STRATEGIC VISION Volume 9, Issue 47
for Taiwan Security
Red Flag on Mars China Sets its Sights on the Red Planet Tonio Savina
PLA Strives to Become World-Class Military M.S. Prathibha
India-China Border Tensions Raviprasad Narayanan
Chinaâ€™s Successes Against COVID-19 Shao-cheng Sun
Cyber Security Challenges in Taiwan Tobias Burgers, Hon-min Yau, David J. Farber
Volume 9, Issue 47
for Taiwan Security w
Contents India-China border dispute flares up.............................................4
Beijing seeks to plant red flag on Mars.........................................10
Chinese Dream necessitates â€˜world-class militaryâ€™...................... 16
Taiwan public lacks understanding of cyber threats....................22
Tobias Burgers, Hon-min Yau, & David J. Farber
Beijing touts COVID-19 successes to boost image.......................26
Submissions: Essays submitted for publication are not to exceed 2,000 words in length, and should conform to the following basic format for each 1200-1600 word essay: 1. Synopsis, 100-200 words; 2. Background description, 100-200 words; 3. Analysis, 800-1,000 words; 4. Policy Recommendations, 200-300 words. Book reviews should not exceed 1,200 words in length. Notes should be formatted as endnotes and should be kept to a minimum. Authors are encouraged to submit essays and reviews as attachments to emails; Microsoft Word documents are preferred. For questions of style and usage, writers should consult the Chicago Manual of Style. Authors of unsolicited manuscripts are encouraged to consult with the executive editor at firstname.lastname@example.org before formal submission via email. The views expressed in the articles are the personal views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of their affiliate institutions or of Strategic Vision. Manuscripts are subject to copyediting, both mechanical and substantive, as required and according to editorial guidelines. No major alterations may be made by an author once the type has been set. Arrangements for reprints should be made with the editor. Composite cover photograph of is courtesy of NASA and the China National Space Administration.
Editor Fu-Kuo Liu Executive Editor Aaron Jensen Associate Editor Dean Karalekas Editorial Board Chung-young Chang, Fo-kuan U Richard Hu, NCCU Ming Lee, NCCU Raviprasad Narayanan, JNU Chris Roberts, U of Canberra Lipin Tien, NDU Hon-Min Yau, NDU Rui-lin Yu, NDU Li-Chung Yuan, NDU STRATEGIC VISION For Taiwan Security (ISSN 2227-3646) Volume 9, Number 47, September, 2020, published under the auspices of the Center for Security Studies and National Defense University. All editorial correspondence should be mailed to the editor at STRATEGIC VISION, Taiwan Center for Security Studies. No. 64, Wan Shou Road, Taipei City 11666, Taiwan, ROC. The editors are responsible for the selection and acceptance of articles; responsibility for opinions expressed and accuracy of facts in articles published rests solely with individual authors. The editors are not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts; unaccepted manuscripts will be returned if accompanied by a stamped, self-addressed return envelope. Photographs used in this publication are used courtesy of the photographers, or through a creative commons license. All are attributed appropriately. Any inquiries please contact the Executive Editor directly via email at: email@example.com. Or by telephone at: +886 (02) 8237-7228 Online issues and archives can be viewed at our website: www.csstw.org © Copyright 2020 by the Taiwan Center for Security Studies. All articles in this periodical represent the personal views of the authors, and not necessarily their institutions, the TCSS, NDU, or the editors.
From The Editor
he editors and staff of Strategic Vision would like to wish our readers well this fall season. The Indo-Pacific region remains as dynamic and complex as ever, and we wish to keep our readers abreast of developments that continue to affect security in the region. To that end, we offer our latest issue. We open this issue with Dr. Raviprasad Narayanan of the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, who examines the border clash between China and India. Next, Tonio Savina, a PhD student at the Italian Institute of Oriental Studies at Sapienza University in Rome, looks at China’s space program and the current mission to explore Mars. Dr. M.S. Prathibha of the East Asia Center at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi offers an analysis of China’s drive to field a global military as a means to achieving the Chinese Dream. Dr. Tobias Burgers, Dr. Hon-min Yau, and Dr. David J. Farber discuss the implications of a pair of surveys that reveal a fundamental lack of understanding about the seriousness of cyber threats among the Taiwan public. Finally, Dr. Shao-cheng Sun, a visiting professor at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, examines China’s messaging on its fight against COVID-19. We hope you enjoy this issue, and look forward to bringing you the finest analysis and reporting on the issues of importance to security in the Taiwan Strait and the entire Asia-Pacific region. Dr. Fu-Kuo Liu Editor Strategic Vision
Strategic Vision vol. 9, no. 47 (September, 2020)
Pandemic used as cover for action on longstanding India-China border dispute Raviprasad Narayanan
photo: BMN Network
OVID-19 has held the whole world in a state of crisis with millions of diagnosed positive cases and hundreds of thousands of deaths. This is an opportune moment for the world to come together, although there are differences of opinion about what exactly the virus is, what its origins are, and how best to diagnose and treat it. Conversely, at this moment, some governments see an opportunity to enforce their writ, using the lockdown and the preoccupation with fighting the virus to ignore international concerns and legal niceties.
has been expanding its territory by ignoring the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which was established in an agreement signed by both sides in 1993, called the Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas.
Such is the case with China’s continuing provocations in the high Himalayan region of western Ladakh in India, where the People’s Republic of China (PRC)
Army (PLA) in this area. Under the command of their colonel, the troops were tasked with enforcing India’s right to patrol the Indian side of the LAC and remov-
PLA ambush Matters escalated recently when 20 Indian soldiers were killed in an ambush by the People’s Liberation
Dr. Raviprasad Narayanan is an associate professor at the Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
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ing illegal structures that PLA troops had built on Indian soil. The number of losses on the Chinese side is not known. This incident reveals that, following the Galwan river valley confrontation, the geostrategic and geoeconomic tensions between China and India will continue to reverberate for decades to come. China and India are Asia’s largest countries geographically, and the second- and fifth-largest economies of the world. With their respective geopolitical schema distinctly out of synch, it appears that violating international norms is the methodology of choice for some, while for those at the receiving end, a temporary setback is worryingly creating domestic acceptance of the need to prepare for a more kinetic eventuality, should matters lead there. At a time when the world’s two most populous countries need so desperately to work together to fight the coronavirus pandemic, domestic political impulses seem instead to be at the fore. China and India do not have a formal boundary agreement to delineate the 4,056-kilometer boundary
between the two countries. What passes for a border between the two countries are a mélange of acronyms: the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the International Border (IB) and the Line of Control (LOC). From northwestern Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir union territory, to Arunachal Pradesh state in India’s north-
“The exact geographical coordinates are not available in the public domain, leading to a situation where the PRC can claim territory never controlled by them.” east, the unresolved boundary dispute between Asia’s two largest countries has deep, intrinsically embedded characteristics of ennui, and historical narratives prevail over the rational and the practical. In western Ladakh, the Galwan River valley, at an altitude of more than 4,500 meters, is coveted by China. This river originates as a stream in the eastern Karakoram Mountains and merges with other
photo: John Hill Bharat Mata sits at the entrance of an Indian military base in Ladakh, representing the patriotic and religious duty of all Indians to defend the nation.
