Yin Zhuo Thought?

Yin Zhuo CPPCC 2013

CPPCC member Yin Zhuo at the 2013 ‘Two Meetings’ in Beijing, where he hosed down talk of war with Japan

PLA Marines on CMS boats patrolling Diaoyu hatching island-landing plans…’C-shaped Encirclement’ nothing but nonsense and online hype…China planned to attack Taiwan in 2006…America isn’t trying to contain China. What hostile imperialist could be dreaming up such baseless slander, inverting black and white, misleading the masses?

The answer is PLA Navy Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo 尹卓, at least according to someone who claims to have taken notes at his closed lecture  in Chongqing on July 20. In addition to those admittedly rather more eye-catching claims, the translation appended below has raised once again (if only in my mind) the question of what the PLA’s appointed propaganda experts might really think about war, peace and strategy.

Admiral Yin is one of the most prominent PLA experts in the Chinese media, whose notable comments have included declaring the need for overseas PLA bases, sanctioning “violence” against the Philippines, arguing a Diaoyu war would be fought (and presumably won) in a “very short” space of time, and speculating about the prospect of Japanese warning shots over Diaoyu leading to military conflict.

At other times, however, such as during this year’s CPPCC, he has refused to speculate on future potential conflicts. He publicly refuted the idea of Japan and China inevitably fighting a war, echoing the argument General Liu Yuan was propounding at the time by stating that “only America would benefit” from such an occurrence. He has even been labeled “traitorous” after expressing disapproval of the idea of a more assertive stance in the South China Sea.

He is a princeling, the son of revolutionary hero Major-General Yin Mingliang, who held numerous positions in the PLA General Political Department’s political commissar system after 1949. Interestingly, he studied in France and returned in 1968 at the height of the Cultural Revolution to join the PLA. Aside from his membership of the CPPCC, he is the Director of the PLA Navy’s Informatized Warfare Experts Committee, and a member of the whole-army version of the same body. A recent provincial party magazine article stated that Admiral Yin has “participated in evaluation work for important national military strategy decision-making”.

All up, he is a relatively credible PLA policy voice compared to, say, Dai Xu.

He started appearing on CCTV in 1999, and in 2004 the PLA gave him the task of hosting a new CCTV military affairs program Military Picture Matching  军情连连看. Then, with the approval of the CCP Central Propaganda Department and GPD Propaganda Dept, Yin Zhuo obtained the titles of “CCTV special commentator” and “executive external propaganda expert” — the latter issued by then-GPD Director Gen Li Jinai.

So here, it seems, is a genuine PLA military thinker, a princeling thoroughly plugged into the policy-making system — who also just happens to be one of its most experienced and trusted propaganda operators.

Based on the following summary of his lecture, presented in the form of 30 points, it was quite a tour-de-force, with a broad scope, insight, inside knowledge and nuance (though my rough, cursory translation may obscure that).

Yin Zhuo civilian

On July 20, under invitation from China Mobile, Yin Zhuo came to Chongqing for a lecture titled ‘China’s security circumstances and the Diaoyu Islands issue’. The weather was favourable for Yin Zhuo’s two-day visit, as the temperature happened to drop from around 38C to 30C, and the air quality improved somewhat. In addition, the venue was at the foot of Jinyun Mountain, in nice surrounds with plenty of foliage, giving Yin Zhuo a good impression.

I was fortunate enough to be there. Because no recordings or video were allowed, I used a pen and paper to record the following main points, which I present as follows:

1. . . . America’s top priority in its quest to stay world hegemon is to disintegrate Sino-Russian relations.

2. America is extremely strong and China will be in a position of weakness until at least 2030. To escape the US’s pressure China must avoid its strengths and attack its weaknesses. . . .

3. America faces 3 problems, which are its weaknesses: declining politico-economic status, reduced ability to control the world geopolitically, and weakening alliances esp. in Asia-Pacific.

4. China was planning to attack Taiwan in 2006.

5. America and China have competition and confrontation, but confrontation is the main part . . . 

6. China’s national strategy is to dig deeply to undermine the US, store up grain, and slowly seek to be king [modifying Mao Zedong’s 1970s dictum, “Dig deep holes, store up grain, do not seek hegemony 深挖洞,广积粮,不称霸].

7. . . . Some within the state and within the military think China can fight a war for the Diaoyu Islands and South China Sea to break out of America’s blockade, but [Yin Zhuo thinks] China should never underestimate America’s desire to attack us. . . . China can’t rely on America not wanting to get involved, we can’t even rule out the US using nukes.

8. Productive forces are still the element driving historical development. . . .

9. The wars of the 20th century and the Cold War caused a great deal of military technology to be converted to civilian use, spurring the information industries. . . .

