US Provides Allies With ‘Moral High Ground’ in Propaganda War With China

June 15, 2015 Updated: June 16, 2015

In its latest response to the Chinese regime’s growing aggression, the United States seems to have learned that the pen is mightier than the sword.

The People’s Liberation Army has been building new territory in the South China Sea, close to 1,300 miles from its mainland, complete with airstrips and artillery.

China’s neighbors—including the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam—have been calling on the United States to push back, but previous efforts have made little difference.

Then, on May 20, the Pentagon tried something new. It flew a P-8A Poseidon surveillance plane over three South China Sea reefs, where the PLA is building new islands, and brought a CNN reporter along for the ride.

A congressional review of the new practice of “naming and shaming” shows U.S. leaders are pleased with the results.

By publishing the information, states a congressional review, “Washington offers Southeast Asian countries a unique opportunity to collectively and publicly seize the moral high ground and coalesce around a unifying position.”

The exercise ended with Chinese air controllers making indignant comments on record, which ended with one yelling “You go!” over the radio. It also worked as an on-record admission that the PLA is attempting to enforce a defensive perimeter around the man-made islands.

Rather than just criticize the Chinese regime’s actions—a practice that in the past has resulted in denials and counteraccusations of the U.S. being “anti-China”—the new approach exposed the nature of the activities, allowing the Chinese military to demonstrate its own belligerence.

The approach aligns with a recent proposal from U.S. Special Operations Command. In a report from Sept. 26, 2014, it warned that countries including China, Russia, and Iran are using political warfare “to further their individual goals.”

Political warfare is a blend of propaganda and subversion meant to mislead the public while undermining a target country.

The use of political warfare by U.S. adversaries presents a unique challenge to the United States, the report states, given that the U.S. stopped waging political warfare at the end of the Cold War.

Political warfare is a blend of propaganda and subversion meant to mislead the public while undermining a target country.

The report called on U.S. leaders to begin fighting back against political warfare, however, stating the United States should form a strategy to “to influence local struggles in a positive direction,” which would include using economic sanctions, supporting friendly governments, and using “strategic communications and information operations to expose adversary activities.”

The Pentagon used that last part in its recent response to China. It used an open information channel, in this case CNN, to expose the PLA’s activities.

Going by the congressional review, it’s likely the United States will use similar operations in the future. The report, published by the U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission, is realistic in its evaluation.

“It remains to be seen whether the Obama administration’s recent ‘naming and shaming’ efforts will prompt a lasting or practical shift in China’s current endeavors in the South China Sea,” it stated.

Yet, it adds that the United States is in a unique position that requires it to act. It said, “The United States is the only country in the region with the technological and military means to continuously observe and document the extent of China’s land reclamation in near-real time.”

And by sharing that information, the report states, “The U.S. government provides Southeast Asian policymakers and defense analysts with information they cannot acquire on their own.”

Through the CCP’s actions, the U.S. provides countries in Southeast Asia with information that undermines the Party’s own propaganda, merely by exposing it.

Follow Joshua on Twitter: @JoshJPhilipp