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streams from various melting glaciers to flow into Aksai Chin of Jammu and Kashmir and into the Shyok River. This is entirely on the Indian side of the LAC. The Galwan River, owing to geographical contours, takes a sharp bend before flowing into the Shyok River. This bend forms a Y-shaped riverine estuary, which China calls the Galwan-Shyok estuary. India refers to this estuary as the Y-shaped nullah. According to India, the LAC is a few kilometers east of the estuary. The exact geographical coordinates are not available in the public domain, leading to a situation where the PRC can claim territory never controlled by them.
Troops clash Pangong Lake in eastern Ladakh in India was witness to clashes in early May this year when Indian troops patrolling Pangong Lake were stopped by PLA soldiers and accused of trespassing into Chinese ter-
ritory. The following day, when Indian troops were on patrol at the same place, PLA troops in larger numbers engaged them in fisticuffs, leading to a tense situation. While these transgressions by Chinese troops were happening in eastern Ladakh, at the same time Chinese troops were transgressing at Nako La, a highaltitude mountain pass in the Sikkim state of India. To Indians, the memory of the 72-day Doklam episode of 2017 on the Bhutan-China-India border are still fresh. Until 2003, the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs considered the Sikkim state of India an independent country, revealing the uninterrupted coveting of land by leaders in Beijing. The two instances at the Galwan Valley should have raised concerns in New Delhi, but they were not deemed an indication of greater anomalies in bilateral relations. China, in the Galwan Valley fracas, has been unsuccessfully trying to establish sovereignty rights through force. This attempt is a blatant viola-
photo: Sandeepachetan.com An Indian military communications station sits high in the mountains of Kashmir, in the northernmost geographical region of the Indian subcontinent.
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tion of international law, and is Beijing’s “reverse gear” methodology in operation to recreate what was done in 1962, when India lost eastern Ladakh in the war. These high-altitude mountains are strategically important to China as its geographical spread and altitude can, if matters turn ugly, restrict China’s communications with Xinjiang. A physical presence in these remote regions also makes it easier for China to implement its One Belt One Road (OBOR) project connecting Pakistan-occupied Kashmir with China’s Xinjiang province. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is investing around US$14 billion to construct a four-lane highway in Karakorum where the average height is between 12,000 and 15,000 feet above sea level. By forcibly altering the map and illegally occupying India’s territory, the PRC wants to display its readiness to tackle potential geopolitical adversaries. There are several reasons why China violated the treaty of 1993. First, China’s Highway 219 connects Xinjiang with Tibet: two regions with huge geographical spreads that roughly account for more than one-third of China’s total land area. Second, this highway, at 2,342 kilometers in length, was constructed in the first decade since the PRC was founded in 1949. Third, by going through Tibet, this highway encouraged China to claim India’s northwestern high Himalayas, where Ladakh is located. Fourth, to Beijing, Xinjiang has to be kept under strict control lest it lead to a situation where secession of East Turkestan is revived as an issue by restive Uyghurs.
India’s loss in the 1962 war with China saw eastern Ladakh, known as Aksai Chin, taken over by the PLA. The whole of Ladakh is a part of Jammu and Kashmir union territory in India, and losing this strategic geographical area still animates policy makers in New Delhi. The Galwan River and valley were never claimed by China until 1960. This was an addon to the claim China made in 1956, and is rejected by India. To India, China claiming territory south of the Kunlun Mountains as an intrinsic part of its Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region was an irredentist advancement of claims lacking any historical basis. These days, most people are well aware of just how “autonomous” Xinjiang really is. The history of the Galwan Valley was imprinted by the PLA in 1962 at Samzungling, used as a com-
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photo: Peter Reft A US Air Force F-15 takes off from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa to support operations in the Sea of Japan.
mand position during the war. Talks between Zhou Enlai and Jawaharlal Nehru in 1959 involved an exchange of maps, and the Chinese map did not show Galwan as an area Beijing was claiming. One of the consequences that followed was India’s rejection of China’s claim of 1956 which included the whole of Aksai Chin. Quickly after India’s rejection came the Longju and Kongka pass incidents, which led to an all-out war between the two countries in late 1962. Prior to the 1962 conflict, China’s irredentism was noted by senior politicians in India, especially by then Vice President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Home Minister Govind Ballabh Pant, both of whom were averse to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s overtures to China seeking “equality” and “commonality” as lodestones to the bilateral relationship. Vice President Radhakrishnan opined at the time that, if China could claim Aksai Chin, it could set a precedent where India could claim parts of Afghanistan (specifically Kabul and Kandahar). He told visiting Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai that China had hurt India deeply by claiming Ladakh and Aksai Chin, and that he was surprised Zhou was not aware of this fact. It has to be added here that Zhou’s visit to New Delhi was a failure after his border set-
tlement agreement with Burma encouraged Beijing to bring a favorable closure to the boundary dispute with India. This failure rankles China, much as the loss in 1962, with its territorial re-alterations, continues to gnaw at India. The only takeaway emerging out of Zhou Enlai’s six day visit was the setting up of a high-power group to study border issues and demarcations, a process interrupted by war and internal political chaos in China during the Cultural Revolution.
Long-standing compacts China’s continental and maritime borders are an imprint of political authority with little or no adherence to long-standing international compacts. Beijing’s land-boundary disputes with most of its continental neighbors have been settled, with India and Bhutan being the exceptions. Maritime claims are another story, with China currently having maritime disputes with all of the littoral ASEAN countries in the South China Sea. In pressing its claims, China has made repeated transgressions of international maritime law. Supplementing China’s absolutely vacuous claims on the Galwan River valley is a concerted attempt
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to accuse India of having started the fracas. Beijing claims that India has repeatedly been violating the LAC, ignoring China’s “sovereign historical rights” over the Galwan Valley, creating friction in US-China relations as the backdrop to Washington and Beijing’s trade concerns, and fomenting “splittist” activities in Xinjiang … all revelatory of a modus operandi of an opaque political system.
