COVID-19: China Updates its ‘Art of (Hybrid) War’

Chinese General Qiao Liang argues, “If we have to dance with the wolves, we should not dance to the rhythm of the United States,” reports Pepe Escobar.      

A Chinese anti-U.S. propaganda poster from the Korean War era. (Facebook)

By Pepe Escobar
The Asia Times  

In 1999, Qiao Liang, then a senior air force colonel in the People’s Liberation Army, and Wang Xiangsui, another senior colonel, caused a tremendous uproar with the publication of “Unrestricted Warfare: China’s Master Plan to Destroy America.”

“Unrestricted Warfare” was essentially the PLA’s manual for asymmetric warfare: an updating of Sun Tzu’s “Art of War.” At the time of original publication, with China still a long way from having its current geopolitical and geo-economic clout, the book was conceived as laying out a defensive approach, far from the sensationalist “destroy America” added to the title for U.S. publication in 2004.    

Now the book is available in a new edition and Qiao Liang, as a retired general and director of the Council for Research on National Security, has resurfaced in a quite revealing interview originally published in the current edition of the Hong Kong-based magazine Zijing (Bauhinia). 

General Qiao is not a Politburo member entitled to dictate official policy. But some analysts I talked with agree that the key points he makes in a personal capacity are quite revealing of PLA thinking. Let’s review some of the highlights. 

Dancing with Wolves

The bulk of his argument concentrates on the shortcomings of U.S. manufacturing: “How can the US today want to wage war against the biggest manufacturing power in the world while its own industry is hollowed out?”

An example, referring to Covid-19, is the capacity to produce ventilators: “Out of over 1,400 pieces necessary for a ventilator, over 1,100 must be produced in China, including final assembly. That’s the US problem today. They have state of the art technology, but not the methods and production capacity. So they have to rely on Chinese production.”  

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General Qiao dismisses the possibility that Vietnam, the Philippines, Bangladesh, India and other Asian nations may replace China’s cheap workforce: “Think about which of these countries has more skilled workers than China. What quantity of medium and high level human resources was produced in China in these past 30 years? Which country is educating over 100 million students at secondary and university levels? The energy of all these people is still far from being liberated for China’s economic development.”    

He acknowledges U.S. military power even in times of epidemic and economic difficulties is always capable of “interfering directly or indirectly in the Taiwan straits question” and finding an excuse to “block and sanction China and exclude it from the West.” He adds that, “as a producing country, we still cannot satisfy our manufacturing industry with our own resources and rely on our own markets to consume our products.”   

In consequence, he argues, it’s a “good thing” for China to engage in the cause of reunification, “but it’s always a bad thing if it’s done at the wrong time. We can only act at the right time. We cannot allow our generation to commit the sin of interrupting the process of the Chinese nation’s renaissance.”

General Qiao counsels, “Don’t think that only territorial sovereignty is linked to the fundamental interests of a nation. Other kinds of sovereignty – economic, financial, defense, food, resources, biological and cultural sovereignty – are all linked to the interests and survival of nations and are components of national sovereignty.”  

To arrest movement toward Taiwan’s independence, “apart from war, other options must be taken into consideration. We can think about the means to act in the immense gray zone between war and peace, and we can even think about more particular means, like launching military operations that will not lead to war, but may involve a moderate use of force.”

In a graphic formulation, General Qiao thinks that, “if we have to dance with the wolves, we should not dance to the rhythm of the U.S. We should have our own rhythm, and even try to break their rhythm, to minimize its influence. If American power is brandishing its stick, it’s because it has fallen into a trap.” 

In a nutshell, for General Qiao, “China first of all must show proof of strategic determination to solve the Taiwan question, and then strategic patience. Of course, the premise is that we should develop and maintain our strategic force to solve the Taiwan question by force at any moment.”     

Gloves Are Off

Now compare General Qiao’s analysis with the by-now-obvious geopolitical and geo-economic fact that Beijing will respond tit for tat to any hybrid war tactics deployed by the United States government. The gloves are definitely off. 

The gold standard expression has come in a no-holds barred Global Times editorial: “We must be clear that coping with US suppression will be the key focus of China’s national strategy. We should enhance cooperation with most countries. The US is expected to contain China’s international front lines, and we must knock out this US plot and make China-US rivalry a process of US self-isolation.”

An inevitable corollary is that the all-out offensive to cripple Huawei will be counterpunched in kind, targeting Apple, Qualcom, Cisco and Boeing, even including  “investigations or suspensions of their right to do business in China.” 

