“Stealth War” is war by non-military means. I discuss this topic with General Robert Spalding (USAF-Ret.). General Spalding’s book, Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept, explores the nature of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). As martial scholars, we look at the way economics, politics, media, and technology can be weaponized. In the geopolitical power struggle between the U.S. and China, this is an important topic to study. I was honored to have General Spalding speak with me. Please check out the interview and notes below.
A New Cold War
During the Cold War of the 20th Century, the United States and the Soviet Union did not have economic relations. Today’s new cold war is different. The U.S. and China have extensive trade relations and are tied together through the globalized economy.
Chinese President Xi Jinping advocates for an open economy. Why? General Spalding makes the case that it benefits the CCP. For Western companies, the market opportunities are vast. There are over one billion people living in China. As the Chinese consumer class grows, there is an inescapable allure among multinational corporations to access this powerful market. But, this also gives the Chinese Communist Party significant leverage. Business in China also means business with the CCP. The Party becomes a joint partner. It is the price that businesses pay to access cheap labor capital and sell their products.
General Spalding highlights the ways in which the CCP has tried to exploit the free market. The argument he makes is that the CCP is a type of Trojan Horse. They are “open” for business because they understand that the free market can be used to enrich the party and strengthen the state. Furthermore, the Chinese Communist Party can use economic leverage for political gain and to impact U.S. citizens. For example, we discuss several cases in which China has sought to force American businesses to fire employees or censor free speech.
The most prominent case occurred when former Houston Rockets general manager, Daryl Morey, tweeted in favor of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protestors. The backlash from China was swift and there were reports of the PRC pressuring the NBA to fire Morey.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)
The Chinese Communist Party is a totalitarian regime that rules its people through force. There is no freedom of religion, freedom of the press, or freedom of speech specifically political speech that the government might find subversive. General Spalding describes it as “rule by law” rather than “rule of law.” This means that the law is what the state decides it to be. On the other hand, in the American political system, the law is derived from the consent of the governed. The United States is a nation formed under the principle of inalienable rights i.e. rights that are intrinsic to the individual. This contrasts with a monarchy or a dictatorship where laws are decreed from on high. In China, the state grants rights. They can be stripped away as easily as they are granted. The state is supreme over the liberty of the individual.
In my interviews with General Spalding and Ian Easton (Episode 20), they both used the term “Orwellian” to describe the CCP. This is a reference to George Orwell, who wrote 1984 and Animal Farm. These novels seek to uncover the nature of totalitarian governments. Modern China appears to be an Orwellian nightmare with tight state control over the lives of its citizens to include an extensive social credit score.
General Spalding also referenced the massacre in Tiananmen Square. This was a Chinese student uprising during the late 1980s that was brutally suppressed by the CCP. It marked a turning point in modern China in which the state pushed further toward authoritarian rule. To this day, many Chinese citizens are unaware of what happened at Tiananmen Square. They don’t know the history of what their government did. All references are removed from the Internet, which is tightly controlled by the CCP.
Unrestricted Warfare and The Art of War
General Spalding references two books. The first one is called Unrestricted Warfare. This book was published by two PLA Colonels- Colonel Qiao Ling and Colonel Wang Xiangsu. It was written in the late 1990s. In the backdrop of the book’s publication, America had just defeated the Soviet Union during the Cold War and emerged as the sole superpower in the world. Furthermore, America had won a successful military campaign against Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War.
Thus, the two PLA Colonels identify America’s military and technological supremacy as being a significant force to overcome. What was the solution? War by other means. In this sense, Unrestricted Warfare has echoes of the great Chinese military strategist and author, Sun Tzu. Sun Tzu’s book, The Art of War, describes war being waged on multiple fronts to include diplomatic fronts. In my interview “On Strategy” with Sir Lawrence Freedman, we touched on a few of these principles. The principle of strategic power is to shape the battlefield in one’s favor before a shot is fired. The goal is to lay the groundwork for the enemy to capitulate to one’s will before blood is shed.
Applying that principle to the 21st Century, we see how there are numerous domains in which China can erode the United States and her power. First, there is the U.S. economic system which seeks open markets. As previously mentioned, that is one area of exploitation. There is also the domain of mass communications and disinformation. In the interview, we also discuss technologies that can be used for mass surveillance and espionage. There is also traditional espionage as evidence by the scandal of U.S. House of Representative Eric Swalwell (D.-Ca).
Is there a military solution?
No. That is the short answer. We have looked at possible military responses. But, as previously mentioned, this is not a war with significant military power. However, China is building and expanding their military especially their Navy, which includes two aircraft carriers- Liaoning and Shandong.
General Spalding also claims that American companies “helped finance” the Chinese construction of manmade islands in the South China Sea. The South China Sea remains hotly contested. China claims nearly all of the territory down to what is called the “Nine Dash Line.” This maritime area is economically vibrant with nearly $3.37 trillion in global trade activity annually and 11 billion barrels in untapped oil reserves (Source: CFR).
When I interviewed Ian Easton, he discussed the ability of China to invade Taiwan. General Spalding was adamant that such an invasion would take place. He suggests that it is not a matter of if but when.
In past episodes, I have sought to look at how the branches of the military like the Marine Corps are focusing on the threat that China poses in the Indo-Pacific. The Marine Corps Commandant, General Berger, crafted his Commandant’s Planning Guidance (CPG) off of the 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS). General Spalding helped develop the NSS. The Marine Corps has sought to answer the challenge of China’s belligerence in the Indo-Pacific. In my podcast with Lt. Col. Scott Cuomo, we talked about the concept of being “Not Openly at War, But Still Mostly at Peace.”
Other Topics: Technology, Hong Kong, COVID-19
The podcast includes other topics of discussion such as technology. General Spalding has focused his work on 5G technology. Fifth Generation (5G) technology is one in which the world is even more connected. Hard to believe! The speed of 5G will make the Internet of Things (IoT) a greater reality. IoT ties physical objects to the Internet. Every object becomes “smart”. The world is hyper connected in ways that are hard to imagine now. Thus, it is no surprise that the race to develop and exploit this technology has intensified among nation states.
Next, we discuss what happened in Hong Kong. The previous framework was “one country, two systems.” In 2019, massive pro-democracy protests took place in Hong Kong. The protests were in opposition to a national security law. Pro-Beijing lawmakers signed the national security law in June of 2020. As of 2020 the U.S. no longer recognized the autonomy of Hong Kong.
No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground.
-former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (May 27, 202, source: NBC)
Finally, we had an interesting discussion about COVID-19. It is worth listening to General Spalding’s perspective. He does not believe that the Chinese deliberately released the virus. But, he does claim that the cover-up of information and the disinformation that followed is a manifestation of China’s stealth war.
Books and Resources:
General Spaldings Twitter: @robert_spalding