The recent fracas with China has been intensively reported in the Indian media with such a degree of openness that even information considered highly secret has been disclosed to the public. As a nation with a profile matching that of an emerging power, India infers China to be a spoiler, as it does not want an equal in Asia; only vassals. China’s economic success over the last four decades has been matched by a commensurate increase in its global stratagem. India, while still in the “emerging power” bracket, seeks to replicate China’s economic growth and impress upon the rest of the world its credentials as a democracy. India wants to be a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, arguing that it would lend credence to the grouping lest it lose all international respect due to its members—China among them— not adhering to its own resolutions. India has minimal geopolitical ingress, globally, and is currently going through a phase of introspection and regression. China’s military adventurism on the LAC with India coincides with its aggressive intent as evidenced by its behavior in the South
Aligned Movement and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) exist only in annual conference jamborees and issuing anodyne statements. At this juncture, China is leveraging India’s domestic political reformulations, economic stasis, and the fecklessness of SAARC to woo away neighbors like Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. Pakistan is a different entity altogether, and has cultivated China as a crutch for defense and economic reasons. This latest episode in China-India tensions has encouraged New Delhi to adopt the US vision of what China is, and has become an active member of the Quad (consisting of Australia, Japan, India, and the United States) with defense cooperation and joint training exercises commencing soon. Beyond just the strategic dimension, India has calculated that, in trade matters, it could reduce its large trade deficit with China during the current phase by endorsing the boycott of China-made goods and services. The banning of apps, smartphones, and components made in China was the beginning of a new phase in bilateral relations, where minus sanctions, domestic laws are tweaked, to sequester Chinese products as those from an enemy. The death of Indian Army personnel has had an effect on Indian people’s attitudes toward China. Beijing’s misgivings about New Delhi not joining the OBOR and MSRI have proven a continuity in India’s foreign policy making, where it prefers not to anchor with any powerful grouping. This is, however, undergoing rapid change, with government defense con-
China Sea, where it disregards regional multilateral institutions such as ASEAN and international covenants like the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. India’s lackluster presence in international relations owes its origins to the slipshod manner in which erstwhile powerful multilateral institutions like the Non-
tracting preferring US long-range aircraft (Lockheed C-130 Hercules) and helicopters (Apache) to replace their aging Russian-made equivalents. The current troubled relationship between India and China is a situation to watch closely, as China wants to remake Asia by attempting to coerce its only plausible competitor, India. n
Strategic Vision vol. 9, no. 47 (September, 2020)
Red Planet Ambitions Beijing seeks to plant red flag on Mars to boost China’s status back on Earth Tonio Savina
n 23 July, China launched its first Mars exploration mission, Tianwen-1, which is expected to land on the Red Planet’s surface in the first quarter of 2021. The launch did not come as a surprise: it was part of China’s step-by-step strategy to accumulate capabilities in outer space and was announced as far back as 2016. Most of the analysis conducted on Tianwen-1 focused on the technological and scientific aspects of the mission, while far too little attention has been paid to the political significance of the launch and to the strategic rationale of such a risky program. The history of Mars exploration can be divided into
two major phases. The first was from the 1960s to the 1970s and basically coincided with the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Despite numerous failures experienced by the two superpowers, this phase saw the first US spacecraft perform a flyby of Mars (Mariner-4), the first Russian probe to successfully carry out a soft landing on its surface (Mars 3), and the first US probe to orbit the planet (Mariner 9). It also includes the 1975 launch of the lander Viking 1: the first US probe to take a color image of the red Martian surface. China did not participate in this first phase of Mars exploration; however, this does not imply that
photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech Mars Ascent Vehicle deploying a sample container in orbit (Artist’s Concept).
Tonio Savina is a PhD student from the Italian Institute of Oriental Studies at Sapienza University of Rome. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Red Flag on Mars b 11
photo: China Ministry of National Defense The launch pad at China’s Xichang satellite launch center stands illuminated at night.
Chinese scientists were totally uninterested in the Red Planet. On the contrary, there is some evidence that they were already involved in studying Mars, while taking a close look at foreign experience with the planet’s exploration. A paper published in 1961 by Yi Zhaohua and Huang Tianyi calculated the minimum time needed by a spaceship to reach Mars, while in November 1976 the Chinese journal Foreign Trends in Space carried out a detailed analysis of the US Viking program in its Special Issue on the Mars Exploration of the Viking Space Vehicle.
New era for exploration After several years of deadlock, the second phase of Mars exploration began in the second half of the 1990s, evolving through the 2000s. The Soviet Union had already collapsed, and this new phase was dominated by NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. Indeed, while in 1996 Russia’s most ambitious interplanetary probe (Mars 96) failed to launch, NASA succeeded in sending aloft its robotic spacecraft Mars Global
Surveyor, initiating a new era for exploration of the Red Planet. Furthermore, only one year later, the United States deployed the first rover (Sojourner) to the planet. It was during this phase that the Chinese scientific community began to seriously study the feasibility of a Mars mission. As revealed in the summer of 2003 by Liu Zhenxing, a researcher with the China Academy of Science, a voyage to Mars began to be part of the Chinese planetary exploration ambitions from the early 1990s. A mission to the Red Planet was conceived under the 863 plan—a scientific program that, according to the official narrative, was started in 1986 under the endorsement of Deng Xiaoping, but whose history should more properly be re-written in a less propagandistic way, according to Julian Gewirtz. By the 1990s, however, China had not even launched its first man in space, and it lacked high-power data transmission and communications systems to cover the large distances between Mars and Earth. Indeed, it was only in the 2000s that China could participate more actively in Mars exploration. At that time, the
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photo: Erica Bechard An MH-60S Sea Hawk delivers supplies to USS Ronald Reagan while taking part in Valiant Shield 2020.
Russian space agency Roscosmos was working on its Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, which was intended to land on the Martian Moon Phobos and to collect samples. This provided China with the first convenient opportunity to send a probe to Mars. Since Beijing had been invited by Russia to join this mission, the two countries signed an agreement on 26 March, 2007, stating that China would develop a small satellite—the Yinghuo-1—to be launched with the main Russian probe Phobos-Grunt. What was implicit in the agreement was that China would contribute economically to the Russian mission while at the same time it would take advantage of Russia’s experience in deep space exploration. In 2009, Yinghuo-1 was moved to Moscow, but since the tests needed to assure the spacecraft’s safety could not be completed in time, Russia decided to postpone the mission until November 2011. Despite this, on launch day, two booster engines of the spacecraft failed to ignite, and the Russian probe was lost. After a month of orbital decay, Yinguo-1 burned up in the atmosphere. As the Australian space analyst Morris Jones wrote in Solar Daily, it would be naïve to think that the loss
of Yinghuo-1 was merely a failure for China’s Mars program. On the contrary, the incident was only a training exercise for the Chinese planetary exploration ambitions. Therefore, after the failure, China’s interest in a Mars program rapidly increased. A new proposal was presented to the Chinese government for a 2015 mission, but it did not get approval and it was eventually dismissed.
Renewed enthusiasm There was renewed enthusiasm for the project when, during the International Planetarium Society Conference held in Beijing in July 2014, geologist and cosmochemist Ouyang Ziyuan, the founding father of China’s lunar program, announced that China was working on a Mars mission. At that time, the final funding decisions had not yet been made. Indeed, the mission was not formally approved until 2016, as confirmed by the 2016 White Paper on China’s Space Activities, which described China’s intention to “execute its first Mars exploration operation, and […] to launch the first Mars probe by 2020 to carry out orbiting and roving exploration.”