10. Combined together, points 8 & 9 mean have led to America’s realignment towards the Asia-Pacific. As a capitalist country its national strategy must serve domestic economic development. Therefore, America’s strategic realignment is an inevitable trend, and one borne of the need to lead the Asia-Pacific, and is not directly aimed at China.

11. The PLA’s construction programme is geared towards winning a high-intensity conventional war under informatized conditions. This is an excellent approach but has its limitations.

12. In the Asia-Pacific region America lacks staunch allies, its military actions rely on NATO or itself.

13. The Snowden affair shows that freedom, democracy and human rights count for shit with the American people when faced with actual threats.

14. There are many East Turkestan [Xinjiang] terrorists fighting with Al-Qaeda, with around 1400 having received training. This is a threat to China domestically.

15. America is being opposed on a global scale by Islamic organizations. This will continue because the US is controlled by Israel [at least, on the Palestinian issue], so that problem can never be solved.

16. The US deliberately left Diaoyu to Japan in order to maintain Sino-Japanese enmity, “like Kashmir”.

17.  The Japanese are increasingly right wing . . . they blame China for their prolonged recession.

18. Japan’s political system is gridlocked . . . under those circumstances we cannot rule out extremists taking control.

19. Economics is the best area for China to oppose the US. Make free trade agreements with neighbouring countries . . .

20. [Yin Zhuo is] unhappy with the feeble behaviour of the Department of Selling Out the Country [ie. the Ministry of Foreign Affairs]

21. Prepare to deal with Japan two-handed, we will not actively provoke armed confrontation but if Japan does then we will take a hardline stance and make them feel more pain than us in order to avoid an even greater conflict.

22. This year there have been marines on board CMS Haijian [now China Coast Guard] boats on patrols to Diaoyu, making contingency plans for landing on the islands. Also, there are a great many officers and men 官兵 applying to transfer 专业 to join them [I’m not sure if he means the Coast Guard or Marines?].

23. The [indigenous] large transport [plane] is progressing smoothly, design may be complete by 2015.

24. The C-Shaped Encirclement of China that gets hyped up online is nonsense. During the Cold War the US network of alliances, that was a real C-shaped encirclement. Nowadays the circle simply does not exist.

25. The ‘String of Pearls’ plan in the Indian Ocean is also nonsense. . . . China’s ports in the Indian Ocean are for civilian use.

26. Gwadar is an excellent port, but not suitable for building a military base due to the militant extremists in the area. We would be sending our troops there to serve as hostages.

27. China’s Indian Ocean strategy is focused on East Africa. It’s basically a blank slate out there.

28. The success of the Western development strategy depends on it being self-supporting, the Eastern provinces cannot support it long-term. The keys to making this happen are the sea links out of Yunnan and Tibet, and linking Xinjiang with Central Asia . . .

29. Our military modernization is progressing smoothly.

30. In the drawing of maritime boundaries with neighbouring countries [Vietnam and South Korea?] we have lost out badly.

I am inclined to think the above summary of his lecture is quite accurate. The lecture really happened, apparently in front of a businesslike audience of China Mobile VIP customers 全球通VIP客户, and the summary was posted online on July 21, the following day.[1]

Surprisingly perhaps, given the flagrant attack on Colonel Dai Xu’s flagship C-Shaped Encirclement thesis (Point 24), Dai Xu’s portal Hainan-sponsored website HaijiangZX.com posted the summary on July 26 under the headline, ‘Rare statement from Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo: Do not underestimate America’s determination to use force against China.

That could be explained as a result of HaijiangZX.com’s greediness for content (maybe Colonel Dai’s employees don’t bother to read the content of the articles they post). Or could it have been that Yin Zhuo knows C-Shaped Encirclement to be mere propaganda, irrelevant to policy? The fact that Yin described C-Shaped Encirclement as mere internet hype suggests he doesn’t consider it a serious analysis. On the other hand, it might have been a veiled putdown of a militant policy rival.

Interesting too that in Yin Zhuo’s speech the US is the main threat to China, but not because it has evil intentions, rather, because their interests are opposed. Does this imply Yin Zhuo is taking a kind of Yan Xuetong-style realist position, to respectfully disagree with the likely consensus behind General Qi Jianguo’s Study Times article in January, which argued that “points of common interest” between China and the US were likely to increase over the long term?

