Know your enemy is the first principle of an intelligence professional and is the foundation of all strategy. Knowing your enemy requires not just tracking of military movements, which is essential, but first and foremost demands the grasping of the ideological motivations of its actions. Accordingly, the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) aggression against the Philippines at Second Thomas Shoal, what is indisputability Filipino territory; against India on the shared border; against Japan in the East China Sea, or the raw exploitation of people and the environment wherever PRC entities operate, all share a common cause.
This aggression is caused by the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Understanding its Communist ideology provides the world the root causes of the PRC’s behavior.
There are four major insights that stem from this fundamental understanding of the intelligence and strategy regarding the PRC. First, America and its allies are at war, and that war was started by the CCP since they came to power in 1949. While this war is cold so far, that is, not kinetic, it is nonetheless is a war—a total war. Its outcome will determine the dispositive question of the 21st Century, whether the future remains free or if the totalitarianism of the CCP defines this century. This is not a war the U.S. sought, but it is one into which it has been forced. The CCP is a declared enemy of the U.S., and they seek to kill us, and will do so if not stopped.
Second, the ideology of Communism is defined by its hyper-aggression. This hyper-aggression is directed, first, against the Chinese people, of whom the CCP has killed scores of millions during the Civil War, and years of Mao Zedong’s great famine (1959-1961), which killed between 30 and 42 million people, the largest gulag system, and the anarchic totalitarianism of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). It includes crushing of the Tibetan population, genocide against Muslims in Xinjiang and Yunnan, and the violation of sanctity of the freedom of the seven million people in Hong Kong. Violence against women has been a characteristic of the CCP, indeed, female infanticide is still practiced, and countless millions more were killed in utero.
Second, its aggression was focused against Tibet in 1950, India in 1962 (with a near-war in 1967) and Vietnam, against which the PRC aggressed in 1974 (when the Paracel Islands were conquered from South Vietnam) and invaded in 1979. Beijing fought the U.S. in Korea, during the Vietnam War, and nearly came to blows during the two Taiwan Straits Crises during the 1950s, and labored to undermine the Western liberal order which was established after World War II. But the PRC’s aggression also took another form—its support for odious and malevolent allies like the Soviet Union in the 1940s and 1950s, North Korea, and for the genocidal Khmer Rouge, who killed over two million Cambodians (of a population of about 7.1 million) after they came to power in 1975.
Third, this aggression is permanent, ubiquitous, and takes many forms, it is sometimes called “unrestricted warfare”—war in the economic, legal, scientific, technological, military and information realms. The most important of which is political warfare, which attacks the adversaries’ internal political foundations, while enlisting support for the CCP regime. This is a war that seeks to defeat the West and destroy Western Civilization by altering Western societies without kinetic war.
Fourth, the aggression of Communism faces a legitimization crisis everywhere it is manifest, but this is much worse with the PRC’s version of Communism, as it is a Western ideology, the ideology of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism, and the Party itself were products of Soviet Union and the Communist International (or Comintern). There is nothing Chinese about any of this. Thus, the Party faces a crisis of legitimacy. The CCP is not a legitimate polity, form of government, as such it has no mandate from the people, nor does it seek one as the CCP views the people as the enemy.
This illegitimacy drives the CCP to conflict. They cannot exist in a world where individual freedom, free enterprise, and human rights are respected. These freedoms must be destroyed. Interestingly, the CCP’s self-awareness regarding their illegitimacy drives them, as all Communist states, to paranoia about “counter-revolutionaries,” ubiquitous rivals and enemies of the leader, Xi Jinping. This paranoia drives the CCP’s need to destroy their seen and unseen enemies, in ever-tightening circles of accusation and destruction as the totalitarian rule of Xi is forged. This has been made manifest in the past few months as senior CCP officials from the Foreign Minister, PLA Rocket Force and Defense Minister have effectively been purged.
Nonetheless, the CCP is a wily and formidable enemy. For instance, Deng Xiaoping, the CCP’s greatest strategist of the 20th century, studied the mistakes of the Soviet Union, and ensured the PRC would not make their mistakes. There would be no political reform, but there would be the appearance of economic reform. Deng took a page from the Soviets and adopted Lenin’s New Economic Policy’s embrace of free market incentives.
At the same time, Deng’s “hide and bide” strategy contributed to the West’s infatuation with “threat deflation”—where the U.S. underestimated the threat and made U.S. businesses willing partners with the CCP. In turn, the CCP enlisted U.S. business to influence their governments and societies.
Deng comprehended that the CCP’s secret weapon was the American elite who are invested in the PRC and profit from it. Now some 40 years later, Xi Jinping is the inheritor of Deng’s system, but he cannot avoid the legitimization crisis the CCP now faces. Xi’s cult of personality within the Party and his quickening pace of purges reveals that CCP crisis is acute.
As knowing your enemy is the foundation of the development of a successful national defense strategy, understanding the root causes of the PRC’s behavior is the essential foundation of that strategy. Americans and Congress should demand a national defense strategy that is based on this realistic understanding of the motivations and determination of their enemy. If they will not receive it from the Biden administration, perhaps Congress can fill the void left by Biden.
James Fanell is a government fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, a retired captain in the U.S. Navy and a former director of intelligence and information operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Bradley A. Thayer is Director of China Policy at the Center for Security Policy. He is the coauthor with Lianchao Han of Understanding the China Threat.