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Psychological warfare. Public opinion warfare. Legal warfare.
Known as the “three warfares” doctrine and relatively unknown in the West, these
concepts serve as key strategies guiding the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in its
quest to win a war against the free world without firing a single shot.
By Cathy He September 28, 2021 Updated: September 29, 2021   Print
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Psychological warfare seeks to demoralize the enemy; public opinion warfare seeks
to shape the hearts and minds of the masses; legal warfare seeks to use systems of
law to deter enemy attacks.
This explanation was set out in a recently released 650-page report that provides a
comprehensive illustration of the Chinese communist regime’s global influence
operations. The French-language report was published by the Institute for
Strategic Studies of Military Schools (IRSEM), an independent agency affiliated
with the French Ministry of Armed Forces.
Combined with another key CCP doctrine called “United Front” work, these
principles have undergirded a breathtaking campaign by the Chinese regime to
expand its influence and infiltration into Western democracies, the report stated.
United Front, described by the CCP’s first leader Mao Zedong as a “magic
weapon,” is a policy that, according to the report, involves the regime “eliminating
its internal and external enemies, controlling groups that may challenge its
authority, building a coalition around the Party to serve its interests, and
projecting its influence abroad.”
The report comes amid rising pushback from the West against CCP aggressions,
including its severe human rights abuses, rampant theft of intellectual property,
economic coercion, and military assertiveness.
Sweeping Effort
Guided by such strategies, the Chinese regime has built a sprawling infrastructure
with global reach consisting of a broad network of state and non-state actors to
execute its plans.
According to IRSEM, Beijing’s influence operations abroad have two main
objectives: “to seduce and subjugate foreign audiences by creating a positive
narrative of China,” and “above all, to infiltrate and coerce.”
“Infiltration aims to slowly penetrate opposing societies in order to hinder any
inclination to act against the interests of the Party,” the report stated.
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“Coercion corresponds to the gradual expansion of ‘punitive’ or ‘coercive’
diplomacy to become a policy of systematic sanction against any state,
organization, enterprise or individual threatening the interests of the Party.”
Targets of the CCP’s campaigns span the whole spectrum of society. Key
battleground areas include education, media, politics, culture, and social media.
United Front Work in Action
Much of Beijing’s overseas United Front efforts are carried out through a
“nebulous network of intermediaries” loosely coordinated by CCP bodies,
including Chinese embassies and consulates, and the Party’s United Front Work
Department, the report stated.
In a 2020 speech, then-Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific
affairs David Stilwell said the CCP leverages thousands of overseas groups that
carry out political influence operations, suppress dissident movements, gather
intelligence, and facilitate the transfer of technology to China.
While some United Front organizations publicly state their affiliation with Beijing,
“most try to present themselves as independent, grassroots-type NGOs, culturalexchange forums, ‘friendship’ associations, chambers of commerce, media outlets,
or academic groups,” Stilwell said at the time.
A 2020 investigation by Newsweek found about 600 such groups in the United
One of those groups highlighted in the report is the China-United States Exchange
Foundation (CUSEF).
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CUSEF is a Hong Kong-based nonprofit headed by billionaire and Chinese regime
official Tung Chee-hwa that bills itself as an independent group working to provide
U.S.–China dialogues and exchanges. But in reality, it “functions as a de facto front
organization for the PRC [People’s Republic of China] government,” the report
stated, citing the findings from a 2020 study by Jamestown Foundation, a
Washington-based think tank. The group is also registered under the U.S. Foreign
Agent Registration Act (FARA).
The group has entered into a range of partnerships with a range of prestigious
American think tanks and universities, which IRSEM characterized as a bid to
“launder” its influence activities. Partners include Johns Hopkins University, the
East-West Institute, the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, the Atlantic Council, and
the Brookings Institution.
Earlier this year, CUSEF’s ties to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
came under the spotlight during the nomination hearing for CIA Director William
Burns. Prior to his nomination, Burns served as president of the think tank. Facing
criticism from Republican lawmakers, Burns told the Senate hearing that he had
“inherited” Carnegie’s relationship with CUSEF but cut ties with the group “not
long after” he began his tenure in 2015. Burns further said he was “increasingly
worried about the expansion of Chinese influence operations.”
The group also sponsors many high-level dialogues between CCP officials and U.S.
military and political figures, the report stated.
U.S. media have also been targeted by CUSEF. It has organized trips to China for
more than 120 journalists from almost 50 U.S. media outlets since 2009, The
Epoch Times previously reported.
From 2009 to 2017, CUSEF also hosted a range of dinners and meetings with
executives and editors from 35 outlets, including Time magazine, The Wall Street
Journal, Forbes, The New York Times, The Associated Press, and Reuters. The
group’s FARA filings described the dinners, hosted by CUSEF founder Tung, as
“invaluable for their effectiveness in engaging support from the leaders of the news
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The Epoch Times has reached out to CUSEF for comment.
Overseas ethnic Chinese populations, even those who aren’t Chinese citizens, find
themselves as “priority targets” of Beijing’s influence operations, according to the
report. One objective, according to IRSEM, is to control the diaspora such that
“they do not represent a threat to power;” the other is to “mobilize them to serve
its interests.”
Described by Freedom House as the world’s largest perpetrator of transnational
repression, Beijing has targeted a range of overseas-based dissident groups,
including Uyghur Muslims, rights activists, Hong Kong democracy proponents,
and Falun Gong practitioners.
Victims face physical attacks, threats, surveillance, harassment, and intimidation
by Chinese agents or their proxies, in person or online, the advocacy group stated
in a February report.
In one extreme example, Freedom House noted the case of Sun Yi, a Falun Gong
practitioner who survived imprisonment in the notorious Chinese labor camp
Masanjia. Falun Gong is a spiritual practice that has been brutally persecuted by
the CCP for more than two decades.
While he was detained, Sun snuck an SOS letter into a Halloween decoration for
export. It was later found by an American woman in 2012. He filmed a
documentary with undercover footage detailing his experiences and escaped to
In 2017, Sun died of sudden kidney failure. His family said Sun never had kidney
problems, and the hospital didn’t give concrete details of his death and rushed to
have his body cremated. No autopsy was performed. These circumstances have
caused Sun’s supporters to suspect foul play.
Cathy He
CHINA REPORTER Grant full access to
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Cathy He is a New York-based reporter focusing on China-related topics. She previously
worked as a government lawyer in Australia. She joined the Epoch Times in February 2018.

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