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Reaching Mars is very difficult. Long-term exposure to radiation, the presence of a toxic soil, and a substantial communication delay between Mars and the Earth are only some of the problems a Mars mission would have to contend with. Going to Mars also requires an enormous amount of resources: an investment that would be unlikely to provide any observable benefits in the short term at best, and may, if the mission fails, end in a public-relations disaster. Considering this risk, one might well wonder what the strategic rationale is for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to commit the country to a risky voyage to the Red Planet. In his book Mission Mars: India’s Quest for the Red Planet, Ajey Lele points out that a State has five main reasons for seeking to reach Mars. First, as with every space mission, such a journey represents a formidable technological challenge, and would encourage industry to develop new technologies that could serve as a driver of innovation. In this sense, a trip to Mars could strengthen the Chinese path of innovation. Lele, who is a space expert at the Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, offers a second
reason: a Mars mission would have a lot of economic advantages and, like the Apollo program did for the United States and the Chang’e program did for China, it could provide the country with several spin-off applications, such as advancements in remote-sensing technologies.
“China could use a Martian mission to enhance its national prestige and present itself as a leader in space exploration.” Third, Mars has always been fascinating, in that it has a particular attraction for humans and, above all, is the major space challenge in the decades to come. Furthermore, it could boost studies in space-related technologies and planetary science. CCP leaders are aware of the need to mold the younger generation who will be the astronauts, engineers, and scientists that will serve the country in the future. To this end, in 2018, China opened a Mars simulation base in the vermilion sands of the Gobi Desert, as part of the socalled Space C Plan: a project to inspire and motivate
photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech In this illustration, NASA’s Mars 2020 rover uses its drill to core a rock sample on Mars.
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photo: Jan David De Luna Mercado A P-8A Poseidon lands at Misawa Air Base after a maritime patrol and reconnaissance mission.
young generations of potential engineers. It is important to note that the goal of inspiring new generations is strictly linked with the fourth reason for a State to go to Mars as enumerated by Lele, that of national pride. Such a mission would build up citizens’ sense of belonging to a great nation, and would enhance their loyalty to the Communist Party.
“The new Chinese mission to Mars should also be evaluated in relation to the current COVID-19 pandemic.” Finally, any country that can accomplish this challenge will be regarded as a great power. Therefore, China could use a Martian mission to enhance its national prestige and present itself as a leader in space exploration. Indeed, even the Tianwen-1 logo seems to serve this purpose: featuring the letter C, the emblem signifies China, capacity and, above all, cooperation. In this regard, it should also be noted that the Long March-5 rocket booster’s payload fairing used for this mission was adorned with the European, French, Argentinean, and Austrian space agency logos, symbolizing the contributions made by these agencies to the Chinese mission in terms of instru-
mentation and tracking. Despite this cooperative image, it is important to evaluate the Tianwen-1 mission from a competitive perspective, too. This is not true for the two missions titled Hope and Perseverance, respectively launched by the United Arab Emirates and the United States during the same launch window of Tianwen-1. The timing has been interpreted as reflecting the emergence of a new Space Race, but a more scientific reason is that the timing was determined by orbital patterns. Indeed, the decision to launch a Mars mission in July 2020, rather than in the months that follow, was primarily dictated by celestial mechanics: a spacecraft has to be launched when the Earth is at a relatively short distance from the Red Planet, allowing it to follow the most fuel-efficient orbit. Since this only occurs once every twenty-six months, every country took advantage of the July-August 2020 launch window to launch its spacecraft. Tianwen-1 is competitive mostly because it includes an orbiter, a lander, and a rover all in one. It represents China’s most ambitious attempt yet at interplanetary exploration. If it is successful, China will become either the fifth or sixth country to orbit Mars, the third to achieve a Mars landing, and only the sec-
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ond to place a rover on the planet. Consequently, on a global scale, this mission could demonstrate that China is able to surpass the achievements made by its predecessors and make it an equal to the United States in terms of spacefaring capability. At the same time, on a regional scale, it could pose a challenge to India’s Mars exploration program. Indeed, in 2014, the Indian probe Mangalyaan became the first Asian spacecraft to orbit Mars. At that time, this feat positioned India to leap ahead of China in this specific area: now Beijing is trying to recapture its status of major regional space power.
COVID-19 considerations The new Chinese mission to Mars should also be evaluated in relation to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, although, as mentioned above, this mission was planned in 2016, it was hardly a coincidence that Chinese State media confirmed it and triumphantly revealed its name during the country’s Space Day, celebrated on 24 April, 2020. It was during that month that the spread of COVID-19 appeared to
have been largely contained in China, and the Party needed to boost the morale of Chinese citizens, who were dispirited by the pandemic. Hence, with the successful launch of Tianwen-1, the CCP seems to have replicated the pattern it followed in 2003, when in the aftermath of the SARS epidemic, the flight of the first Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei was used to bolster nationalistic sentiment. Therefore, as in 2003, this mission could be interpreted as a patriotic show, a distraction from the burning issues of politics and health policy, and an opportunity to repair damage to the Party’s image. Finally, it should also be noted that, if all goes according to plan, the spacecraft is expected to arrive on Mars in the first half of 2021. That year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP. Therefore, from a forward-looking perspective, a successful landing on the planet would certainly serve as yet another propaganda tool for the Party to display its grandeur and achievements over the last 100 years and as a further mark of the New Era proclaimed by Chairman Xi Jinping. Nevertheless, the CCP is aware of the probability that the mission could fail. n
photo: NASA Artist depiction of habitats on Mars. NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will carry a number of technologies to make Mars safer and easier to explore for humans.
Strategic Vision vol. 9, no. 47 (September, 2020)
The Barrel of a Gun China seeks ‘world-class military’ to reach New Era goal of regional Dominance M.S. Prathibha
hina’s quest to build a world-class military for the New Era is integral to achieving the Chinese Dream. The New Era, in the current Chinese political lexicon, underscores a China that is on the path to ascendancy. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) believes that this ascendancy, characterized by wealth and status, has to maintain its momentum, to ensure that China emerges victorious in the future. The New Era—broadly encapsulated in Xi Jinping
Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics— advocates an absolute embrace of the Marxist ideology to guide policies, and reaffirms the CCP’s ability to accurately judge historical patterns and trends. Most importantly, the New Era is a time during which the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation will be realized, a deadline set for 2049. China’s goal is to build a world-class military by 2049. To better direct its resources and provide clarity, the intermediate goal of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is to complete
photo: Dan PLA tanks roll down Xidawang Lu in Chaoyang district in the east side of central Beijing past the luxurious shopping centre Shin Kong Place.
Dr. M.S. Prathibha is an Associate Fellow at the East Asia Centre, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), New Delhi.
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photo: Government ZA Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers march in unison during a military parade.
its military modernization by 2035. The scope of the transformation and use of terminology such as “world-class” have inevitably invited comparisons to the US military. IR experts such as Taylor Fravel believe that the concept does not define global military ambitions on a par with the US military, but that it serves rather as a force-development concept. It is believed that the “world-class military” capabilities sought by the PLA does not imply projecting power beyond East Asia. Not for the time being, at least.
