Asymmetric War? Implications for China's Information Warfare Strategies

Vincent Wei-cheng Wang, University of Richmond
Gwendolyn Stamper


This essay discusses the emerging discourse and capability of the PRC on information warfare (IW) and the implications of such developments on cross-Strait and US-PRC relations. It finds that the PRC's endeavors in IW stem from the conviction among certain well-informed writers in the PLA that IW occupies a crucial place for a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) in China's military modernization. Chinese strategists explore IW's potential for China to wage an "asymmetric war" (defined as the use of surprise force by a weaker party against a stronger but vulnerable adversary) by applying traditional strategems (e.g., Sun Tzu's "overcoming the superior with the inferior" and Mao's "people's war") in modern warfare. Chinese strategists argue that IW can help China counter overall American strengths by targeting certain "pockets of excellence," rather than attempting to match America's comprehensive power, and present China with a credible military option for achieving its political objective of achieving unification with Taiwan (on Beijing's terms) through deception, surprise, and decisiveness. These strategic considerations can introduce instability in the Taiwan Strait region. They also raise questions about certain conventional aphorisms in international relations. The evolution of Chinese military doctrine and force structure is traced. Chinese and American concepts of IW are contrasted. Early examples of "cyberwar" between China and the US and between China and Taiwan are examined. The article concludes with a cautionary note on an emergent "digital mutual assured destruction."