In a chilling memo released on Wednesday, the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, informed the world that, at least on the internet, China is at war.
The memo is called “Cybersovereignty Symbolises National Sovereignty.”
“The Internet has become the main battlefront for struggle in the ideological area,” it said.
“With the existence of the network, the ideological front has been completely thrown open … National security has become an important component part of our country’s overall security ‘chessboard’. It may be said that without cybersecurity, there is no national security.”
So what, exactly, does that mean?
It means there are enemies everywhere, and they come from Westerners creeping across borders through the net, polluting China with threatening ideas (emphasis added):
Western hostile forces and a small number of “ideological traitors” in our country use the network, and relying on computers, mobile phones and other such information terminals, maliciously attack our Party, blacken the leaders who founded the New China, vilify our heroes, and arouse mistaken thinking trends of historical nihilism, with the ultimate goal of using “universal values” to mislead us, using “constitutional democracy” to throw us into turmoil, use “colour revolutions” to overthrow us, use negative public opinion and rumours to oppose us, and use “de-partification and depoliticization of the military” to upset us.
And who likes being upset?
This comes at a time when the Chinese government pledged to make a “massive investment to improve Internet services,” according state media arm Xinhua News. The numbers are impressive: $US70 billion committed to the internet for 2015, over $US112 billion in 2016 and 2017. The money will improve broadband speeds and expand 4G access.
So process this for a second: If China expands the internet, it will be a HUGE internet, and naturally an internet of things, as we say.
The things that it will not have, though, are any “ideological traitors,” or anyone opposed to the Communist Party, or anyone applauding “universal values” and “constitutional democracy” — anything having to do with Western ideas.
To the PLA, this is open war. To the Communist Party, it follows the ideological framework of its new face — Xi Jinping.
Since he took office in 2012, Xi has been trying to build a new sense of Chinese identity, one that sees all of modern life through the lens of nationalistic “Chinese characteristics.” That goes from things like capitalism to, of course, the internet.
Collectively, these two contradictory headlines — the PLA’s war and the expansion of the internet — fall into this framework, and serve as a blueprint for the way the Chinese will understand and use the internet for as long as President Xi is in power (that’s looking like it could be a while).
Of course, this “war” isn’t new. It’s just a regular old idea war being fought on the internet, a new front. The PLA admits it, and points out that it was the West who taught China how to fight this way during the Cold War. Not just in the USSR either, in South America and in Northern Africa.
This is an online public opinion battle with glints and flashes of cold steel and numerous opportunities to make a kill. Back in the day, to tackle the Soviet Union, one method Western hostile forces adopted was online infiltration in the ideological area. Afterwards, in the Southern Alliance, and a number of countries in Southwest Asia, and North Africa, they played the same tricks…
If hearts are won, there is gladness, if hearts are lost, there is failure. A regime’s disintegration often begins in the ideological area, political upheaval and regime change can happen in the space of a night, but ideological evolution is a long-term process. If the ideological front is broken, other fronts will become difficult to hold.
We’re assuming the PLA believes this goes both ways. That Western ideas could break them, and perhaps vice versa.