In recent years Beijing has more assertively demonstrated its global ambitions through a number of economic and military leverages, including its military expansion in the South China Sea and its multi-billion-dollar foreign media push.
- The ‘three warfare’ framework refers to public opinion, psychological and legal warfare
- China’s definition of ‘national interest’ provides justification for its actions overseas
- China has had a longstanding position of non-interference in its foreign policy
But while many superpowers seek to export their influence overseas for self-interest, there lies a fundamental difference in the motivations behind China’s assertiveness, as detailed in the country’s laws and fine print.
China’s National Security Law, revised in 2015, defines national security in terms which lie significantly beyond physical threats to the country and mainland itself.
“National security refers to the relative absence of international or domestic threats to the state’s power to govern, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity,” a part of the law reads.
Former CIA analyst Peter Mattis told the ABC this definition of national security had two notable features that differ from many parts of the world.
By defining it as the “absence of threats” it allows a justification of any perceived threats towards the legitimacy and governance of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to be quashed before they eventuate, Mr Mattis said.
“A threat is anything that undermines the party’s ability to govern China,” he said.
Mr Mattis also highlighted another strategy in a recent article which was revised in the 2003 Political Work Guidelines of the People’s Liberation Army — commonly known as China’s Three Warfares — which are public opinion warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare.
‘Deterrence is the first priority’
The People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) mission is to protect China’s national interest — its task has been described by Chairman Mao Zedong as “carrying the political task of the revolution”.
“China now defines national interest to include two major parts: national security and national development interest,” said Jian Zhang, director of China Engagement at the UNSW Canberra Australia Defence Force Academy.
According to Mr Zhang, its presence is increasingly being felt overseas, in order “to protect China’s economic presence”.
“[So] any threat to China’s national economic development is perceived as a threat to China’s national interest.”
By including national development as a key security issue, it broadens the scope of national-interest protection to include anything that can undermine the country’s development, including economic, resource and maritime security.
“Deterrence is the first priority,” said Mr Zhang, adding that these policies were increasingly being felt as China attempted to assert the narrative of a “peaceful rise”.
Fighting via the ‘three warfares’
Beyond the fine print of China’s National Security law lies the strategy of the PLA’s strategy of “three warfares” — public opinion, psychological warfare and legal warfare — which involve influencing the international and domestic perception of the CCP while advancing its national interest and aiming to compromise its opponents’ ability to respond.
For example, China’s billion-dollar foreign media push attempts to shape and influence foreign views through the press as a form of public opinion warfare.
Meanwhile, psychological warfare aims to influence foreign decision makers and their approach towards Beijing’s policies, often carried out simultaneously with public opinion warfare.
China’s efforts to redefine the UN Convention Law of the Sea — such as changing maritime boundaries within the South China Sea — is an example of its legal warfare, which seeks “to shape the legal context for Chinese actions”, according to Mr Mattis.
The PLA has played an important role in trying to both influence and undermine Taiwan, however Mr Mattis said it was not the main actor.
He told the ABC the “three warfares” is just PLA terminology describing how to influence “potentially threatening actors at the source to shape their thinking away from threatening actions”.
“But it’s really an outgrowth of the CCP’s united front and propaganda systems,” he said.
China’s rise changes policies of ‘non-interference’
China historically hinged on the policies of non-interference in international issues.
However, Herve Lemahieu, director of the Asian Power and Diplomacy Program at the Lowy Institute, told the ABC that in recent years Beijing has changed the way it interprets non-interference, particularly in its domestic affairs, during its rise as an upcoming superpower.
“It probably justifies ‘foreign influence’ as being separate to ‘foreign interference’,” he said, adding that it now has a more “muscular” set of foreign policy interests.
“Soft power ‘with Chinese characteristics’ is to make others want what you want — but by any means necessary,” he said.
Mr Mattis adds that an “unlimited view” allows the PLA to go out looking for issues that threaten national security and try to get them at their source.
“And you’ll never be sure that all of those [threats] are gone,” he said.
The Chinese Government has been approached for comment but did not respond.
By Tasha Wibawa