So, for all practical purposes, Beijing has now publicly unveiled its strategy to counteract U.S. President Donald Trump’s “We could cut off the whole relationship” kind of assertions. 

A toxic racism-meets-anti-communism matrix is responsible for the predominant anti-Chinese sentiment across the U.S., encompassing at least 66 percent of the whole population. Trump instinctively seized it – and repackaged it as his re-election campaign theme, fully approved by Steve Bannon. 

The strategic objective is to go after China across the full spectrum. The tactical objective is to forge an anti-China front across the West: another instance of encirclement, hybrid war-style, focused on economic war. 

This will imply a concerted offensive, trying to enforce embargoes and trying to block regional markets to Chinese companies. Lawfare will be the norm. Even freezing Chinese assets in the U.S. is not a far-fetched proposition anymore.   

Every possible Silk Road branch-out – on the energy front, ports, the Health Silk Road, digital interconnection – will be strategically targeted. Those who were dreaming that Covid-19 could be the ideal pretext for a new Yalta – uniting Trump, Xi and Putin – may rest in peace.       

“Containment” will go into overdrive. A neat example is Admiral Philip Davidson – head of the Indo-Pacific Command – asking for $20 billion for a “robust military cordon” from California to Japan and down the Pacific Rim, complete with “highly survivable, precision-strike networks” along the Pacific Rim and “forward-based, rotational joint forces” to counteract the “renewed threat we face from great power competition.”

Davidson argues that, “without a valid and convincing conventional deterrent, China and Russia will be emboldened to take action in the region to supplant U.S. interests.”

Watch People’s Congress

Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where full sessions of the National People’s Congress are held. (AcidBomber, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

From the point of view of large swathes of the Global South, the current, extremely dangerous incandescence, or New Cold War, is mostly interpreted as the progressive ending of the Western coalition’s hegemony over the whole planet. 

Still, scores of nations are being asked, bluntly, by the hegemon to position themselves once again in a “you’re with us or against us” global war on terror imperative.  

At the annual session of the National People’s Congress, starting this Friday, we will see how China will be dealing with its top priority: to reorganize domestically after the pandemic.  

For the first time in 35 years, Beijing will be forced to relinquish its economic growth targets. This also means that the objective of doubling GDP and per capita income by 2020 compared with 2010 will also be postponed. 

What we should expect is absolute emphasis on domestic spending – and social stability – over a struggle to become a global leader, even if that’s not totally overlooked.

After all, President Xi Jinping made it clear earlier this week that a “Covid-19 vaccine development and deployment in China, when available,” won’t be subjected to Big Pharma logic, but “will be made a global public good. This will be China’s contribution to ensuring vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries.” The Global South is paying attention. 

Internally, Beijing will boost support for state-owned enterprises that are strong in innovation and risk-taking. China always defies predictions by Western “experts.” For instance, exports rose 3.5 percent in April, when the experts were forecasting a decline of 15.7 percent. The trade surplus was $45.3 billion, when experts were forecasting only $6.3 billion. 

Beijing seems to identify clearly the extending gap between a West, especially the U.S., that’s plunging into de facto New Great Depression territory with a China that’s about to rekindle economic growth. The center of gravity of global economic power keeps moving, inexorably, toward Asia. 

Pepe Escobar, a veteran Brazilian journalist, is the correspondent-at-large for Hong Kong-based Asia Times. His latest book is 2030.” Follow him on Facebook.

This article is from The Asia Times.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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30 comments for “COVID-19: China Updates its ‘Art of (Hybrid) War’

  1. Zhu
    May 23, 2020 at 04:39

    I very much doubt thr Tank Man or the May Day protesters want to be killed by US nukes, or raped, robbed, tortured, murdered by US soldiers. US wars benefit only US sadists and psychopaths.

  2. Dennis Rice
    May 22, 2020 at 12:49

    Our tragedy in the U.S. is, that those who need to read this and heed this will not. And even if they did read it, they will not heed it. Their concerns are more about them; being re-elected, continuing to make money for the already wealthy, or the wealthy only concerned about making more money for themselves, while continuing to ignore the infrastructure needs of this nation’s people: food, clothing, shelter and the best of health care for all, not just those who can afford these things.

    It will be our own ‘powerful’ and rich who bring this nation down. It has already begun and they neither look inward nor outward at themselves and the harm they do to our country. They are weak and don’t know it.

    It will be our own rich, and our own powerful, who bring this nation down; who will sell it out.

