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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

China’s Plans for Taiwan and Narrative Warfare

If we don’t understand what the game is and how to play it, we will be contributing to Xi’s odds of success.

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:

  1. Xi already knows what meaning he wishes to convey although he doesn’t know the right way to approach “selling it.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. You cannot solve for narrative without the knowledge and experience behind ethical, narrative-centric influence campaigning.
Ajit Maan and Paul Cobaugh
Ajit Maan, Ph.D. writes the Narrative & National Security column for Homeland Security Today featuring her original work and work by guest experts in narrative strategy focused on identifying active narratives, who is behind them, and what strategies they are deploying to manipulate and muddy facts to the detriment of America. She is founder and CEO of the award-winning think-and-do-tank, Narrative Strategies LLC, Adjunct Professor at Joint Special Operations University, Professor of Politics and Global Security, Faculty at the Center for the Future of War, and member of the Brain Trust of the Weaponized Narrative Initiative at Arizona State University. She is also author of seven books including Internarrative Identity: Placing the Self, Counter-Terrorism: Narrative Strategies, Narrative Warfare, and Plato’s Fear. Maan's breakthrough theory of internarrative identity came in 1997; she published a book by the same name in 1999 which was released in its second edition in 2010 (with the addition of the subtitle Placing the Self). Her 2014 book, Counter-Terrorism: Narrative Strategies, examines the scripts perpetuated by a wide range of terrorist organizations while also making important interdisciplinary connections between studies in the humanities and current world events (a workbook companion to the text was published in 2018). She collaborated with the late Brigadier General Amar Cheema on the edited volume titled Soft Power on Hard Problems: Strategic Influence in Irregular Warfare, published in 2016. Maan's 2018 book, titled Narrative Warfare, is a collection of articles examining the topic of weaponized narrative; her 2020 book, Plato's Fear, examines the relationship between narrative and power. Paul Cobaugh retired from the US Army as a Warrant Officer after a distinguished career in the US Special Operations CT community, primarily focused on mitigating adversarial influence and advancing US objectives by way of influence. Throughout his career he has focused on the centrality of influence in modern conflict whether it be from extremist organisations or state actors employing influence against the US and our Allies. Post military career he was offered and accepted the position of Vice President at Narrative Strategies, a US based Think-Do Tank which specializes in the non-kinetic aspects of conflict. He has also co-authored, Soft Power on Hard Problems, Hamilton Publishing, 2017 and Introduction to Narrative Warfare: A Primer and Study Guide, Amazon, 2018.

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