The latest “leaked” video from the PLA, and its subsequent deletion from the Mainland Chinese internet, has the western China watching community grasping for explanations. Leftist battle-cry ahead of a rightist Third Plenum? Harbinger of an assertive turn in China’s US policy? A glimpse of what the PLA really thinks? My humble addition to this motley list is: powerful statement of self-importance by the CCP-PLA propaganda apparatus?
The video itself is really quite a masterpiece in my view, produced by a master of political warfare, PLA National Defense University Political Commissar Liu Yazhou. It details how America is waging a smokeless war of “political genetic modification” against China, utilizing the permeation (渗透) and “peaceful evolution” strategy that brought down the Soviet Union.
This is far from a radical new attack on America; it elucidates a longstanding politically correct view of US-China relations. For evidence we need only look to the words of the last two Chairmen, Hu and Xi, who have both repeatedly raised the issue of “hostile western forces” trying to undermine CCP rule. The carefully rehearsed on-camera comments from the leaders of important CCP organs including the directors of the MFA and MSS think tanks and CASS, as well as General Liu Yazhou himself, are further testimony to the mainstream nature of the tale being told.
Silent Contest weaves together striking archival footage and quotes a wild array of personages — from US Presidents to Sarah Palin’s foreign policy adviser, from turn-of-the-century Iowan educators to Joseph Nye — in the skillful and dramatic style familiar to viewers of Adam Curtis documentaries. Background music alternates between Jaws-style terror (when US things are on-screen) and the shining hope of twinkly pianos (China/CCP).
The highlight for me was the “Ten Commandments (十条戒令)” that the film claims were “added to the China section of a CIA operations handbook during the Clinton Administration”. The list, discussed from 17.25 onwards in Part II, includes:
- Using material things to lure their young people, encourage them to despise their leaders and oppose what they have been taught;
- Do propaganda work well (做好宣传工作), including TV, movies, books and radio broadcasts to make them desire our things, our forms of entertainment etc., as this will be halfway to success;
- Direct young people’s attention towards sports, pornographic books, entertainment, games, crime films, and religious superstition;
- Create contradictions and division between ethnicities;
- Continuously create news to uglify 丑化 their leaders;
- Use all resources to destroy China’s traditional values, exterminate and destroy their self-respect and self-confidence, and attack their hardy spirit…
No one would deny that there are anti-China forces in the US, and understandably from the CCP’s perspective this includes pro-democracy and human rights groups. But this shockingly ruthless “policy” actually turns out be a hilarious fraud: a bit of googling and baiduing reveals it to be essentially the same spurious list circulated by US conservatives in 1946 to smear communists. (This would explain the deep concern with ”pornographic books 色情书籍”). I would like to think the PLA producers of the documentary are enjoying the delicious irony of using warmed-over McCarthyite hysteria against the US in 2013. More likely though, they just ripped it from the Chinese internet, where it has circulated freely in BBS forums for years (e.g. here).
The film’s most important point is to stress the importance of guarding against ideological infiltration as the reform and opening policies continue (and perhaps deepen after this month’s Third Plenum). It does not oppose reform and opening — in fact, on the contrary, it praises it lavishly. So it’s not an attack from the far left, or from a hardline faction, aimed at influencing upcoming major policy decisions.
The most heavily stressed line was this one:
This [USSR collapse] occurred after the end of the Cold War, not before. This is a detail that absolutely must not be overlooked or misread.
That is to say, the USSR collapsed because the Soviet Communist Party stopped fighting. At its core, then, this is a statement of the need for ongoing political warfare, particularly defensive indoctrination. Above all, it stands as a restatement of the importance of ideology — a message that the CCP-PLA propaganda authorities, of course, have a vested interest in maintaining, since it not only elevates their own importance, it is their reason for existence.