Regional focus A survey of the Chinese literature on the “world-class military” concept does not reveal any desire to project beyond the region, and does support such a hypothesis. Moreover, China wants a world-class military to fight against the world’s best militaries, whereby science and technology-led innovation would drive military readiness, alongside modern joint command and operations capabilities. There are other factors that support these assessments. Despite the growth in the PLA’s capabilities, its
military posture is still confined to its regional neighborhood. Comparisons between the US and Chinese militaries remain premature because the US military, with its technological edge and professional troops, is sustained by its freedom to move throughout the global commons, unrestrained and unimpeded by other military powers. Unlike the US, the Chinese military neither has a network of alliances nor supply chains in the global theatre that could aid its military operations beyond its home region. Chinese scholarship on world-class military capabilities might be about being a dominant military power in East Asia. However, to establish itself as a world-class military, it would have to challenge US primacy in the region, regardless of its desire to avoid conflict. There are contradictions within the Chinese policy between its aspirations to become a world-class military to secure its territorial and sovereignty claims and its motivation to avoid confrontation with the United States. There are two factors that will compel the Chinese to challenge US primacy. First, the Chinese policy is to achieve national rejuvenation with the help of the PLA. For instance, the Chinese
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photo: Geordan Tyquiengco US and Chinese soldiers work together during the 2018 Disaster Management Exchange at Jurong Military Installation, China.
believe that, to fulfill the Chinese Dream in the New Era, it has to overcome resistance from countries that object to China’s new status, as these would actively forestall its ascension to regional hegemon and global power. Leaders in Beijing have concluded that the lack of advancement in science and technology has historically adversely impacted the Middle Kingdom’s military power, which led to Imperial China’s failure to resist colonial forces and revolution, and forestall the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1912. No doubt, this narrative drives their argument that the quest for a world-class military is both an obligation to the past and vision toward the future, returning China to its rightful place in Asia, and in the world. The New Era precisely imagines such a perilous world environment, where the military’s role is to protect China’s newfound wealth and ensure that the CCP realizes the Chinese Dream. For example, in the 2019 white paper titled, “National Defense in the New Era,” the Chinese leadership integrated the political goals of Xi Jinping’s New Era and the modernization goals of the PLA until 2049. The PLA’s objective therefore is to safeguard the path that China
takes to complete its national rejuvenation project. Hence, the PLA as a world-class military would have to play a role for China to resolve its sovereignty issues, and US primacy will not be sufficient to stop the Chinese from pursuing confrontation, if that is what is required. Second, the Chinese policy is likely to confront US primacy because it is maintained and reinforced by institutional and norm-building architecture in the region. China would like the very projection of its world-class military power to compel countries to make compromises with it rather than enter into confrontation with Beijing. However, without contending with the constraints imposed by the American security model in Asia, i.e., the primacy of US forces in the region, its alliances and norms, China will find it difficult to achieve its political and military goals. As of now, Chinese military power is perceived to be formidable, judging by the reluctance shown by other countries in the neighborhood to confront it, though not because the Chinese military can successfully impose its will on US forces in the region. Therefore, to be recognized as a world-class military, China would have to break the constraints, which re-
PLA Growth b 19
quires either a confrontation with the United States, or for the US military to recognize that the PLA has become too powerful to confront. Even recent actions by the PLA around the Asia Pacific attest to this reality. To show that it can defend its core interests during the pandemic, the leadership in China relied on military power to deter any perceived threats in the neighborhood. Whether it was Chinese military actions through deterrence operations during the COVID-19 situation, or the increasing uneasiness among neighboring countries over China’s military posture, recent events have shown that Beijing believes that the use of military power is crucial to proving its credibility, even if this means raising the level of conflict with the US military. Therefore, the only way for China to use its world-class military to counter the US security model
in Asia is to show that it can trump any US security guarantee. One way for China to attain world-class military status without conflict would be to emulate the manner in which the United States established its own primacy in the Asian theatre. China might embark upon a campaign of discrediting the US presence in the region while portraying its own military as an engine for world peace and stability. Such a strategy would require a substantial contribution of military power, however. It would have to equal, for example, the substantial US commitment of both material and men to defeating Imperial Japan in World War II. It was the US military defeat of the Axis powers that enabled it to impose peace through norms and alliance-building that allowed Asian countries like Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea to develop their economies
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photo: Aaron Larue Guerrisky US Air Force F-16s at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska prepare for exercise Distant Frontier.
and secure their boundaries under the US security umbrella. While countries in the region that rely on US security alliances might seek autonomy, they do not desire independence as this would divert their priorities from economic development to bearing the heavy of cost of apportioning their resources to obtain security and peace.
In the case of China, applying its military power in a norm-building and peace-imposing exercise would require both the substantial use of military power and the defeat of the existing powers. Moreover, its ability to impose a new peace and enact new norms would also have to happen under structural duress in the region, without which countries would be unwilling to accept Chinese terms. Otherwise, there would be no difference between the Chinese contribution and others, regarding peace-keeping activities or military
cy to thwart US intervention. However, it cannot succeed without the capability to impose military power against its neighbors. Consequently, the security apprehensions it triggers in the neighborhood must be multifaceted, and depend on each country’s assessment of the implications of confronting the PLA. Though other nations in the region might be united in their worry that the PLA’s rapid military modernization is changing the regional balance of power in China’s favor, they remain divided on just how to counter it. Most countries do not believe that Chinese military power has yet become a threat to their survival, but they are convinced that it has risen to the extent that China’s ability to dictate a new status quo in the region has become the new normal. This has led to a sense of urgency on the part of the nations in the Asia Pacific region, where the US is attempting to coalescence a concerted response. Predicting these orientations toward using military power, Beijing wants to evade these trends and achieve
assistance. At least they will not earn the credibility of being a world-class military. Therefore, in the absence of a breakdown of order in Asia, China will have to use its military power by confronting the existing status quo to defend its interests. In the current scenario, China hopes to establish its world-class military by engaging in regional diploma-
superiority in spatial domains. It purports to bring the acceptance toward compromise (on issues such as army building and sharing resources with other countries) to reduce the avenues for confrontation. As aspirational as that may sound, in the Asian theatre, where territorial integrity and sovereignty are tied to national identity, most countries—including
Military power needed
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China—would rather choose confrontation over compromise on such core issues. Moreover, the countries in the region would have to see a breakdown of political and economic order of WWII proportions before they would be willing to accept Chinese military power in return for a dilution of their territorial claims. Therefore, the countries in the region might be motivated to lessen avenues of confrontation with China, but they would not be able to accept China’s claims in their respective territorial and sovereignty disputes with Beijing. If China cannot prove its world-class military status and confront US primacy, the countries in the neighborhood will find it difficult to cede to China’s many claims. Confrontation is a more likely outcome, as China will increasingly push confrontation with powers in the region in an effort to prove its credibility. The realities of using military power will drive Beijing to use it for achieving their geopolitical goals and to take on the US security model in Asia. If Beijing chooses this path, and can make a success of it, then China would become more than a regional power by extension. It would be a fallacy to believe that the consequences of the Chinese
world-class military status in East Asia would be confined to that region. In fact, being a world-class military in the region would enable it to establish control beyond the region, and to become a global military player. Using military power to challenge US primacy in East Asia would mean that it would become a global military power as a consequence. Moreover, the Belt and Road Initiative appears poised to give China ample opportunity to establish bases and networks far afield before it will be ready to challenge the United States. For instance, the combination of Belt and Road investments in economic and commercial sectors through land-rail connectivity and trade infrastructure and the building of port facilities and communication networks both underwater and inland will enable China to push for building onshore facilities that could be used by the PLA navy. Corresponding plans by the Chinese navy toward increasing its power-projection capabilities, such as aircraft carriers and the PLA Navy Marine Corps, might not be as extensive as the global reach of the US military, but it may be sufficient to challenge the United States in East Asia. n
photo: Tyg728 China’s Type 002 aircraft carrier nears the end of construction. Following the US model, Beijing hopes to project power through the use of aircraft carriers.