Some points in the speech seem to contradict what Yin Zhuo has said in the Chinese media. For example, in 2012 he wrote off nuclear weapons development as useless to China, yet here he talks about how the US might use them on China — thus rendering them crucial. He has also previously claimed that the US military is vulnerable to the PLA, stating for example that a US aircraft carriers can “definitely be sunk”. But in this lecture he emphasizes China’s weakness in comparison.[2]

What do you think — is this the capital-T Thought of a PLA princeling strategist, or is it more likely to be expertly delivered propaganda designed to look like “leak“, in order to influence what Chinese and foreign audiences believe about how the PLA sees the world? Or is it something else entirely?


[1] e.g. here and here; the first may have been this World of Warcraft forum here, from which it has been deleted.

[2] This might also reflect a CCP propagandist’s paradox: often, the more you characterize the US as a threat, the less military conflict looks like a good idea, but the less your people think military conflict is a good idea, the more susceptible they could be to the enemy’s psychological disintegration campaigns in the event that conflict occurs.

Yin Zhuo interviewed

Yin Zhuo interviewed

Kim Jong-il death: Phoenix exposes intense Chinese censorship…accidentally?

The Chinese media is currently flooded with reports emphasising the grief of the North Korean people at the death of their “dear leader”.

Comments are turned off on all the big five news websites except Phoenix and Sina, where the Chinese online news-reading community are purportedly also grief-stricken for the loss of North Korea’s great anti-American friend.

However, an apparent technical oversight on Phoenix seems to be revealing the staggering rate at which censors are deleting comments that don’t fit with whatever instructions Beijing has issued regarding how discussion should be “guided”.

On the Phoenix discussion of attached to its special coverage page “The death of Kim Jong-il”, the number of participants is listed at an incredible 15,652,462, and that figure is going up by around 150 every minute at the time of writing. It’s now up to 15,656,193. Yet this enormously popular discussion involving more than 15 million participants has somehow only produced 728 comments.

Normally on Phoenix News and other websites’ discussions the ratio of participants to posts ranges from about 20:1 to 80:1 (see previous posts on this site). On the death of Kim Jong-il story the number of “participants” is more than 20,000:1. This suggests that the censors are deleting almost every post that is submitted on the topic, but have forgotten to also fiddle the website’s automatic counting system that registers an extra “participant” every time someone submits or recommends a comment. I guess they’ve got a lot on their plate at this time, which probably also explains why the Sohu, NetEase and Tencent portals have simply switched their comments systems off.

On Sina’s topic discussion page “The death of Kim Jong-il”, pro-Kim comments are flowing in at a rate of about 1 per minute. Anti-Kim stories are nonexistent. I’m imagining perhaps a full-vetting process is in place at Sina whereby every comment is by default not published unless specifically approved. One would think the wumao (commenters paid by government agencies), to whatever extent that they exist, would be out in force given the attention that the central authorities in Beijing are giving to the story.

All this grieving and well-wishing is probably not just the work of wumao, though unsurprisingly many Chinese readers are drawing that conclusion. The Chairman Mao gravatar attached to one top comment on the Phoenix story “CCP center sends condolences over death of Kim Jong-il” reminds us that plenty of genuine communists do exist in China – it’s just that they’re not very well represented at the top of the Chinese Communist Party.

In fact on the same discussion the second-top comment in this discussion of 394 comments and 23,057 participants says:

The comments are so fake, even if i didn’t say so everyone would know. [2420 recommends]

This comment has actually moved up from third position to second since i’ve been writing this post, overtaking what’s now the third-most popular comment:

The Chinese people stand forever with the North Korean people. [2131 recommends]

The fourth-most popular is also remarkable for its mere presence:

If you’re not wishing Kim Jong-Il well the editors delete your post, what sort of principle is that? [1699]

The most likely explanation would be that Phoenix’s censors have decided to leave the two critical comments there in an attempt to disprove the very allegations that they are making, and possibly also give an air of diversity to a very austere discussion without violating the apparent instruction from Beijing that Kim Jong-il is not to be criticized on mainstream news discussions.

But couldn’t one also speculate that the Phoenix editors may, just maybe, have taken the liberty of allowing this couple of comments through to tell readers we’re on your side really? Could the continued existence of the very obvious but as yet un-revised figure of 15,656,193, wait, 15,660,394, be another subtle sign that the censors aren’t entirely supportive of the job they have to do?

“Why would anyone with a full belly sail to Korea?”: The coastguard stabbing incident

A South Korean coastguard officer died on Monday after the crew of a Chinese trawler tried to resist detention for illegal fishing activities in the Yellow Sea, 87km from Korea.

At least two Korean coastguard personnel were stabbed with pieces of glass after they tried to board the Chinese boat.

The incident has been the #1 headline on the popular Sina and NetEase news portals since at least yesterday evening, with both offering special saturation-coverage pages (here and here).