The appearance of the film online raises the question of the likely target audience. The dramatic visuals, music score, and narration style make it look and feel like it’s intended for a mass audience. In China, however, there are many mass audiences, so this could include:
- the PLA’s military masses
- the masses of CCP cadres
- the broad masses (online)
Given that it sat online for at least four days, I suspect the answer is all of the above. The film was made in June this year, and based on its numerous references to “Chinese Communist Party members”, cautionary tales such as the one about the city-level People’s Congress Standing Committee member who went on an trip to the US to observe the 2000 election and came back praising American democracy and media, and the arguments it makes about the importance of officials maintaining ideological vigilance, it may have been made to be circulated around to low and mid-level CCP officials. [UPDATE: a post on a certain email list which im not supposed to see suggests an alternative hypothesis that to me seems more likely, namely, that Silent Contest was made for the increasing numbers of the PLA officers engaging in military-to-military contacts with the US military.]
I don’t buy the notion that it’s a genuine “leak” — meaning someone released it without authorization. It was deleted on October 31, after it had sat online for at least 4 days (and probably longer). But the CCP propaganda authorities have shown they are capable of ordering the removal of content they don’t wish to be there in a matter of minutes. Discussion and searching online has not shown much sign of censorship even now, after the video was deleted from almost everywhere except, of course, YouTube. Then there’s the fact that in general, the CCP just doesn’t leak, presumably because it would be difficult to do without getting caught, given the PRC authorities’ easy access to internet company records information.
If the leak was indeed authorized, it would probably have been at some level of the PLA General Political Department, which appears to be responsible for its production, given the prominence of the NDU Political Commissar as Producer (总策划). Political Commissars belong to the General Political Department, responsible for the military’s propaganda, ideological and educational activities. Liu Yazhou has a long association with the PLA’s propaganda system, dating back to his literary pursuits, through to his various positions in the PLA Air Force.
Silent Contest makes deafeningly clear that powerful weaponry was no defense for the Soviet Union. There thus appears to be an implicit assertion of the importance of politics over kinetic weaponry that is consistent with the traditional tug-of-war struggles between political commissars and professional commanders in the PLA (on this, see Whitson The Chinese High Command).
Some have wondered whether Liu Yazhou has changed his tune with this production, and his recent statements against constitutionalism and in favour of keeping the Party in control of the gun. From the limited reading of his past statements that i’ve done, i don’t think he was ever pro-US; he merely has a great respect and understanding of the political might of a country whose ideals can tolerate flag-burning at home and inspire flag-burning abroad.
It’s not clear whether the documentary’s release online may have had an external motivation too; the response it inevitably provoked in the international China-watching community, and presumably among foreign governments too, suggests this is at least worth bearing in mind. If it was aimed at sowing confusion and doubt among foreign observers and governments, it does seem to have achieved that.
In case i dont make it clear enough, a lot of what I write is speculative, my aim is to try understand these things as best I can, and I would really appreciate any alternative explanations, identification of shortcomings, points of disagreement, criticisms, biases identified, etc etc.
I am sure some of the interpretations I come up will turn out to be mistaken and/or incomplete, and although I hope some turn out to be right, it’s far from the end of the world if i’ve got it all wrong. It will be still have been worth the effort just to eliminate all those mistaken lines of thinking.
One idea i’ve been getting closer to ruling out is that Dai Xu and Luo Yuan aren’t serious PLA strategic thinkers. I think they are both propagandists and strategists. One sign is their publication in genuine journals like World Economics and Politics 《世界经济与政治》 (published by CASS), Contemporary International Relations 《现代国际关系》 (published by the MSS-affiliated CICIR), Contemporary World 《当代世界》 (CCP International Department), World Outlook 《国际展望》 (Shanghai Institute of International Relations), and Teaching and Research 《教育于研究》 (Renmin University).
While they are nominated as propaganda experts, they could still spend the bulk of their time in the world of thought rather than propaganda. Even Dai Xu, whose gigantic mass media output suggests he could probably spare little time for academic work, stated in 2009 that he does both internal and external work — that is, both thought 思想 and propaganda 宣传.