Strategic Vision vol. 9, no. 47 (September, 2020)
Lack of public understanding hinders Taiwan’s defense against cyber threats Tobias Burgers, Hon-min Yau, & David J. Farber
photo: Taiwan Presiential Office
The Republic of China (ROC) military band performs for the public on Double Ten Day in Taipei.
few decades ago, political warfare, propaganda operations, and actual covert military attacks below the threshold-of-war were conducted in many physical domains. The focus has now shifted to cyberspace. This is a logical progression: The cyber domain is not hindered by geographical boundaries and obstacles, and encompasses the ability to hide one’s physical location to avoid the consequences of attribution. This makes the cyber domain the ideal theater in which to conduct operations. Military targets still matter, yet increasingly, civilian facilities have now become acceptable targets for offensive cyber operations.
Cyber attacks remain an ambiguous concept. In 2010, when General Keith Alexander of the US military’s Cyber Command testified to Congress that “Every day, America’s armed forces face millions of cyber attacks,” he was actually combining everything from software probing and computer-address scanning to a simple “computer ping.” As Singer and Friedman pointed out in their 2014 book, Cyber security and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know, cyber attacks often bundle together a variety of activities, simply because they involve Internet-related technology. Hence, scholars like Thomas Rid have argued strongly that no past or current cyber at-
Dr. Tobias Burgers is a project assistant professor at the Cyber Civilization Research Center, Keio University. Dr. Yau, Hon-Min is an assistant professor at the Graduate Institute of Strategic Studies (GISS), National Defense University (Taiwan). Prof. David J. Farber is a distinguished professor at Keio University, and the co-director of the Cyber Civilization Research Center.
Taiwan’s Cyber Threats b 23
tacks meet Clausewitz’s definition of armed conflict. However, arguing what could be legitimately recognized as a cyber attack will cause people to fail to distinguish the forest for the trees. Whatever conception people take to investigate cyber threats will not deny the continuous escalations of cyber problems. Cyber attacks can range from kinetic to non-kinetic, and soft-kill to hard-kill. These new forms of threat are creating actual damage to human society.
A new front line From digital propaganda to fake news, and from theft of private data to hacking attacks against civilian infrastructures such as banks, hospitals, and other essential civilian institutions, the human, non-military domain has become a front line in the conduct of cyber operations. Despite these new developments, the perception among those who are now on the front lines—the population—is that they don’t seem to view cyber attacks as a high priority. To put it bluntly, those on the new front lines do not seem to think they are at risk in this new type of war. Such is the case in Taiwan, as well. During the 2020
presidential elections, the issue of cyber-threats was a prominent election theme. In particular, the issue of so-called fake news (also known as misinformation and disinformation) was an issue of importance within the larger electoral debate. Chinese efforts to influence media operations and produce fake news via digital means, with the aim of influencing electoral outcomes, seem to have backfired. As such, one could expect that the Taiwan public would have an adequate, well-established understanding of cyber threats, and how this has become part of this new front line in the cross-strait conflict. Yet, in the first survey conducted by the Cyber Civilization Research Center (CCRC) at Keio University in Japan, which assessed the Taiwan public’s perception of cyber threats, the results seem to indicate that the issue of cyber threats has faded into the background rather quickly. To facilitate the need for communication, the survey was conducted using a scenario to consolidate respondents’ diverse conceptions of cyber attacks to the same foundation by referring to the attacks on critical infrastructure as defined by Taiwan’s 2018 Cyber Security Management Act. However, just half a year after the elections took place, when asked
photo: Quentin Marx A B-1B Lancer from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, launches in support of a deployment to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.
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about their fear and the likelihood that serious cyber attacks could occur in which the population would see a noticeable effect in the cyber and physical domain, most respondents were only “somewhat worried” about cyber attacks. This is true despite a majority acknowledging that cyber attacks (with a considerable impact) were likely or very likely. This seems to indicate that there is a disconnect between understanding the probability of cyber threats and understanding the possible impact of cyber threats. In brief, the first survey indicates that public risk perception in Taiwan about cyber threats seems flawed. Given the issue of cyber threats during the election, that seems a remarkable and surprising result. Clearly, in the age of COVID-19, environmental issues, the decline of Hong Kong, and increased Chinese pressure on Taiwan’s borders, cyber threats have slipped under the public’s radar. Yet despite this, the comparison between the two surveys indicates that there is a clear perception gap about the actual cyber-threat situation facing Taiwan (which is severe), as well between what the public believes and what experts within Taiwanese academia and government know to be true. This observation is illustrated throughout the second survey, which is a separate survey jointly conducted by the CCRC with the Graduate Institute of Strategic Studies, National Defense University, and the Taiwan Center for Security Studies at National Chengchi University. The aforementioned gaps in perception raise significant contradictions which must be addressed. Taiwan society is already highly digitized, holding one of the highest internet usage rates globally. Smartphone use has also proliferated extensively. The ROC government has used technology extensively in its policy, in particular in a highly successful approach to the COVID-19 issue, and it will only do so more in the near future with the integration of technologies that
are closely associated with the 4th industrial revolution, including AI, big data, and deep learning, among others. While ICT technologies contribute to the well-being and well-functioning of Taiwan society, they also increase the risk and vulnerability of a society, its government, and the nation overall. In an area in which the (cyber) front lines include a growing array of civilian targets, such a disconnect is a worrisome development. Cyber risks are likely to increase, yet the surveys have indicated that the public has not yet caught up to the reality in which cyber threats are of high importance. The disconnect between the public, experts, and reality, pose risks and challenges for the ROC government. There is the potential for Taiwanese citizens to become stuck on the front lines, unaware of new dangers, and how to react to their new position on this digital battlefield. The discussion of cyber security involves political debates, strategic calculations, as well as a lot of technical knowledge—knowledge that does not always exist among the general public. As a result, misguided
“Misguided arguments based on the public’s insufficient understanding of the cyber threat can make it difficult for a democratic society to forge the necessary political momentum.” arguments based on the public’s insufficient understanding of the cyber threat can make it difficult for a democratic society to forge the necessary political momentum and mandate an administration to develop the right set of capabilities. Other historical narratives on the introduction of novel technologies into the national security domain can serve as an example: During the height of the Cold War and the development of nuclear strategy, the United States was able to invite public contribu-
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photo: ROC Presidential Office ROC Vice President Lai Ching-te speaks at the Hacks in Taiwan (HITCON) event, which is a highly technical security conference held in Taiwan.
