U.S. DoD China Military Power Report Highlights Increasing Influence Operations

DoD recently released it’s “2020 Report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China” (also referred to as the China Military Power report). Compared to last year’s report, there is nothing radically different from the 2020 report; though it does appear to elaborate more on some of the previous findings. The 2021 report noted:

“The PRC’s Influence Operations

►The PRC conducts influence operations, which target cultural institutions, media organizations, business, academic, and policy communities in the United States, other countries, and international institutions, to achieve outcomes favorable to its strategic objectives.

► The CCP seeks to condition domestic, foreign, and multilateral political establishments and public opinion to accept Beijing’s narratives and remove obstacles preventing attainment of goals.

► CCP leaders probably consider open democracies, including the United States, as more susceptible to influence operations than other types of governments.

► The PLA has emphasized the development of its “Three Warfares” concept— comprised of psychological warfare, public opinion warfare, and legal warfare—in its operational planning since at least 2003. The PLA will likely continue to develop its digital influence capabilities by incorporating advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the quality and deniability of its messaging.”

It is interesting to note for those watching global cognitive security efforts (which may not be obvious to casual observers) that the Chinese approach to influence operations differs in many ways from Russian approaches. For example, the ability to leverage its media companies (especially TV and film) to make concessions or edits to major motion picture projects, as well as other major commercial conglomerates to indirectly exert pressure on Chinese citizens and non-citizens alike (for example, the crack down on certain media personalities within China, as well as backlash again the NBA and some NBA personalities that have spoken negatively on Chinese actions). That reinforces a need for a more nuanced and culturally specific approach to trying to observe, analyze and react to influence activities from the different actors.

Two other interesting observations that should be on the radar for cognitive security experts include these statements from the report:

  1. “Recently, PLA officials have discussed creating an official PLA account on Twitter, and other Western social media accounts. Although, due to rising popularity of PRC social media applications with Western audiences, the need for a PLA presence on traditional Western platforms may decline.”
  2. “In 2019, PLA personnel also suggested training AI algorithms to autonomously create content and coordinate influence activity between different fake accounts.”