The difference between the two, as he said in his lecture to the PLAAF Political Academy in Shanghai, is that “in thought, anything goes, but propaganda has discipline”. This was, he said, the most important lesson he learned at the academy, his alma mater. There may be a large degree of crossover between Dai Xu Thought, and Dai Xu Propaganda — they may in fact be the same, except that the latter is presented and attenuated according to propaganda imperatives.
What follows, then, is something long overdue given the amount of attention i have focused on the propaganda side of Dai Xu and Luo Yuan’s work: a partial translation of an essay that i think may come close to representing what Dai Xu really thinks, as a strategist, on the South China Sea issue. It might not be pure thought…if there was such a thing, probably the only place it could reliably be identified would be in internal-circulation articles. But People’s Tribune Frontiers 《人民论坛.学术前沿》 appears a reputable (though recently-founded) CCP journal produced by the People’s Daily group, without any attempt at mass appeal, suggesting the audience would be mainly Party members and scholars, and perhaps soldiers and policymakers too. In other words, it could conceivably be part of the “internal work” that Dai says he does — Dai Xu Thought.
The article is titled ‘ ”Attacking the Enemy before It is Fully Prepared”: A Petition for Changing South China Sea Strategy (“兵半渡可击”:南海战略万言书)’, and is freely available via a Hainan-based website called ‘Maritime Domain Online’ (海疆在线) that i suspect is run by the Hainan Maritime Security and Cooperation Institute that Dai Xu directs.
As the title suggests, Dai makes specific policy suggestions, based on a contention that China has a rapidly-closing “window of opportunity” to “resolve” the South China Sea issue, and should therefore act sooner rather than later. Notably, however, one of these suggestions is to call for the total demilitarization of the South China Sea’s disputed areas. He advocates “intensifying economic exploitation” but also “welcoming cooperation”. He argues China should rally round the nine-dash line and avoid any involvement of UNCLOS, but he also seems to advocate negotiations. Dai’s calls for military preparations and willingness to use force to back up the assertive actions he suggests, but his emphasis is on deterrence and willpower.
Big thanks to Xu Shaomin for suggesting the article.
Here is the abstract, followed by a translation of the section in which Dai makes his policy suggestions with some thoughts on those policies appended, and finally a brief consideration of some implications for the explanations i’ve recently offered for the public activities of PLA “hawks” like Dai.
By Dai Xu
People’s Tribune [Academic] Frontiers 《人民论坛－－学术前沿》
ABSTRACT: An indisputable fact is that China is facing unprecedented challenges presented by the South China Sea issue. The said issue has been internationalized, and will soon become a focus of international politics. The South China Sea is of great significance for China’s development and security. With the development of this issue, Vietnam will rise to be China’s major concern. To successfully resolve this issue, China needs to devise a “protracted war” strategy; use the current crisis as an opportunity for a shift in military strategy; set up an interdepartmental coordination committee; and materially change its current South China Sea policy.
Specific suggestions to resolve the South China Sea issue
|(1.) Institute determination to resolve the issue, and commence joint preparations in all areas. At present America is not ready and has not properly armed those small countries, and external powers like Japan have not substantively entered the dispute. China must seize and occupy the strategic heights of the future, and cannot let it become the Yellow Sea again.||
The idea of (1) gets to the heart of the paper’s debatable but nonetheless logically defensible premise: namely, that China has a 5-10 year “window of opportunity” while the US is bogged down in the Middle East.
I don’t really understand this Yellow Sea reference.
|(2.) Unite thinking, resolutely stick to the nine-dash line. The nine-dash line is the legal basis for China’s ownership of the Spratlys, and we absolutely cannot renounce it. We cannot make UNCLOS the main note of negotiations.||
The strong defence in of the nine-dashed line as “legal basis” of China’s claim in (2), and associated rejection of UNCLOS, is somewhat surprising, considering that elsewhere Dai is quite keen on transparency and clarity of intentions. Why not clarify the claim? China could continue to claim all the land features within the nine-dash line, and actually be in accordance with UNCLOS. China’s real reason for not clarifying may be that it would entail enforcement under Chinese law, which the CCP may not be keen to commit to at this point. If so, could this particular argument of Dai’s be aimed at maintaining morale, while avoiding that sort of dangerous bind?