Here are a selection of headlines from the front pages:

Sina: Foreign Ministry: We hope S.Korea will uphold the legal rights of the Chinese fishermen//Our country’s fishermen deny stabbing Korean coastguard//China currently investigating situation

NetEase: Korea sternly demands China control “illegal fishing”//Korean coastguard death incident, 9 Chinese sailors detained//Captain suspected of stabbing coastguard officer, denies charge//China demands Korea guarantee rights of Chinese fishermen//Korea: coastguards can consider opening fire if fishermen resist

This level of attention from commercialized internet news portals can be explained by the dramatic news value of this kind of an international incident. Intriguingly, however, its continued prominence on the front pages into a second day is in sharp contrast to China’s newspapers. Scanning the front pages of 100+ newspapers on Abbao.cn, i found only two with any sign of this story – the Wuxi-based Jiangnan Evening News, which led with the headline “Fishing tragedy” . . . and yep, the other one was the Global Times, who ran with “Korean media in frenzy: ‘Chinese fisherman kills coastguard officer’ “.

I chose the word “frenzy” there because that’s the word the Western media generally use, but the actual Chinese term the GT used is baochao 爆炒, which means “explosively stir-fry”, implying an explosion of sensationalism. Those guys really have absolutely no sense of irony.

On a more serious note though, is this contrast between print media and online news portals’ levels of coverage simply a case of 99% of China’s newspapers taking no interest in this story, or might it be an indication of the influence of different interest groups within the state authorities? Here is a quick rehash of the basics of China’s internet control system, according to the China Digital Times, which publishes leaked propaganda directives:

In China, several political bodies are in charge of Internet content control. At the highest level, there is the , which ensures that media and cultural content follows the official line as mandated by the CCP. Then there is the State Council Information Office (), which has established an “Internet Affairs Bureau” to oversee all Websites that publish news, including the official sites of news organizations as well as independent sites that post news content.

This “Internet Affairs Bureau,” sends out very specific instructions to all large news websites daily, and often multiple times per day. Those instructions do not always mean that related contents are completely banned online, but they instruct websites to highlight or suppress certain type of opinions or information in a very detailed manner.

Could these online news media portals be able to circumvent instructions from the Central Propaganda Department that print media must abide by? Or is the State Council’s Information Office (SCIO) encouraging the heavy coverage of the South Korean Coastguard stabbing via some instruction to “each website” (ge wangzhan 各网站) to place it in the “most eye-catching” (zui xingmu 最醒目) position on the home page? If there were different instructions from these different censorship agencies, why would that be?

Grasping at straws, the story could perhaps be seen to be discouraging Chinese citizens from getting active in foreign policy matters. Could it be part of a relatively doveish State Council plan to fighting back against foreign policy hawks in the security and control apparatus who would promote nationalist citizen-activism? It’s a stretch.

Let’s see what the moral or political lessons of this story might be among China’s online forum commenters. There have been 118,000+ participants in the discussion on NetEase’s early breaking report (from the GT online, in turn based on a South Korean Yonhap news agency’s report), which NetEase has run under the frank headline, “Chinese fisherman stabs Korean coastguard officer to death”:

The [Chinese] state doesn’t help, you can only rely on yourself. [25,625 recommends]

Soon it will be New Year. Whoever ‘recommends’ me will get rich and see their whole family healthy next year!!! [19,468 recommends]

Take care, brother. The great leaders cannot help you, rely on yourself. [13,856]

South Koreans are dedicated and hardworking, they search you really thoroughly at the airport, and their people’s quality is quite high. Lastly, in sum, the life of a person from any country is a life, to harm human life is a crime. [9,745]

This time let’s see how the foreign affairs ministry deals with it. [5,832]

Good form.    Korean bumpkins,      know the power of resentment. [3,847]

Good stabbing! I support! [3,553]

Many of the above users, and their thousands of “recommenders”, seem to be of the opinion that this is a case of Chinese government neglect of its citizens. This theme has developed further in a duplicate version of the same story, where there’s a 128,000+ strong discussion:

The leaders are busy taking bribes from oil companies. If not, why hasn’t there been any punishment after all these oil spills [off the coast of China]? If this was America there would have been hundreds of millions in fines handed down by now, and the money would have gone towards compensating the fishermen. Who would be willing to take the risk of going all the way to Korea to catch fish???? Who is responsible? Everyone knows clearly. If you agree with me you’ll get rich this year. [31,000]

If you demand that the leaders give you an explanation [jiaodai 交待], they will very quickly tape you up [jiaodai 胶带] [22,649]

