Recent analysis of Xi Jinping’s appointment of a trusted influencer foretells his strategy to move away from the “One Country, Two Systems” policy: “This top leadership change hints at Xi’s political strategy as he aims for a fourth term. ‘Wang Huning’s mission is to lay the groundwork for Taiwan unification.’”
Xi’s announcement regarding Wang Huning’s assignment is a strong indication that he is changing the rules of engagement. Wang will be tasked with creating “a theoretical unification strategy fit for the Xi era.” The author of the analysis suggests that a theoretical unification strategy will be the “yardstick with which to measure progress and to decide if a military operation is necessary.” In our opinion, however, if this “theoretical unification strategy” is successful, it will be much more than a yardstick. It will be the cover story that connects to a Chinese narrative that may have the power to take Taiwan without firing a shot.
The specific threat, the target of Xi’s narrative, is that his “Great Chinese Rejuvenation” requires all Han territory to be part of his historical interpretation of China, “The Middle Kingdom.” This feeds directly into what the Pentagon has long focused on – that is, defeating a Chinese invasion of the island.
The Chinese are not putting their tanks in a row and then deciding how to spin an invasion for the public. Rather, they are focusing first on public influence, the success or failure of which will determine whether or not an invasion is likely to be successful. They are engaged in Narrative Warfare. The kinetics are not out front but that does not diminish the severity of the threat.
It would be a significant defeat for rules-based international order if Xi’s objective of reunifying Taiwan to the Han Chinese mainland, a requisite for his China Dream, was successful.
While we’ve planned for decades to defeat China in a military operation against Taiwan, we haven’t planned to win by influence. And if we don’t understand what the game is and how to play it, we will be contributing to Xi’s odds of success.
There are weaknesses that should be exploited to diminish the effectiveness of Xi’s approach, but even the strength of his position can be undermined:
- Xi already knows what meaning he wishes to convey although he doesn’t know the right way to approach “selling it.”
- Identity is a huge advantage for him. His target audience is already the same or very similar to mainland, Han Chinese identity; however, narrative manipulation can and has been used to undermine identity. This strength should not deter us.
- Content is a vacuum for him at this time because content depends on a long list of variables that can only be derived via narrative analysis by experienced narrative scholars and operators.
- Narrative structure is not just how a sentence is built but how every aspect of each delivery of a core or supporting stories are based on how the target audience is programmed to receive information that they must make a decision about, consciously or subconsciously. When the messenger and the audience share the same or very similar identity, structure is almost instinctive, particularly the subconscious part.
- You cannot solve for narrative without the knowledge and experience behind ethical, narrative-centric influence campaigning.