|(3.) On the level of unified thinking, eliminate fear of America. Surveying US-Russian relations one can see that America respects strength. Russia halted the US [Cold War] strategic attack in Southeast Asia, and stopped the expansion of NATO beyond Ukraine and Georgia. We cannot say that [Deng/Jiang's doctrine of] “lying low 韬光养晦” is incorrect, but China is unaware of how to “loot a burning house 趁火打劫”. China must have an awareness of global strategic games. China should participate in South American affairs, the scramble for Arctic resources, Middle East affairs, African affairs, and force the US to encircle us all around the world, “saving Zhao by besieging Wei 围魏救赵”, thus reducing the pressure on our doorstep. Increase cooperation with Russia, cooperate on the Kurils issue to draw Japan northward, and weaken US military allies.||
The idea of causing headaches for the US around the world to relieve the pressure on China’s periphery, as set out in (3), employs a coherent (if somewhat unhealthy when viewed from outside) strategic logic.
I’m not going to pretend to know what’s best for China, but the multi-departmental group mentioned in (4) also seems to make sense.
|(4.) Establish a multi-departmental South China Sea coordination small group. The group would be jointly composed from the military, academia, State Oceanic Administration, Hainan Provincial Government, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It should change the situation of the MFA being under stress from dealing with the complicated South China Sea situation alone. It should coordinate all the departments relevant to the South China Sea.||
(4) contains a clear argument for reducing the MFA’s power in South China Sea policymaking, via an indirect but unmistakable criticism of both the prominence of the Foreign Ministry’s role, and the job it is doing. Dai’s apparent perception of the MFA as dominating South China Sea policy is in stark contrast to various foreign analysts who have written of the weakness of the MFA, fragmentation in China’s foreign policymaking, especially on maritime disputes.
|(5.) Major adjustment must be made to South China Sea policy, prioritizing [economic] exploitation . Since diplomacy being unable to resolve the issue, and our country is unwilling to go to war lightly, all that remains is to greatly intensify economic exploitation. Our country’s South China Sea policy should be adjusted to: sovereignty is ours, intensifying exploitation, welcoming cooperation, not fearing controversy, striking against provocation. Exploitation is central. In order to reduce the concerns of the international community, China’s exploitation should proceed with the primary objective of serving the world. For example, constructing an international shipping depot, and an international tourism and sightseeing spot. To this end, a South China Sea Special Zone should be established, as a maritime screen that also performs the functions of economic national defense 经济国防.||
Dai’s Hainan connections keep stacking up. It seems likely that he is to some extent speaking on behalf of the Hainan Provincial Government, especially with the strong advocacy of economic development projects in (5).
How novel is “economic national defense 经济国防“, meaning economic activities for national defense purposes, in the Chinese context and more broadly?
|(6.) Call on all countries’ militaries to withdraw from the South China Sea. Because Vietnam and the Philippines’ garrisoning of troops has affected regional shipping security, China should call for all countries to pull out their militaries simultaneously. This way, China can claim the moral high ground.||
Dai in (5) describes China being “unwilling” to go to war lightly as a “situation” that has left massive resource exploitation as the only option — which sounds like a (grudging?) admission that direct military action is off the policy table. Then in (6) he actually advocates the pullout of all military forces from the area, apparently including China’s.
|(7.) Prepare properly for war [with Vietnam]. China should, at the appropriate time, adjust its strategic focus, and conduct far-sighted and realistic research on the South China Sea. Make every kind of war preparation in the South China Sea area, especially for war-fighting 作战 against Vietnam. As soon as conflict commences, Vietnam’s facilities must be totally destroyed, and its ports blockaded.||
Dai is very harsh and provocative regarding Vietnam, for example in (7). What is Dai’s problem with Vietnam? Or could it be Hainan’s problem with Vietnam?
Enacting strategic containment of Vietnam is beneficial to the long-term stability of the South China Sea region, and also to improving our country’s overall security situation.