In reply to [“On this issue, human life is paramount. The Chinese media need to stay fair and accurate, and I hope they can soon interview the person concerned. They shouldn’t just blindly relay “Yonhap News Agency” reports. What can a Chinese fisherman do against being attacked by commandos? Have they had their rights violated? Was it self-defence? The South Korean media cannot possibly say the Chinese were justified.”]: Suppose the fishermen really have been detained for illegal fishing, say their families were eventually going to getting fined, the captain would not risk his own life to commit a murder; even rabbits bite when cornered. I think the captain had no choice, that his life was in danger and the action was completely the result of instinctive self-preservation, and I hope people won’t just believe overseas websites’ disinformation. If you “recommend” then you’re a real Chinese person. [12,203]

Give them [the Koreans] a beating, but don’t murder people. They’ve all got families and kids. [8,073]

I think this is completely the fisherman’s mistake. I know something about fishing boats, and they often trawl during the off-season. In this incident they have engaged in illegal behaviour, and it doesn’t matter how you look at it, because it’s still not justified. However, the key to this issue is elsewhere. Why do they do this? China has the Fisheries Enforcement agency, and fishing boats all have to obey them. Fisheries Enforcement don’t directly intervene in many matters, but they do interfere through third parties. For example, after you catch fish you have to pay 1 yuan per kilo of fish in taxes to a third party . . . making the fishermen’s income drop, and that is why they went so far away to fish, though none of them have the guts to disobey. [6,604]

There’s a big chance it could be suicide, what does everyone think? [4,441]

Actually the key to the problem is that China’s near seas are too severely polluted, and fisheries resources are almost gone. Why would anyone with a full belly sail to Korea? Is the fuel free? Time costs? It doesn’t matter if they’re Koreans or our fishermen, they’re all the victims of the effects of uncontrolled pollution. And who is the cause of all this evil? Everyone knows. [2,979]

The interpretation of the incident by these hundreds of thousands of news article readers is overwhelmingly that  the Chinese government is somehow responsible for the actions of the fisherman. It is very hard to imagine how this kind of discussion could be beneficial to any one side in the major foreign policy debates in Beijing, which seems to suggest that the saturation coverage of the story online, and the discussion it has spawned, is the result of the news portal sites’ commercial imperatives, rather than any kind of order from central agencies.

At the same time, this once again flies in the face of those who argue that anything more than a tiny minority of discussions on the Chinese internet are somehow guided or interfered with by the state. A good of this tendency is a short article by Yun Sun for Brookings, which argues that “most discussion on the internet in China is carefully screened, and much of it is pre-approved, by the government”. I simply cannot see how this kind of discussion is good for the government-as-a-whole’s position either at home or abroad.

Sun’s article is right to remind us to be careful about attributing Chinese foreign policies Chinese public opinion. But Sun unnecessarily overreaches by trying to discount the existence of public opinion online. A piece on ChinaGeeks made this point well in relation to Sina Weibo a few months back, and even mainstream news portal comment threads that are seen by millions of people – the kind of near-simultaneous mass medium one would imagine the authorities could and would censor – are often relatively free spaces. As the posts on this site illustrate, this is the case for hardline nationalist views, but it is also true for liberals.

Chinese public opinion exists, at least among the now 500 million-plus internet users, more than 3/4 of whom use the internet to read the news. The impact of the CCP’s famous internet censorship regime seems, to me, to be both overstated and overrated.


Update 1: Reports on Tuesday about the Korean protest rallies outside the Chinese embassy in Seoul have sparked a huge discussion. The most popular three comments, expressing outrage at the protests and talk of boycotting Chinese products, accounted for around 90,000 of the 189,000 comment participants. A further 30,000 supported two comments arguing China should apologize, while 10,000 got behind the view that the only solution was for China to become world hegemon.

Update 2: The fishing boat captain has gone on trial for murder in Korea. Many NetEase commenters are speculating about a possible death sentence, with some making vague and condescending threats in the event that comes to pass (more than one uses the term laozi, meaning I, your father – e.g. “If you dare to make a death sentence, laozi will follow your every move”). However, some other readers criticzed such talk.

Update 3: NetEase trolls think they have cracked the case of the shot fired at the Chinese Consulate in LA before the suspect has even turned himself in. Based on the standard government-issued CNS report, which said witnesses had described the suspect as “of Asian descent”, very nearly every single comment said it was defeinitely the gaoli bangzi 高丽棒子, a derogatory term for Koreans.

Update 4: The shooter has been caught, and the LAPD has announced that he is actually a Chinese-American. One of the most popular comments on this 80,000-strong discussion mused at why the Global Times had continued to mislead the Chinese public by reporting suggestions he was Korean for nearly a day after this information came to light.