tions from universities and think tanks to correct such deficits in understanding among the public. Ideas about nuclear warfare from researchers like Herman Kahn and his infamous escalation ladders, which defined 44 rungs on a metaphorical ladder of escalating conflict, were often considered controversial, but they still provided a bridge to allow dialogue between the general public, policymakers, and nuclear technocrats. Likewise, the result of the above survey indicates that there is a perception gap between political elites and the general public. Cyber security, in its current state in Taiwan, is simply not well-understood, and remains under-studied. As such, there is a need for a continuous initiative to ensure that the Taiwan public is aware of existing and future cyber threats, and the consequences of such threats should they become a reality. This initiative should also invite participation from both strategists and computer experts to reduce the current knowledge gap. Such a combined initiative would ensure that Taiwan society understands the new digital security environment in which it finds itself in the 21st century. As such, the surveys cited above that measure the public threat perception represent a first step toward
encouraging such an initiative. While worthwhile, and confirming the hypothesis that a knowledge gap exists between experts and the broader public, as well as between cyber security reality and public perception, the survey reveals a need for further, long-term research on this subject. In particular, it is also crucial for scholars to understand how and by what means the public and expert community would react to cyber attacks, and these views could be subject to change as a result of geopolitical dynamics between China and Taiwan. In democratic nations such as Taiwan, public opinion plays a role of significant importance in decision making. At the same time, expert thinking will further influence top-level decision making. Understanding both of these factors will help provide better insight into the decision-making process during a cyber crisis. With the public now on the front lines of digital conflict, scholars in Taiwan need to ensure that they can understand, and educate the Taiwan public on, cyber security and its respective role. This will go a long way toward ensuring that it will not become a tripwire in a digital conflict that would trigger a series of political explosions, threatening the security of the island and stability of cross-strait relations. n
photo: Pathumporn Thongking Health workers provide testing for COVID-19 at a hospital in Thailand. Thailand’s government gave strong support to China’s battle against coronavirus.
Strategic Vision vol. 9, no. 47 (September, 2020)
The People’s Spin
Beijing report plays up COVID-19 successes to burnish tarnished image Shao-cheng Sun
he coronavirus pandemic has been a disastrous worldwide event. The virus was first detected in November 2019 in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). However, local officials in the city of Wuhan did not disclose the information when the outbreak first hit the city. It was this initial silence that allowed the contagious virus to expand as widely throughout China, and around the world, as it has. The US Department of Homeland Security has determined that the PRC government “intentionally concealed the severity” of COVID-19 from the inter-
national community during these early days, using this time to buy more than two billion masks and 25 million pieces of protective clothing from overseas suppliers before the true extent of the COVID-19 outbreak made itself known. When the number of victims began to increase by the end of January 2020, China’s leadership launched a national campaign marked by aggressive measures, such as locking down entire cities, closing schools, constructing temporary hospitals, and deploying medical staff to Wuhan. These measures seemed to be working. Reports of new cases began to drop sig-
Dr. Shao-cheng Sun is an assistant professor at The Citadel specializing in China’s security, East Asian affairs, and cross-strait relations. He can be reached for comment at email@example.com
China’s COVID-19 Success b 27
nificantly. Meanwhile, the rest of the world paid a huge price for China’s initial delays: By September 9, 2020, there were around 27,560,000 people who had tested positive, and close to 900,000 had died. The world has been deeply affected by the pandemic. On April 21, China Watch Institute, a think tank sponsored by the Chinese government, released a report titled “China’s Fight against COVID-19.” The report was an attempt to control the narrative: China’s international image suffered greatly after having opened the Pandora’s box of coronavirus, and the report painted the Chinese authorities in a positive light by detailing the success of their efforts to contain the virus. This report outlines the key strategies of China’s anti-coronavirus campaign that Beijing wants to highlight. When COVID-19 first began to spread in China, the Beijing regime commanded local governments and the Chinese people to take an active role and aggressive measures to reduce the number of new cases. Social management has proved to be a key factor in containing the spread of the virus. As the epidemic snowballed in Wuhan, local officials went door-to-
door to conduct health checks. Drones equipped with loudspeakers were employed to hover above the streets and warn people to stay indoors. Information technology, particularly artificial intelligence technology, was also widely used. For example, facial-recognition software linked to a smartphone application assigned each citizen a color-coded designation, based on his existing and potential risk as determined by the government. The China Watch Institute’s report highlights these and other measures taken by the Chinese government. First, the report cites effective public mobilization. Chinese authorities released updated data to provide citizens with information about government policies concerning the epidemic. The PRC National Health Commission posts on its websites the number of new confirmed cases, suspected cases, confirmed recovered cases, discharged cases, and deaths. The epidemic map was updated in real time to display figures on infections and deaths. Research institutions also posted medical recommendations through press conferences and the Internet, and promoted simple self-protection measures.
photo: NIAID A scanning electron microscope reveals the structure of the COVID-19 virus behind the global pandamic.
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photo: Jun xi A temporary hospital converted from Tazihu Sports Center, one of 10 temporary hospitals built in Wuhan to accommodate hundreds of mild patients.
Second, there was a focus on rigorous self-isolation. Self-isolation proved to be an effective measure to slow down the spread of the virus. Travel was suspended and tight restrictions were enforced. The Wuhan lockdown that started on January 23 lasted over two months, during which time public transportation was suspended and public entertainment venues were ordered to close. At those public places that had to be open, measures like sanitation, disinfection, inspections, and crowd limits were implemented. Government agencies and enterprises implemented prevention, tracing, and control measures to manage employees, and workplaces adopted more flexibility, such as allowing employees to work online. Third, widespread screening, testing, and monitoring was conducted. Screening, testing, and monitoring became an essential method of curbing virus transmission and providing early treatment to infected patients. All confirmed cases were hospitalized, and those having symptoms such as fever were sent to designated locations to be quarantined. Persons who had close contact with confirmed patients were also sent to quarantine sites. Epidemiological teams were set up to trace and cut off transmission chan-
nels. Data technology and digital systems were used to enhance epidemiological tracing. Fourth, rigorous treatment plans were instituted. The initial epidemic outbreak strained medical resources, leading to delays in treatment. The Chinese government thus increased the number of hospital beds to accommodate the rise in patient numbers. Through the construction of temporary hospitals, the expansion of designated hospitals, and the conversion of general hospitals, more than 100,000 beds were added. Both Clinical treatment and scientific research were utilized to improve the effectiveness of drugs and to conduct research into vaccines.