Implications for ‘Propaganda, Not Policy’
While some of these arguments may be attenuated from Dai’s mass media statements, he really does appear to be attempting to pushing for policy change in the South China Sea, which at a glance spells trouble for the ‘Propaganda, Not Policy’ explanation i’ve been proposing. Yet, contrary to what some angry military enthusiasts assume, the Propaganda Not Policy argument does not necessarily imply Dai Xu doesn’t mean what he says. He may mean most or all of what he says publicly, but he only says it if and when it accords with the priorities of his superiors in the military propaganda system.
Alternatively, considering the likely target audience of the People’s Tribune Frontiers, an article such as this could be aimed at the masses of cadres, officers and possibly soldiers. David Cohen discussed in the most recent China Brief how the constitutionalism debate could be intended to rally cadres to be vigilant and toe the line. It’s plausible that this has a similar intent.
What’s different about this is that it has been published in a forum for genuine scholarly debate over policy, rather than a mass medium. Perhaps all that is certain about this possible piece of Dai Xu Thought, is that he was attempting to influence the Party and academic policy debate within China. Whether the ultimate aim of that was to institute the specific policy actions, or to shift the mindset of the readers — such as by raising the vigilance of cadres and perhaps soldiers – is unclear to me. What do you think, Dear Reader? What are the other possibilities that i’m overlooking?
 Other notable titles that Luo and/or Dai have been published in include Party & Government Forum 《党政干部文摘》 (Shanghai and Central Party School versions), World Affairs 《世界知识》 (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Contemporary Military Digest 《当代军事文摘》 (PLA Publishing House), Aerospace Knowledge 《航空知识》 (China Aviation Society). Found using CNKI database.
 I’m going to leave out the “external” from the “external propaganda expert” title, as it risks confusing the issue. Military external propaganda, as noted here, is not just about foreigners, and in fact may be overwhelmingly domestically directed, even as it serves international goals of public opinion warfare.
 Unless he has a team of ghost writers…?! His book publishing, however, has indeed slowed down in recent years.
 Can anyone enlighten me as to the People’s Tribune (Frontiers) target readership and/or purposes?
 Sovereignty over merely the largest two or three of the Spratlys — those with fresh water and therefore at least arguably inhabitable — would generate exclusive economic rights covering most of the area within the nine-dash line.
 开发, aka “development”.
I’d also like to add my thanks to Xuan Cheng, John Garnaut, James Barker, Mark Stokes and Taylor Fravel for discussions and tips on this topic. They don’t necessarily agree with the content of the article.
Publication: China Brief Volume: 13 Issue: 16
August 9, 2013
By: Andrew Chubb
If outspoken Chinese military officers are, as Part One suggested, neither irrelevant loudmouths, nor factional warriors, nor yet the voice of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on foreign policy, and are instead experts in the PLA-CCP propaganda system, then what might explain the bad publicity they often generate for China? This article explores how the activities of China’s military hawks may contribute to the regime’s domestic and international goals. On a general level, the very appearance of a hawkish faction—the “opera” that Luo Yuan has described—serves the domestic purposes of promoting national unity (Global Times, May 4). By amplifying threat awareness and countering perceived Western plots to permeate the psyche of the Chinese populace and army, the “hawks” direct public dissatisfaction with the policy status quo away from the system as a whole.
In specific crises, such as the standoff at Scarborough Shoal last year or in the wake of the Diaoyu Islands purchase, hard-line remarks from uniformed commentators serve to rally domestic public opinion behind the prospect of military action, instil confidence in the PLA’s willingness to fight over the issue and deter China’s adversary. By amplifying the possibility of otherwise irrational Chinese military action and inevitable escalation should Beijing’s actions be interfered with, they have contributed to a thus-far successful effort to convince the Philippines and Japan to accept the new status quo around Scarborough Shoal and the Diaoyu Islands.