  3. May 21, 2020 at 14:43

    The US has multible problems in trying to suppress China. Numer 1 in my opinion is that if it attacks China it will lose. It will be fighting 8,000 miles from home against the industrial centre of the world. Supply lines too long and vulnerable etc. Also any technological edge the US might have in weapons would be offset by China´s access to Russian weapons. Covid 19 has shown that the US population is in very poor health. The reason given by doctors and scientists for the high death rate in the US as compared to other countries. The skills to manufacture equipment to fight a war with China have been lost to the USA over the past thirty years. Paper shuffling does not count worth a hill of beans when it coms to turning a crankshaft for a tank motor. The US lost the education battle 30 years ago as well. It does not produce engineers, scientists etc. in sufficiant numbers to compete with China.The US is also shooting itself in the foot with it´s racist attitudes. Less and less Pakistanis, Indians, Chinese or any other of the nations that produce the personnell to do research in the USA are going to want to come to a country where they and their offspring will always be considered second class citizens and in fact face danger to life and limb because of theri skin colour.

    Another huge problem is that the economies of Asia are integrating and moving away from the USA. The nations of Asia biggest trading partner by far is China. Money talks, bullshite walks as the saying goes and China has the money. Oh and China has Russia.

    Not to mention leadership. Trump and Xi not much question on who comes out ahead by a margin of miles in that matchup.

    I don´t think there will be any hot war between China and the USA. The US could not win it, in fact it would be the final nail in the coffin of empire.

  4. JD
    May 21, 2020 at 02:59

    I’m shocked people find anything optimistic in this article. The Chinese model is nothing to emulate – remember the man in front of the tank? Further: we are not detached spectators considering an abstract problem. US citizens have an obligation to guide a way to a multi-polar world where freedom of speech and assembly are protected. something constructive and future looking. Why not a profile of the May Day strikers, the new generation of citizen leaders?

      May 21, 2020 at 06:04

      We ran a story on the May strikers on May 3.

    • Steve
      May 21, 2020 at 20:41

      Sorry, when you are under pressure in a war with a powerful, aggressive enemy, you tend to gravitate to an authoritarian political model, or remain there, whatever the case. Too easy for wealthy powerful aggressors to undermine and buy out one or more factions in a “democracy”.

      And since the end of WW2, the US power structure has had little trouble undermining democracies where it did not like the vote results, or anticipated the vote results. If necessary, it just overthrew them, like Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 or Allende in Chile in 1973. Just get cross-ways of the interests of the US power structure and you may be out.

      The reason Iran has been able to preserve its sovereignty for the last 40 years is that they did not give “democracy” too much leeway, where US and Israeli money could start the inevitable process of undermining a government that actually represented Iranians. And now Maduro, if he gets more sense and grows a pair, will realize that having a democracy never helped, that the US propaganda machine would still claim his election by 60% of the voters was somehow not legitimate, and start to bring in CIA hirelings to begin the process of undermining the legitimate sovereign government.

      No, as long as the black hand of the US power structure is determined to bring all life on the planet to heal, it is best that countries who wish to retain their sovereignty be very careful how much “freedom” they allow the US-sponsored 5th columns to get. Like the so-called “pro-democracy” movement in Hong Kong, whose leaders are so busy running back and forth to get money and instructions from CIA and State Dept handlers they are wearing out their sneakers.

  5. May 21, 2020 at 01:04

    Still, scores of nations are being asked, bluntly, by the hegemon to position themselves once again in a “you’re with us or against us” global war on terror imperative.

    And it’s increasingly clear that Australia is being used as a proxy. Funny how quickly Canberra took over the beat up on China over Corona and lets have a blame China inquiry after Pompous visited Aus. Sadly, it’s going to be seriously self defeating as the Chinese are now putting the squeeze on Aus exports. Barley has just collapsed and beef is in trouble. Only a few months back thermal coal exports were hindered. Once the Chinese sort out the supply chain, iron ore exports will also collapse. Then will the US help out its “ally” Dont be daft. We’ll be used and abandoned but like a beaten puppy will still come back for some more love.

  6. rosemerry
    May 20, 2020 at 16:46

    Great article and comments!!

  7. Rob
    May 20, 2020 at 16:25

    Another pointless and self-destructive Cold War waged by the U.S. Wait, it is not entirely pointless. It will provide massive contracts for defense contractors.

  8. lfc
    May 20, 2020 at 13:25

    America wants to emulate the economic state of China about 50 years ago. The ruling class has incrementally eliminated the middle class and made sure that the working class stayed a working class with an increasingly growing a gap for social mobility. China wants to achieve the economic state of the US about 50 years ago and wants to educate people and create a middle class. I feel more optimistic about China and perhaps China can leave a blue print for the globe how to eliminate poverty and achieve a balance between an individual freedom and a collective cohesive power as a nation. Uncontrolled capitalism, money in politics and the racism are destroying America, almost intentionally. The implosion of America is not caused by China. But we knew that already.

