China Fights a War Without Firing a Gun
China Fights a War Without Firing a Gun

CYBERWAR: The Chinese Communist Party has been developing cyberwarfare capabilities since the late 1990s. Actors in China with state backing now regularly carry out cyber-espionage against Western governments and businesses.  (Courtesy of U.S. Department of Defence)
CYBERWAR: The Chinese Communist Party has been developing cyberwarfare capabilities since the late 1990s. Actors in China with state backing now regularly carry out cyber-espionage against Western governments and businesses. (Courtesy of U.S. Department of Defence)

While experts in the United States are still debating whether cyberwarfare poses a real threat, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has made cyberwarfare a fundamental part of its military strategy—one to win a war against an enemy who is militarily superior.

The Epoch Times interviewed former military and intelligence officials who have watched China’s cyberwarfare strategy, and other technological tactics, in different stages of development. Many of their observations agree with the Communist Party’s own military documents, as presented in threat analysis from the Department of Defense.

A battle in the snow-covered Amur Valley began a split between the Soviet Union and the Chinese Communist Party in 1969. When the smoke cleared, a stalemate left the Chinese leadership with a lesson that would underpin their military strategy to this day.

“Russia could not win because they didn’t have the manpower, and China couldn’t win because they didn’t have the technology. So it was mainly a stalemate,” said Terry Minarcin, a former Air Force cryptologist assigned to the National Security Agency (NSA), in a telephone interview.

“China learned a lot from that conflict,” Minarcin said.

Minarcin was trained as a Chinese linguist in the Air Force and intercepted communist communications for nearly 21 years. He retired in 1987, just prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, and has kept tabs on developments.

After the battle in the Amur Valley, the CCP took a different path from the Soviets and from the West in general in its military development.

While the West has focused on using technology to make combat operations more effective, the CCP has learned to use technology to make war without combat. As the lessons from the Amur Valley were absorbed, the CCP learned to adopt a new form of warfare.

Cyberwar

The concept of warfare is often misunderstood as simply the destruction of military targets. Thus the significance of Chinese cyber-attacks and cyber-espionage against businesses and government are often written off.

“When John Arquilla coined the phrase cyberwar in 1993, he framed the concept primarily around nation-state military actors, unfortunately this isn’t the case in the 21st century,” said John Bumgarner, chief technology officer of the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit, an independent research institute that studies cyber conflicts.

Due to the outdated definition of cyberwar, when a conflict erupts in the cyber domain the concept of a military target is often misconstrued. “In the industrial defense era allied forces primarily bombed military and military-industrial targets, but in the cyberdefense era viable targets include civilian-operated critical infrastructures, which all militaries are dependent,” Bumgarner said.

The British even had an “Economic Warfare” military unit that existed in World War II. They are immortalized in a photo displayed at the Churchill War Rooms museum in London, according to Bumgarner.

A strategy to use cyber-attacks and other means to target and destroy the U.S. economy was outlined in “Unrestricted Warfare,” by two Chinese military colonels in 1999.

The document “is really a long-term strategy about how to erode your adversary’s will to fight through means other than armed conflict. One of the primary avenues of attack in this document is economics. Such attacks could take decades to be fully appreciated,” Bumgarner said.

“Economic warfare is really a big issue,” he said. “Eroding segments of another nation’s financial stability can be easily accomplished by stealing proprietary data about a widget, using that information to your advantage to manufacture the widget without having to incur all the research and development costs associated with the widget and then selling the widget on the world market at a fraction of the cost. Continually repeating this cycle starts making the target nation reliant on you for many things. Eventually you will hold the keys to the financial kingdom of the other country.”

He referred to an incident where the Chinese had stolen plans for furniture designs—many would wonder why a government would bother. “The foreign company that acquired the designs can build the furniture more cheaply than the U.S. firm. This forces that firm to close operations, which translates to customers having to buy this furniture exclusively from the Chinese company,” Bumgarner said.

Once China has conquered this sector of the furniture industry, its rivals have lost an important economic battle, but may not even realize that this battle is part of a long-range strategy.

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