A research paper dated 22 August, 2016 by Elsa Kania, analyst at the Long Term Strategy Group, for the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, expounds on the latest strategic thinking of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) on the so-called “Three Warfares” (三战) - Public Opinion Warfare (舆论战), Psychological Warfare (心理战), and Legal Warfare (法律战), which are purported to being applied China’s strategic approach in the South China Sea and beyond.
Drawing on latest military studies of China's National Defence University (NDU) and other military journals, the paper dissects how the Three Warfares are integrated to achieve strategic advantages in such areas as Control of public opinion (舆论控制); Blunting an adversary’s determination (意志挫伤); Transformation of emotion (情感转化); Psychological guidance (心智诱导); Collapse of adversary’s organisation (组织瓦解); Psychological defence (心理防御); and Restriction through law (法律制约).
The following extracts are instructive -
"In more general terms, the primary missions are to seize the “decisive opportunity” (先机) for controlling public opinion, organise psychological offence and defence, engage in legal struggle, and fight for popular will and public opinion. and the integration of peace and warfare (平战结合)".
"For public opinion warfare, the requirements outlined are to “demoralize one’s opponent by a show of strength” (先声夺人), “create momentum to control the situation” (造势控局), “assail strategic points” (抨击要害), and “seek the avoidance of injury” (趋利避害)."
"The principles articulated for psychological warfare focus on “integrating [psychological attacks] and armed attacks with each other” (与武力打击相结合), “carrying out offense and defense at the same time, with offense as the priority” (攻防并举以攻为主), and “synthetically using multiple forms of forces” (综合运用各种力量)".
"The implementation of legal warfare, which seeks to provide legal support to operational success, is informed by the principles to “protect national interests as the highest standard” (以维护国家利益为最高准则), “respect the basic principles of the law” (尊重法律的基本准则), “carry out [legal warfare] that centers upon military operations” (围绕军事行动展开), and “seize standards [and] flexibly use [them]” (把握规范灵活运用)."
"Beyond the traditional applications of the three warfares, the text also displays efforts to innovate in the application of these concepts to new contexts, such as counterterrorism and stability protection (反恐维稳), international peacekeeping, protecting transportation and escort (保交护航), and closing and controlling borders (封边控边)."
In sum, these stratagems hark back to Sun Tzu's ancient Art of War, that the best war can be won without bloodshed.