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Hybrid warfare – China

Hybrid warfare - China

UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-3- Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cyber security; money-laundering and its prevention

Hybrid warfare – China

In news:

The Indian Express reported that Zhenhua, a Chinese company, monitors the subject’s digital footprint across social media platforms, maintains an ‘information library’, which includes content not just from news sources, forums, but also from papers, patents, bidding documents, even positions of recruitment. Significantly, it builds a ‘relational database’, which records and describes associations between individuals, institutions and information.”

Hybrid warfare:

  • The news of the Chinese surveillance has put the spotlight on a seemingly complex methodology adopted by major powers, most notably Russia and China, in recent decades: Hybrid warfare.
  • The term hybrid warfare has been in use since for about two decades and has been used interchangeably with “gray zone” operations and “irregular” warfare.
  • A report published by the US Center for Strategic and International Studies in August this year used the terms hybrid warfare/gray zone/irregular operations to refer to “any range of actions from non-violent economic manipulation to low levels of violence using mercenaries.”
  • It can also involve changes in deployment basing, advisory missions, arms transfers, or military exercises; claims to military zones; use of sanctions and trade barriers; economic warfare; technological competition; information warfare; support of other states and non-state actors and other forms of competition designed to gain strategic and tactical advantage.

Features of Hybrid warfare:

1) Disinformation and misinformation operations:

  • Competitors have honed their abilities to manipulate and weaponize information to wield power, gain influence, and counter allied narratives”.
  • It gave the example of Russian trolls and Chinese propaganda that are using social media to influence global audiences.

2) Political and economic coercion: 

  • While Russia is accused of using political coercion through the means of election interference, China has used “debt trap” diplomacy in countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative to “shape their policies toward Chinese benefit and interests”.

3) Cyber and space operations: 

  • Russia, China, and Iran have been actively launching major cyberattacks against allied and partner interests over the past decade, with targets ranging from banks and businesses to academic institutions and government agencies.
  • Hybrid space operations include actions such as jamming GPS signals and transmitting fake GPS signals.”

4) Proxies and state-controlled forces: 

  • Purveyors of hybrid warfare have used proxy actors to conduct coercive operations “below the threshold of all-out war”.
  • China’s use of “civilian” fishing boats operating in contested waters of the South China Sea as an example of such proxy forces.

China and Hybrid warfare:

  • When the Chinese regime launches a hybrid warfare campaign against a major power, it usually prepares for a protracted struggle that is characterized by exceptional patience and persistence.
  • In contrast to the Western practice of striving to win victories quickly and decisively, the Chinese frequently focus more on long-term positional advantage, avoiding defeat, and sustaining the campaign over a prolonged period

How India fought hybrid warfare – Doklam Episode:

Chinese strategy:

  • The Doklam standoff of 2017proved a disappointment for the Chinese hybrid warfare strategy.
  • India’s deployment of troops to the Doklam plateau forced China to greatly increase “the intensity of their multi-mode political warfare campaign designed to sow dissent in Delhi and partner capitals, force an Indian withdrawal, and rally the Chinese public to the cause.
  • These Chinese political warfare operations appeared designed to intimidate Delhi, generate divisions within the Indian Government, and foster tensions between Delhi and the capitals of India’s regional and global partners.

India’s counter strategy:

  • However, CSBA stated China’s hybrid warfare strategy hit a roadblock as the Indian government was transparent about the troop deployments.
  • India’s leadership released details of the Chinese operations to the international media and kept them regularly updated, which served as an effective counter to most elements of the Chinese political warfare campaign.
  • Beijing had little success in sowing dissent in Delhi or undermining India’s international political and security relationships.

Caution needed:

  • China was not deterred by the setback in Doklam.
  • Beijing appears to have considered this operation to be merely the first phase of what could become a larger campaign in the future
  • The ongoing standoff at Ladakh may well be an opportune time to revisit the findings of the CSBA study.


What do you know about Hybrid warfare? Assess the threats from China in this regard? How could India counter it?