Turning Chinese Influence Operations into Cognitive Warfare: A Warning for India

Three nations – the United States, France and India – have recently presented studies of Chinese influence operations globally that suggest they have acquired the dimensions of cognitive warfare. Cognitive warfare is more than the sum of the different dimensions of information warfare (IW). It integrates all the elements available in the informational, cyber and psychological realms and takes them to a new level not only by manipulating the perception of the target population but also by ensuring that the desired action of the targets is achieved. It includes psychological operations, neuroscience to manipulate the targets’ cognitive abilities, and the implementation of social engineering. In this war, the human mind becomes the battlefield. In simple terms, it is a weaponization of public opinion for its own advantage. The cognitive domain is now considered the sixth in the war of five domains. All reports suggest that China has succeeded in some cases, as these efforts continue at a level not seen anywhere in the world since Xi Jinping took over as President of the PRC.

The U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center, in its July 2022 report, reveals the PRC’s extensive activities to manipulate U.S. state and local leaders to support pro-PRC and pro-PRC policies. CCP in accordance with the strategy of “use local to surround”. the central”. He indicates that the CCP is aware that the American state and local leaders enjoy a certain independence from Washington and that it tries to exploit this to make them “its proxies to advocate policies that Beijing wants.” PRC influence operations could be “deceptive and coercive” under the guise of benign business opportunities or people-to-people contacts. Financial incentives “can be used to lure U.S. and local leaders , given their focus on local economic issues.” In addition, city-to-city partnerships are exploited to pressure local leaders to continue the CCP’s approach, especially on Taiwan issues and of Tibet, often to the detriment of the interests of their own nation. In Australia, the Chinese influence operation had succeeded in dissuading a member of the municipal council from introducing a proposal to observe the 30e anniversary of Tiananmen Square.

In France, the Strategic Research Institute of the French Ministry of the Armed Forces presented in October 2021 a study entitled “Chinese Influence Operations – A Machiavellian Moment” indicating that “the CCP’s influence operations have considerably hardened in recent years. years and it is a “Machiavellian turn” in that the Party-State now seems to believe that “it is much safer to be feared than to be loved”, in the words of Machiavelli in “The Prince This 654-page report is divided into four parts: covering the main concepts, the actors implementing these operations, including the Base 311 of the People’s Liberation Army and dedicated to the implementation of the strategy of the “Three Wars”; the actions carried out by Beijing with the diasporas, the media, diplomacy, the economy, politics, education, think tanks; and the methods of manipulation of information. It is important Note that this report indicates that China aims to shape international standards.

In India, the Law and Society Alliance revealed in September 2021 how Chinese influence operations are manipulating the perceptions of targets in different sectors. He concluded that “China’s subtle attempts to infiltrate Indian society through the use of a number of alternative means such as financial investments, stock exchanges, courtesy trips and coercion can be extremely detrimental to long term”. In the education sector, it manipulates universities, think tanks as well as Confucius centers and Chinese study centers. In addition to students, special attention is given to journalists and scholars from think tanks, who are the opinion shapers of society. He observes that a new organization, “Foundation” based in Delhi, works in mission mode to create pro-China sentiments among Indians and performs functions similar to those of the embassy. Selected people are sent to China to be “re-educated” and later serve as “useful CCP idiots.” China deploys CCP-appointed intellectuals and academicians for brainwashing. With their help, newspapers and magazines are produced to project Chinese views, and contributors are very well paid.

China also focuses on the business world as it is an important vehicle for influencing national leaders. China attracts them with the promise of investment, better access to Chinese markets and paid visits to China. These come with a string attached to project the positive image of China. The punishment includes the refusal of investments.

China uses different organizations for influence operations abroad. The CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD) plays a leading role in directing and coordinating influence operations globally through its various front organizations. Other PRC government agencies involved in foreign influence operations are the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of State Security, and Ministry of Education. Important entities used for foreign influence operations include the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), which describes itself as a “national people’s organization engaged in diplomacy among the peoples of the Republic people of China”. Unit 61090 linked to the Strategic Support Force and its various front organizations are involved in manipulating target perceptions. His RedFoxtrot group targets several networks of Indian defence, telecommunications, mining and research organizations, including several aerospace and defense contractors.

Operations are well-planned to ensure that their proxies push others to ostensibly align with their local needs, but are actually advancing the agendas of the CRP. China methodically collects personally identifiable information (PII) to find potential targets, groups and opportunities. Big data is carefully collected for use in China’s influence operations in which state-owned and private companies play an important role. Data is analyzed to decide who should be targeted for influence operations, when and how. Digital platforms such as WeChat, Weibo and TikTok, companies like Beidou and Huawei are all used to prepare databases to power influence operations overseas. Two main methods for these operations are discernible: first, to seduce and captivate foreign audiences by shaping a positive representation of China; and second, to infiltrate and coerce.

Chinese influence operations include disinformation, counterfeiting, sabotage, discrediting operations, destabilizing foreign governments, provocations, false flag operations and manipulation aimed at weakening social cohesion, recruitment of ” useful idiots” and the creation of front organizations. The manipulation of information includes “the use of fake social media accounts to spread Party propaganda in the media, trolls and astroturfing (to simulate spontaneous popular movements), and numerous “Internet commentators (falsely labeled “the 50 cent army”) who are paid to “guide” public opinion. To simulate the authenticity of the content, third parties are asked to have it published in exchange for money. The manipulated information is presented in such a way that it creates a predetermined perception resulting in a predetermined action among the target audience.

These reports indicate that Chinese influence operations have been successful in getting some targets to take the desired action, indicating that they have been elevated to the level of cognitive warfare. This requires firm measures to counter the disastrous consequences of China’s cognitive warfare. There are strong arguments for a thorough investigation of Chinese activities in India and their consequences, including Chinese infiltration into Indian society, economy and political circles, where the freedom enjoyed by political leaders and their propensity to use social tensions for electoral advantages could be easily exploited. Our counterintelligence agencies should examine it very carefully. Policy makers should ensure that agencies have sufficient resources and authority for this task.



The opinions expressed above are those of the author.


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