  9. Milton Bradley
    May 20, 2020 at 10:14

    While China plays chess the US is playing chicken.

    • AnneR
      May 20, 2020 at 14:54

      Perhaps the Chinese are playing Go while the US is playing its usual game of blunder and “we’re the exceptional nation.” I do believe that Go is rather more complex and difficult than chess. And the Chinese invented it over two millennia ago…what have *we* invented that requires the ability to think and wait before acting?

  10. peter mcloughlin
    May 20, 2020 at 09:36

    Washington wants to prevent Russia and China supplanting US interests. Moscow and Beijing pursue what they see as their own legitimate interests. What we face is not a “hybrid” war or “new Cold War” but a world war. see:

  11. Sam F
    May 20, 2020 at 09:03

    It appears that the facts of China’s growth, lack of expansionism beyond its traditional sphere, and concern for the wellbeing of its own people are not lost on the US electorate despite their foolish groveling in the mass media narrative.
    That the US threatens China to “protect” Taiwan, when China does no such a thing near the US, is plainly provocative.
    The post-WWII “we’re the best” obsession, despite the Korean/Vietnam war losses, appeals only to the lowest bullies.
    It has no appeal to intelligent persons in the US; it is merely the tribalist propaganda of the tyrants who damage the US.
    US MIC bully tyrants should be prohibited by law from setting up provocations to dare other great powers to respond.
    More and more will see that they would be better off with a government not bought out by the rich for their own profit.
    This seems likely to become more obvious this decade, and tribalistic propaganda to obscure that may be discredited.

  12. Allan P.-E. Tolentino
    May 20, 2020 at 06:02

    Exciting and hopeful times ahead for Asia under China’s enlightened and proven leadership.

    The Philippines, in the periphery of China’s BRI & Maritime Silk Road, should unequivocally align its political, economic, and security development policies with China’s. Filipinos should break away from the deadly embrace of their genocidal and hegemonic American colonial master and ally themselves with Asia. Remaining addicted to US political overtures will see the Philippines miss the high speed train and boat of China’s BRI bonanza. Staying underneath the dark shadow of the US gorilla ensures the Philippines’ enduring economic and spiritual backwardness.

    Time to get out into the fresh air and sunlight of genuine independence and international solidarity.

  13. adwoa
    May 20, 2020 at 01:16

    Not even the mountains can deter the Center of gravity of global economic power from moving, inexorably, toward China! And this is good news for the World and working people. Leftist and other elements in society who blindly rejoiced in the collapse of the Soviet Union and embraced USA’s end of communism triumphalism in 1991-92 perhaps, with hindsight, now realize how dumb that sentiment was. This was not a victory for working people in the world but a celebration by our capitalist bosses.

  14. Simon
    May 20, 2020 at 01:10

    It’s invaluable to have your reporting and analysis Pepe.

    A minor comment in connection with economic dimension here: China has been the most aggressive country with respect to arresting Covid 19. Without herd immunity through a vaccine, this vigilance could weigh on it for years, and much longer than the US.

  15. geeyp
    May 20, 2020 at 00:50

    Ancient Chinese wisdom is still valid and it shows itself evolving even today.

  16. Zhu
    May 20, 2020 at 00:34

    “A toxic mixture of racism and anti-communism” sounds about right. The Chinese government is not submissive and the “Chinks” are getting too prosperous. That’s bound to infuriate both elite and grass-roots Americans.

  17. Drew Hunkins
    May 20, 2020 at 00:34

    “For the first time in 35 years, Beijing will be forced to relinquish its economic growth targets. This also means that the objective of doubling GDP and per capita income by 2020 compared with 2010 will also be postponed. ”

    Good, good, just wonderful. This will really endear the United States to the Chinese people.

    All that the Chinese govt did for its people over the last 30 years is totally eliminate poverty, that’s all. Gotta love how our Western mass media won’t shut their mouths about this small achievement.

    [sarcasm above]

  18. Jeff Harrison
    May 20, 2020 at 00:23

    Why is it, Pepe, that I suspect that you have skimmed the top of the Chinese thinking? For example, the Chinese are well aware that defense is easier to play than offense. Let your adversary wear himself out with unsuccessful attacks. For example, Donnie Murdo’s most recent power grab – the US has the power to tell non-US companies operating outside of the US, who they may and may not sell to if the parts were made using American built equipment. Does he really think he can make that stick? Does the US actually know which chips are being made by whom using which chip making machines? After all, I would imagine that most chip makers have multiple chip making machines not all of which come from the US. The US said US chip makers couldn’t sell American chips to China. Huawei responded by designing American chips out of their phones. Oops, the US had to back off that. All these moves make it less and less desirable to do business with the US.

