02 June 2020

The Russian-Chinese cooperation in the strategic influence operations against US

Sergiu Medar

Depending on the extremely complex disruptive factors, world’s states are subjected to a unique decisional pressure in all humankind’s history. In order to come up with their advantageous stances in negotiations and decisions, powerful states are using the most advanced and effective methods that are providing success. The offensive strategic influence operations, which have also different aggressiveness scales, aim at preparing the targeted population to create that necessary pressure for their leaders to make decision that will favour the aggressor power.

Image source: Hepta

Last year, between 4 and 6th of June, China’s president, Xi Jinping, made a three-days-visit to Russia, at the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The leaders of the two powers had long discussions then. At the end of their conversations, Putin stated for TASS that the agreement between the two countries on global matters is: “unprecedentedly high”. President Xi also stated that “we managed to bring our relations to the highest level in history”. They have established cooperation terms in the science and technology fields, capitalizing the accomplishments of the two world powers. For example, in terms of communication, Putin decided to implement the 5G system and recommended the cooperation between the Chinese company Huawei and the Russian company MTS. Also, the Chinese leaders decided to develop, with Russia’s support, its capacity to enlarge the strategic influence operations, the main field being manipulation through fake news.

One of the fields to have the greatest strategic impact is the cooperation between the two states, China and Russia, to increase the pressure on US through the strategic influence operations.

The two leaders agreed that the biggest interest they have to cooperate and focus on is trying to block or at least to destabilize the global or regional US initiatives. Both Russia and China think that the American state is the main threat to their national security.

Russia’s capacity to decisively influence the US presidential elections in 2016 and China’s to influence the local and presidential elections in 2018 and 2020 in Taiwan have revealed a strong global competition between the democrats and the autocrats. The cooperation between China and Russia in the field has diversified the possibilities of autocracies to modify the idea on their governing model attractiveness, to produce chaos in the democratic states and create antagonistic stances and encourage the division among democratic states. After such actions, China and Russia have cooperated and analyzed their results, mutually sharing the learned lessons.

The Russian-Chinese strategic influence digital campaigns over the US, which was already multiple times executed with different methods and messages, are closely working on the same major geopolitical or complementary objectives.

- Undermining the liberal norms and institutions is a major mission for the strategic influence threats.  The liberal democracy’s values are vital threats on China and Russia’s national security. The August 2019’s pro-democratic protests from Hong Kong, with by Internet messages which were supporting the democratic values, were used by the Chinese media to accuse US for being involved in China’s internal decisions. Russia, through the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s spokesperson came immediately to support China accusing US for population’s exhortation. The same press release underlined that the two countries want to establish an investigation commission for US on how it used new technologies to destabilize China and, most likely, Russia.

Since 2014, the two countries have separately started strategic influence actions over the West to weaken the democracy and provoke its decline, in order to reach the geopolitical objectives. That’s why they used a narration to present democracy as a system which leads to chaos and lack of effectiveness comparing to their centralized system, led by one person only, who has extremely big decision power. At the same time, the Russia-China cooperation in strategic influence operations field could be seen by the Western states as a sincere cooperation example between the two autocratic states on the democracies wherein such collaboration is extremely rare.

- Weakening the cohesion between the democratic partners and allies of US. China and Russia are making great efforts to weaken the cohesion between US allies and Washington, as well as between the US allies only. This is how these two states want to eliminate the opposition of the democratic states on their interests. Patiently, as the Chinese people are used to, China tries, now, when the US seems that is no longer interested on the global leader position, to present Washington as an unreliable partner in front of its partners and allies. Beijing is also following the Deng Xiaoping’s foreign policy “hide the power and buy some time”. And so in this time, China and then Russia are applying the Macedonia’s Philip the Second policy, “divide et impera”, trying to destabilize the transatlantic relation and the European Union. This way Russia, together with the gases provision blackmail is forcefully undermining the European states’ cohesion firstly trying to push a more conciliatory position in terms of the sanctions EU imposed to Moscow.

-Undermining the US global influence. This common China-Russia objective is the main reason of the collaboration between the two states in strategic influence operations field. The two countries are measuring their power with US’s one.  As they do not have methods to diminish the US’s hard-power field, but only to compete with it, Beijing and Moscow are developing true digital campaigns, which will weaken the soft-power field. China and Russia’s diplomats have received the mission to mobilize technologies, the know-how and media resources from the targeted states to diminish US’s global influence.

-Promoting the China and Russia’s interests. Concurrently with undermining the democratic states’ influence, in general, and the US, in particular, the two states are also promoting their global interests and their image in the world. They are seeking to redefine the technology field, to combat the critics against their policies and extend their influence through proxy states.

China mostly, but also Russia, are using positive and proactive narrations to support their domestic actions and mostly the international ones and give each of them a good international image. The main objective of China’s informational strategy is promoting the strategic thinking ideas of Xi Jinping and the way the Belt and Road Initiative can lead to global wealth. Presenting China’s successes, in the English language, and its retaliation capacity it seeks to prompt the idea that an autocratic system is more effective than a democratic one. The fact that the world’s undemocratic states have reached the 50% of the total states, and many other countries are seeking new solutions for a new international order they may consider the effectiveness of the Chinese propaganda. Therefore, China is gradually trying to prompt the idea that it will soon become the undisputable global leader.

The development of the strategic influence operations of the two countries is different. Russia’s actions are rather destructive than constructive. The pro-Russian narration is quite brutal, confrontational, with no intention to consider the diplomatic manners or the manners of a decent journalism. The Russian propaganda messages are only distorting the truth, but also disinformation, by creating completely wrong scenarios, through statements attributed to personalities or through interpretations, sometimes with small logic, yet starting from false statements. The fake news spread on social media, which come from the Russian sources only aim at: discrediting US, showing that they are no longer interested in being a global leader and that they do not want to commit to such a stance, destroying the transatlantic relation, the European states’ cohesion and positively presenting the Russian technological accomplishments. The Russian strategic influence operations are aggressively acting to conveying the population concerns and even fear of its military successes. A population who is permanently surrounded by concerns against a possible threat is easier to manipulate through fake news.

To discredit US, for example, the Russian media has presented the US withdrawal from the Middle East as a Western mercantilism, which forced Russia to commit more as a pacifier of the region.

Putin knows his country is close to collapse and that’s why his actions are increasingly aggressive. This aggressiveness is, for now, manifested through strategic influence operations. It will not take long until it will also be manifested through hard power terms, in the near abroad area. So Putin is hurrying and is trying to establish some new rules and global hierarchies, using the offensive operational operations to create the idea that it is still a big power.

In the meantime, Beijing is patiently applying the small steps technique, managing to chase the Western states’ interests, relying on the fact that the Chinese system is a combination between the private and state economy.

For the establishment of a new international order is important how US, China and even Russia will exit the COVID-19 crisis. According to current statistics, China seems to have been recovered, at least partially, the quickest. US and Russia are still going through a crisis, the difference tough being that Washington entered it with a positive index for all fields, meanwhile Russia is still subjected to the economic and political sanctions and, due to a sudden fall of the oil price, is economically going down. This is a dangerous phenomenon as some of the states which found themselves in this situation are choosing aggressive solutions both internally and externally.

The willingness of all strong states to come up with a solution for world’s new economic order could be the best impulse to actually make the necessary compromise.

Translated by Andreea Soare