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Chinese information warfare: Leveraging the power of perception

An important aspect of the Sino-American rivalry, yet one that has received very little attention, is “information warfare,” also known as “political warfare,” which is aimed at shaping the perceptions and thought processes, and therefore influencing the choices, of external actors in general and of one’s opponents in particular. In the Sino-American relationship, Chinese use of information warfare has played a prominent role in the intensifying rivalry. While Beijing perceives the United States as having an advantage in this area due to its superior soft power and due to its being “positioned at the center of the global order” (this statement in official Chinese media was characterized by an unrestrained sense of resentment), information warfare and skill at shaping the perceptions and thought processes of one’s opponents has been deeply embedded in Chinese strategic culture for millennia, whereas information control is not central to American strategic culture. An appreciation for the strategic importance of information control and propaganda also fits comfortably into the culture of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in particular due to the central role in its founding and formative years played by the Comintern (or “Communist International”). Leninist principles, including an emphasis on the role played by propaganda in political warfare, were bred into the CCP from its inception.