    The US went about rebuilding its confidence after Vietnam by beating up on small countries like Grenada and Panama first and then worked upwards to bigger countries. By the time that they got to Iraq, we ran out of speed. This is where they learned what Mad Dog Mattis was talking about when he said that you had beaten an enemy when you had beaten them AND they agreed that they were beaten. The Iraqis were beaten but they never admitted defeat. As far as I know, NATO forces pulled out of Iraq several months back. (I guess that, thanks to global warming, the North Atlantic has receded from Iraqi shores). So who won? And now we want to take on China? Did these bozos think we’d been winning up to this point?

    It’s also important to remember that Donnie Murdo is trying to play St. Ronnie. Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources of St. Ronnie. When Reagan came to power, the US public debt was less than a trillion but not much less. Now, however, the debt is like $23 Trillion. I swear that by the time Donnie Murdo is done, it’ll be $30 Trillion. All these recent Trillion Dollar bailout efforts aren’t being funded by increased taxation, therefore, it’ll have to come via increased borrowing. (Never mind that US tax receipts are going to sink badly this year) Who’s going to buy all that new debt? Those who smugly proclaim that most US debt is owned by Americans have to tell me where these imaginary Americans are going to get the cash to buy this debt when they’re out of work.

    Interesting question. Interesting how it will work out.

  19. Drew Hunkins
    May 20, 2020 at 00:15

    “Those who were dreaming that Covid-19 could be the ideal pretext for a new Yalta – uniting Trump, Xi and Putin – may rest in peace.”

    Rest in peace, no doubt. Washington is all about unilateralism, period. This is the crux of the issue, the rapacious capitalist-imperialists who infest Wall St, the military contractors and corporate mass media want nothing to do with a multi-polar world. This could lead to putting the far east on a dangerous path with U.S. warships provocatively traversing the area.

    • Allan P.-E. Tolentino
      May 20, 2020 at 06:14

      “This could lead to putting the far east on a dangerous path with U.S. warships provocatively traversing the area.”

      Try to understand – the US is merely exercising its international law-approved Freedom of Naval Provocation and Intimidation in the South China Sea (full sarcasm).

    • Drew Hunkins
      May 20, 2020 at 14:49

      Ha! Good one.

  20. Dennis Z.
    May 19, 2020 at 23:47



  21. Zhu
    May 19, 2020 at 22:27

    Thanks! Very astute.

  22. Debz
    May 19, 2020 at 21:48

    Good report Pepe, thank you.

  23. gcw
    May 19, 2020 at 21:08

    The politicians controlling US foreign policy are leading us straight into the 19th century, with their updated gunboat diplomacy. Never a thought to the impending disaster of climate change and unparalleled social and environmental chaos, they dream instead of yet another Cold War (Yellow-Peril 2.0), all the time sustaining a gargantuan military establishment which is draining the life-blood from American society. The Covid-19 virus is just a warning to us: we have about 5% of the world’s population, yet lead the pack in deaths from the virus. If this monumental display of incompetence doesn’t wake us up, what will?

    • Sam F
      May 20, 2020 at 09:06

      Yes, the US “monumental display of incompetence” in the epidemic may become a monument in history.

    • AnneR
      May 20, 2020 at 15:13

      Gotta keep the MIC happy – bringing in that baksheesh.

      As for your latter assessment – apparently NOWT will wek us up (spelling deliberate).

      Russiagate goes on and on (at least on NPR); Iran is still in the cross-hairs and further (?!) economic sanctions have been applied by guess who? Taiwan and HK continue to be held up as how we believe China should be our lackey, lickspittle – of course not described as that. No, Taiwan’s a “Democracy” (just like us ! hah!) and HK wants, demands to be a democracy – just like the UK/US.

      And of course if $$$$ channeled through the usual NGOs (NED etc) can’t effect the changes we want – then let’s increase the armed aspect of the “pivot to Asia.” Begun by Obama – oops, isn’t he the “progressives’ Fave?

      The Chinese, like so many in Asia, (is it in their DNA? or their Water? or their education?) *remember* their history, know it. They have a different culture to ours – and, frankly, there is much about it we could learn from. But then they were cultured, civilized long before we were out of the caves and animal skins….

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