Podcast: Dean Cheng on “The Challenge of China: Lawfare, Technology & More”

Today’s awesome podcast, “The Challenge of China: Lawfare, Technology & More is by my friend, Dean Cheng, Senior Research Fellow at the Asian Studies Center and the Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy.  This podcast is another in our series of superb presentations from our 25th Anniversary National Security Law conference  (Feb 28-29) where a wide variety of current national security topics were expertly addressed.

Dean, who spoke to the conference shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic dominated the headlines, examines, as he said:

“[T]he growing challenge from China in both the military and non-military realms. And let me just start by noting that political warfare, which includes things like legal warfare, straddles that line. Because for China, this is both a military issue and a broader national strategic effort.”

Dean discusses not only China’s place in the world, but how China perceives itself.  He underlines that the “Chinese come at the world very differently than any other challenge this country has faced before” and points that unlike Europe, “Asia has never had a balance of power across 5,000 years of history.”  He adds:

“China, for example, looks at alliances fundamentally differently than we do. We think of alliances as a source of strength. The Chinese see alliances as a coalition of countries where there are multiple seams that I can go after. And if I can take apart that alliance structure, you’re weaker than you would have been before.”

Regarding the law, Dean makes this important observation:

“Asia never developed a rule of law concept. There has been no independent judiciary. And again, we are not just talking about the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] and the People’s Republic of China. Throughout the history of imperial China, you did not have an independent judiciary that could hold in check the powers of the empire. And in fact, the empire appointed the prosecutors, the magistrates, the various elements.”

“And they were certainly not about to start calling into question whether the sovereign was engaged in legal or illegal activities. And this, in turn, has led to a very different view of the law, a much more instrumental view. It is rule by law, not rule of law. And that, in turn, has implications about everything from governance within China to its behavior in international forums and the relevancy of international law.”

Dean also discusses how the China’s Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) is a “party army” noting that “every officer in the PLA above the rank of second lieutenant…is a member of the Chinese Communist Party, and they swear to uphold the rule of the CCP.”  He also gives us this caution about the PLA:

“[T]his is not your father’s PLA. This is not a military that continues to believe that you will run out of bullets or AMRAAMs [air-to-air missiles] or Harpoons [anti-ship missiles] or advanced cruise missiles before they run out of bodies. This is a military that has paid very close attention to other people’s wars, and has come to the conclusion that future wars will be determined by amount of technology, amount of capability, measured in terms of sophisticated weaponry and access to information, as opposed to simply being able to put more bodies on the field.”

After detailing the transformation of the PLA in recent years, he further notes the impact of the CCP’s recognition that the world has shifted from the industrial age to the information age.  Dean tells that the CCP realizes that what matters today is:

“…your ability to generate information, to analyze information– that human factor– to export information, to transmit information accurately and rapidly. And do so ahead of your competitors and your adversaries. That’s what it means to live in the information age. It affects your economy. It affects your politics. It affects your military.

It’s why we see the Chinese focusing on building information and communication technologies, including the so-called ABC– artificial intelligence, big data, cloud computing. It’s why China is very proud of the fact it has two of the five fastest supercomputers in the world. And why “Made in China 2025″ highlighted, among other things, information technologies.”

That’s just a few of the things Dean covered in his opening remarks. During the extensive (and fascinating!) Q & A session, Dean gave his views on such things as the reported routing of internet communication through China, the 5G controversy, China’s activities in Africa and the South China Sea, plus much more including a few comments about the coronavirus.

In his late February presentation, Dean contended that, among other things, the coronavirus was already impacting supply chains and thought that may inhibit China’s ability to “roll out” 5G technology as it might have wanted to do.  He also said at that time:

Centers for Disease Control

“I’m not sure the Chinese have gotten their arms around [the coronavirus]. So some of this is not deliberate badness. It’s just foolishness, right? This is a new virus. So how many cases were there in November and December? I’m not sure that they knew or that they knew what they were looking at. I’m not sure we would have known if something suddenly emerged in Iowa or New Mexico that had never occurred.

“But I do think what we have seen since then, with the muzzling of the Chinese doctor who tried to warn about this and who then subsequently died, is a reflexive shutting down of information flow. When in doubt, limit and constrain.”

“One of the most disturbing things from an international perspective has been the WHO [World Health Organization]. There is no evidence– I want to say– no evidence that the Chinese went to the WHO and said, don’t declare a pandemic. But there does seem to be evidence that WHO was worried that if they did declare a pandemic, the Chinese might just say, well, since you’re unfriendly, I’m not going to let your teams in to do a survey. So the Chinese like self-censorship. It’s much more efficient. It’s much more efficient for everyone in this room to question, should I say something? Should I do something? Should I publish something? Than for me to walk around, I want to see what’s on your computer and your phone and your tablet, because there’s only so many hours in the day.’

“So in a sense, Chinese information warfare has succeeded with WHO, if they were going to self censor. This also highlights that in a choice between local goods and the CCP’s legitimacy, reputation, et cetera, information flow clearly will be directed to support the latter rather than the former. And I would suggest that with no other major power, including Russia, that if you had something like novel coronavirus emerge, would you have a WHO hesitancy the way they did have with Beijing.”

That’s just a sampling of the many issues Dean addressed in this intriguing podcast you can listen (or watch) by clicking hereDon’t miss this discussion by one of America’s leading experts on China!!! 

The views expressed in the Podcast Series do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security, or Duke University.

Remember what we like to say on Lawfire®: gather the facts, examine the law, evaluate the arguments – and then decide for yourself!

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