Effective medicines There is no effective vaccine yet, but certain herbal medicines were found to be effective. The treatment plan has reduced the number of cases with mild symptoms that developed into serious ones, and improved the recovery rate from 14 percent to 93 percent. In late July, Chinese health officials claimed that they had begun dosing some of their own medical personnel with an experimental COVID-19 vaccine.
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Fifth, the effective allocation of resources was made a priority. The Chinese government allocated domestic resources, streamlined organizational structures, and enhanced the emergency-response provision of medical supplies and daily necessities. Medical workers were quickly mobilized and dispatched to severely affected areas. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deployed its medical staff to Wuhan. Thousands of companies retooled to produce medical supplies. Technological support provided services to the public including online consultation and medical training. Medical personnel also utilized a remote visual medical treatment system and AI-assisted surgical equipment. The PRC State Council ordered the production of daily necessities throughout the whole country. Sixth, a command system was set up and strategic policies were promulgated. According to the report, China launched a “people’s war” of disease prevention and control under Xi Jinping’s leadership. Xi has presided over meetings of the Politburo and at the central leadership level. The Chinese Communist Party
established the Leading Group for Novel Coronavirus Prevention and Control, led by Premier Li Keqiang. Li also administered government departments and coordinated the relationship among epidemic control and prevention, economic development, and the lives of the people. Local governments set up their own leading groups to implement the central government’s orders. The Chinese government’s strategies for blocking virus transmission by mobilizing public and medical personnel, implementing social distancing, utilizing information technology, allocating resources, and setting up command systems seem to be working: very few new cases are reported in China now. Moreover, the screening, testing, and supervision measures appear to have been relatively effective. This is how the Beijing authorities were able to flatten their curve. The Chinese government is claiming victory in its fight against COVID-19. Mass quarantines and lockdowns contributed to the dramatic decrease in confirmed cases, from the hundreds in early February to
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photo: Matthew Cavanaile V-22 Osprey aircraft prepare for a mission.
the single digits in mid-March, according to Chinese official media. The following are some traits of China’s government crisis management. First, covering up the truth at the initial stage. When the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic began in China in 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned people not to visit Hong Kong or Guangdong province. In response, the PRC held a news conference and the health minister stated that China was safe, and that SARS was under control. However, retired surgeon Jiang Yanyong accused the minister of lying. With COVID-19, the Chinese government again tried to keep a lid on the information, not responding until after January 23. There were serious blunders in the early stages, many due to a lack of transparency. The national and Hubei provincial health commissions sent expert teams to Wuhan. However, these experts were not free to talk to doctors working in the infectious disease wards. When they visited hospitals and inquired about medical staff infections, the hospital administrators and doctors that they met told them that there were none. Local government officials silenced doctors and punished whistleblowers who revealed the
seriousness of the disease. These officials and hospital cadres were afraid that they would lose their positions if news of the extent of the widespread epidemic got out, and thus they attempted to conceal the truth. Second, authorities followed the crisis management model of SARS. The Chinese government conducted preventative action to contain SARS in 2003. The PRC State Council sent out inspection teams nationwide to find unreported cases. The local governments sealed off villages, apartment complexes, quarantined tens of thousands of residents, set up temperature checkpoints, and built temporary hospitals. The SARS Control and Prevention Headquarters of the State Council was established to coordinate national efforts to combat the disease.
The SARS model When the Chinese government finally started to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, officials followed the crisis management model established during SARS, by locking down cities, closing all schools, and deploying medical staff to Wuhan. Based on the experience of building hospitals during the 2003
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SARS crisis, two hospitals in Wuhan were constructed in just 10 days. The central and local governments in China have accumulated and possessed certain crisis management capabilities during past earthquakes, flooding, and other epidemics. The PRC government is also using information technology (epidemic mapping, AI technology, 5G, drones, facial recognition software, etc.) to enhance its capability of curbing COVID-19. With the help of technology, the PRC government has become more effective in implementing countermeasures and in bringing down the number of new cases. Third, the government promoted its success. Beijing is working to turn the signs of success into a larger narrative to broadcast to the rest of the world and rebuild its stained reputation—a reputation that resulted from its initial cover-up and mismanagement of the crisis. Chinese official media is claiming that China is helping other countries to improve quality supervision of anti-epidemic procedures and contributing to international cooperation. The media also boasted that China shared its experience with the WHO and the international community, strengthened scientific research, and offered assistance to other countries. For example, when no European states responded to Italy’s appeal for medical equipment and protective gear, China sent ventilators, masks, respirators, protective suits, and test kits. It was later reported that many of these ventilators were defective and had to be returned. China has also dispatched medical teams and masks to Iran and sent supplies to Serbia. To highlight its contribution, the homepage of the PRC’s overseas
The government administrators that covered up the epidemic have done grave damage to China’s international image, and anti-China sentiment is on the rise. Despite this criticism, the Chinese government has been successful in bringing down the curve of new confirmed cases. Beijing’s strategies include fast public mobilization, strict social distancing, frequent testing, tight monitoring, effective treatment plans, and effective allocation of resources. As for the traits of crisis management, their COVID-19 preventative measures are similar to the crisis management employed during the SARS epidemic. In the midst of mounting international condemnation, the Chinese government utilized its government mouthpieces to promote its image so that they can shift from crisis to opportunity. Asian countries (such as Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, and Vietnam) have been praised for their success in containing the infections by taking it seriously. They responded quickly, curtailing flights from China, making tests available, implementing contact tracing, isolating potential patients, implementing early social distancing, and keeping the public well informed. Taiwan has been especially successful, mainly due to good coordination of various ministries and local governments, cooperation from the public, and integration of mass media. Taiwan’s effective prevention measures also include early intervention, disciplined, transparent, and comprehensive prevention strategies, integrated medical big data, and proactive information disclosure. Taiwan has used information technology successfully. In spite of its remarkable success, Taiwan’s govern-
embassies advertise China’s efforts to help different countries with goods and information. Chinese cyber forces have also intensified their censorship efforts and have been successful in blocking criticism of the Chinese government. China is working very hard to reverse its previous poor image for spreading the virus.
ment can still learn from China’s fast mobilization of different resources within a short time period, and its utilization of advanced technology in a time of serious pandemic, such as the building of temporary hospitals within 10 days, as well as Beijing’s widespread utilization of facial-recognition systems and drones. n
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Strategic Vision is a journal jointly published by the Taiwan Center for Security Studies and the ROC National Defense University that provi...
Published on Sep 15, 2020
Strategic Vision is a journal jointly published by the Taiwan Center for Security Studies and the ROC National Defense University that provi...