China Sea disputes that China is able to play divide-and-conquer among its neighbors. Or it may be that some cultures respect the might China has created even as that power is aimed at them, especially if China is able to rise at the cost of Japanese and American prestige in the region. Asia for the Asians Redux, if you will.

Whether you buy Huang’s argument or whether you think he is repeating the obvious, he deserves credit for pointing out that just because China is playing the bully doesn’t mean they’re losing hearts and minds, and we need to figure out how to play that game much better in a region that has stymied us for half a century.

Radio, Television, and Public Diplomacy

A reporter for RFE/RL's Afghan Service intervi...

Image via Wikipedia

BBG’s Strategic 5yr Plan: to inform, engage and connect.

In the darkest days of the Cold War, the United States focused considerable effort on bringing to the world what can either be described as “the truth,” or “the truth according to the United States government ” with services like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. We can argue about the value of these broadcasts to the people of Latin America, but it seems clear these broadcasts provided a critical information lifeline to the people of China and the countries locked behind the USSR’s Iron Curtain.

In the years since the opening of China and the end of the Cold War, however, these services have lacked the kind of clear mission they once had, and the rise of the Internet calls into question the value of broadcast services generally. I would argue, though, that America’s global broadcast assets remain a critical part of public diplomacy. Commercial enterprises like CNN and Fox News have their place, but they are not in the business of conducting information activities in support of US foreign policy.

The BBG spells out exactly why it should continue to receive funding over the next four years in its 2012 strategic plan. Admittedly awash in bureaucratese, the concrete steps it outlines take the organization a big step toward regaining the relevance it once had. Even given the glacial speed of governmental organizations, the plan is realistic and doable.

If the plan lacks anything it is a clearer vision of where the organizations need to be in 10 years. More needs to be done than what is outlined here, and both what and why need to be made clearer.

Nonetheless, even die-hard net-heads like myself cannot help but see the value of broadcast in America’s public diplomacy after reading this.

Replacing Propaganda

US Navy 091123-N-2420K-520 Capt. Alyson Caddel...

Image via Wikipedia

While the works we discuss at The Peking Review tend to be book-length, we occasionally review shorter works because the pithy writing makes them as effective as books. One such work is Christopher Paul’s Getting Better at Strategic Communication, essentially a transcript of his lengthy but tight testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities.

I have a lengthening bookshelf of works on various aspects of strategic communication, which Paul defines as “coordinated actions, messages, images, and other forms of signaling or engagement intended to inform, influence or persuade selected audiences in support of national objectives.” What Paul does in the space of twenty double-spaced pages is provide a layman’s summary of the field.

The reason this is important is that governments generally and the US government in particular are vexed by how hard it has become to influence a given population or group. Gone are the golden days of “weapons of mass instruction,” wherein influence over or control of the media and a few persuasively-worded messages were sufficient to change attitudes. The response has not been to shrug shoulders and give up on the effort, but to try and craft new ways to win friends and influence peoples, particularly overseas. Thus “strategic communication.”

But as Paul notes in this work, if you ask ten “strategic communication” experts to define the term, you would wind up with ten different definitions. That is only one of a number of problems plaguing governments in their attempt to bring their communications skills into the 21st Century, the most serious of which is that politicians, bureaucrats, and cadres the world over still think in terms of the mass-media message pump.

By no means is this problem limited to government: enterprises and NGOs are also struggling to figure out how to remake their thinking and their organizations in an age where the internet exposes brand as illusions and messages as spin. All of these groups are groping toward an answer, and Paul provides an illumiating snapshot of where the US government is in the process.

Hard Power in an Age of Soft Power

In Hard Power and Soft Power: The Utility of Military Force as an Instrument of Policy in the 21st Century, Professor Colin S. Gray has written what is perhaps one of the most thoughtful contrasts between the virtues of hard power (read “military force”) and soft power written since Joseph Nye fully outlined the concept of Soft Power nearly two decades ago.

Gray is cynical not so much of Nye’s original proposition, but of the growing buzz around soft power as some form of alternative to armed force. Some of Gray’s major points resonate, and suggest that thinking about soft power in Washington and elsewhere is a little “soft.” Specifically, Gray notes that hard power and soft power are not substitutable for each other, and and that military force is not an anachronism.

At the same time, Professor Gray is no mindless advocate of military power, he openly acknowledges the limits of military power. Even better, he tosses a wide critique at military faddists with a quote I am going to have bronzed. “When adopted uncritically and without noticeably perceptive situational awareness, nearly every idea in the strategist’s conceptual arsenal can be dangerous.”

This is a superb work by a strategist of the first order, and it belongs as a companion volume to Nye’s writings or any discussion of strategic communications.

I have a few quibbles, because I feel that Gray overstates at least two of his conclusions, and misses one point that would fit well in his analysis. First, he suggests that strategic competency is less relevant for soft power. I disagree. I would argue that because the western democracies have never generated the means, doctrines, or methodologies to translate grand strategy into the employment of soft power, we are unable to wield such power in a strategic manner. Nye, in identifying strategic power as an axis, has given us a useful starting point, but we have yet to develop the concepts that would allow us to make “strategic communications” truly strategic.

Second, Gray argues that soft power merely “co-opts the readily co-optable.” I respond that soft power operates on longer timelines than most operational art is prepared to consider. Soft power, unlike an air strike, must be built over time, its targets selected, and action taken sometimes years in advance of the actual start of kinetic operations.

Finally, Gray overlooks the soft power aspects of hard power. Respect for the military capabilities of a nation from other nations are a large – and sometimes significant – contributor to a nation’s soft power. Indeed, it was probably the belief in the prowess of the Red Army and its weaponry more than its ideology that contributed to the influence of the Soviet Union in the three decades after the end of World War II.

But these issues do not detract from the book’s core value in the debate over the changing nature of power in the 21st century. This thin volume belongs on every strategist’s bookshelf.