The Evolution of the Chinese Regime’s Unrestricted Warfare Against the US

December 6, 2021 Updated: December 13, 2021


The occasion of the Pentagon’s release of the Global Posture Review compels the recognition that the Chinese regime’s employment of unrestricted warfare against the United States is evolving. It is changing because China’s capabilities are growing.

Three major points are significant.

First, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been attacking the United States since it came to power in 1949. Its objective is victory over the United States. In the course of the Cold War, there was only a temporary truce after President Richard Nixon went to China in 1972 through the end of the war. The collapse of the Soviet Union, U.S. success in the 1990-1991 Gulf War, and 1989 Tiananmen Massacre in Beijing convinced the Chinese regime’s leadership that it had achieved victory over the United States by attacking it without triggering an adequate response from Washington. The iron determination of the Chinese regime was to achieve victory by any means possible.

Second, the Chinese regime’s attack has been all azimuths, total, and unrelenting. It is described by the two Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) colonels in their book, “Unrestricted Warfare” (the English version was published in 1999). Unrestricted warfare is attacking the United States indirectly and through manifold means. No single avenue of attack is sufficient to cause or provoke a direct military confrontation.

The forms of attack are myriad and include the following: 1) political warfare, which involves influencing the domestic political systems of other countries, including the United States, but also winning a global narrative so that Communism is seen as the wave of the future; 2) there is legal warfare or lawfare to hinder or delegitimize individuals, organizations, or countries; 3) network warfare, which involves attacking computer networks, but also communication and infrastructure networks such as the U.S. electrical grid; 4) the use or sponsorship of terrorism against the United States or its global interests; 5) economic warfare, which involves weakening the enemy’s economy and financial markets, or hijacking them to support China’s growth; and 6) kinetic, which is the employment of military force.

The strategic objective of these means is to weaken, confuse, and hollow out the enemy so that the opponent implodes without resorting to military confrontation—this means the Chinese regime targets America’s military, industry, centers of technology, but also its population, morale, ideology, and identity.

While all means of unrestricted warfare are important, the United States should not underestimate the kinetic and its importance to the Chinese regime. It is always important for Americans to recall that the U.S. military and the PLA have fought in the Korean War. They did again indirectly in the Vietnam War. In this conflict, Beijing’s support for North Vietnam included forces to man the anti-aircraft artillery sites firing on American aircraft and to repair the North’s infrastructure during the Rolling Thunder air campaign. China fought the United States when it was far weaker in relation to U.S. power.

Epoch Times Photo
U.S. troops disembark from a truck during the Vietnam War, 1967. (AFP/Getty Images)

The military instrument is becoming increasingly important to the Chinese military, including the employment of technologies to defeat the United States by capitalizing upon its weaknesses.

What has changed since 1999 is that the kinetic component of unrestricted warfare has grown larger and increasingly apparent, as witnessed by the expansion of the conventional capabilities, nuclear arsenal, and development of new weapon systems, including hypersonic missiles. The implication of the more overt demonstration of the military power of China is that the regime considers itself to be able to challenge the United States in the kinetic realm. In turn, this means that the U.S.-extended deterrent to its allies and other friendly states, like Taiwan, is likely to be challenged.

Third, the CCP sees the United States as vulnerable to unrestricted warfare because Washington does not perceive the many avenues of attack. The United States largely conceives of strategy as related to the employment of the military instrument. Thus, U.S. focus has been on kinetic means, which is necessary but not sufficient. U.S. attention should have been on strategy as the cause of victory. That is how the CCP understands strategy. As unrestricted warfare entails, that victory will be achieved by all means: economic, ideological, legal, and military. Indeed, the Chinese regime has employed a weapon of mass destruction in all but name—the opioid crisis should be considered a form of chemical weapons use employed against the U.S. population.

The United States has lacked a united response to the many ways the Chinese regime is attacking it. This remains true today, decades after the regime said what it was going to do. For decades, U.S. national security analysts were sanguine about China’s military capabilities, now they are concerned. The Chinese regime took advantage of the seam between U.S. strategic and economic interests. U.S. strategists were effectively asleep at the switch, while Wall Street embraced, celebrated, and accelerated China’s economic growth. Even if U.S. strategists are awake, it is not clear that they have the power to break Wall Street’s addiction to China.

Accordingly, the CCP has had a major advantage over the United States that is still in place. Americans must realize that the United States has been under attack by an enemy that has grown right under Uncle Sam’s nose. It is both unfortunate and regrettable that this growth was made possible—fundamentally—because the West allowed communist China into our economic ecosystem. In contrast to the kinetic, the other forms of unrestricted warfare remain useful, but they may be reaching diminishing returns. The military component is increasingly useful, demonstrated openly, and more likely to be employed against U.S. interests.

Upon reflection, in the decades since the end of the Soviet Union, all the United States has accomplished was to enrich China, make it more powerful, and realize the objective of unrestricted warfare. While the strategists were asleep, the economists made war more likely.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Bradley A. Thayer is a founding member of the Committee on the Present Danger: China and is the co-author of “How China Sees the World: Han-Centrism and the Balance of Power in International Politics.”