In my first foray into mainland China’s propaganda system since winning a “second-class prize” in a television language competition heavily rigged in my favour, the previous post (written for the Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief) was picked up by mainland online media on Tuesday, and run under the headlines, ‘America claims PLA hawkish faction mostly propaganda‘ (Global Times Online & People’s Daily Online), ‘U.S. media: China’s hawks and doves a carefully orchestrated show‘ (NetEase), and ‘U.S. media examine PLA hawkish faction: Luo, Dai etc. may have high-level support‘ (Sina).
I apologize in advance for the infelicitousness of this post, but i am a student and this is a blog, so can’t take these things too seriously
My personal favourite was:
Since i now speak for “America” (or is it that i am America?), it is high time i actually went there.
Here is an actual weblog post — a log of what one reads on the internet — rather than the usual rambling speculative essay.
Luo Yuan’s think tank, the “China Strategy Culture Promotion Association” (中国战略文化促进会), yesterday released separate reports on the “military power of the US and Japan”.
Curiously, given it’s supposedly an non-governmental think tank (民间智库), the Global Times quoted China Foreign Affairs University’s Su Hao calling the reports “strong and timely responses to the inaccurate remarks in the US annual report on China’s military and the Japanese Ministry of Defense’s recent white paper” (emphasis added).
The report has been given lots of coverage in the Chinese-language media. Chinese radio bulletins yesterday were reporting on the report before it was even released.
The radio also mentioned that this year’s reports will be issued in English. I hope this is true, because it looks to be packed with highlights:
The reports pointed out that neither the US nor Japan had enough transparency regarding their military budgets.
The report concluded that Japan has strengthened its defense in its southwest islands and was preparing to take over the Diaoyu Islands by force in the future and intervening in any potential conflict in the Taiwan Straits.
Luo Yuan himself was quoted:
“We need to prepare for the worst [situation],” Luo said, adding that China should be well equipped.
This is the second year the think tank has released these reports. Copies of last year’s report carried the term “public version 民间版” on the cover, as pictured at the top, which seems to suggest there also exists some kind of restricted-circulation government version. If so, the China Strategy Culture Promotion Association looks like a good analogue of Luo Yuan’s own roles, at the intersection of military intelligence gathering, public diplomacy, propaganda work, and Taiwan affairs.
Note the watermark on the above pictures, which are taken from the think tank’s own website here. Chinataiwan.org is a website of the PRC State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, which Luo Yuan’s father Luo Qingchang directed in the 1970s and early 1980s.
* * *
I stumbled across a couple of rather astonishing little Dai Xu tidbits a couple of weeks back.
1.) According to China Intellectual Property News, Dai Xu sued a Hong Kong magazine Wide Angle Lens《广角镜》 and others including a Beijing airport newsagent, for lifting 52% of the 2011 Long Tao article calling for a South China Sea war. He demanded withdrawal of the magazine from circulation, apologies, compensation of ¥200,000. Judgement was handed down in January this year. He was awarded……wait for it…….¥240.
Among other things, i guess this shows Colonel Dai is not that well-connected.
2.) A sharp-witted blogger has outed Dai Xu for writing a preface, under his penname “Long Tao”, to his own chapters, in a book edited by him. Of one Dai Xu chapter, “Long Tao” asserts that ”this piece can be called the modern-day Strategies of the Warring States 《战国策》” and that ”Dai Xu has continued his consistent style of speaking the truth . . . on national strategy, Dai Xu’s viewpoint is deafeningly clear, and manifestly superior”. In the other self-preface, Long Tao says the following article “will receive the support of the majority of Chinese people and Chinese military personnel . . . an incomparably correct position . . . nobody has ever explained important theoretical problems so clearly, correctly, reasonably and vividly”.
Here we see essentially the same self-wumao tactic as Luo Yuan got caught employing on weibo a few months back. A post appeared on Luo’s weibo account, praising Luo Yuan’s superb analysis of the North Korean problem, and declaring him “the most popular military commentator on television”.
The Major General claimed he claimed his account had been hacked, but Kai-fu Lee certainly wasn’t buying it. He did, however, offer Luo some expert advice: “Although you can use different browsers to operate multiple weibo accounts, the premise is that each browser must be logged into a different account!”