The Pentagon’s Pacific Command is pushing back against China’s attempt to relabel its global infrastructure development initiative to make it more palatable for strategic messaging in support of Beijing’s drive for global hegemony.
The initiative is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s $1 trillion infrastructure investment plan, mostly in the underdeveloped world, that U.S. officials have said is part of Beijing’s drive to expand global influence and military power-projection capabilities.
The initiative until recently was known in English as the “One Belt, One Road Initiative.”
However, when Chinese leaders realized use of the word “one” two times in the name might signal to international audiences that China is using the effort to supplant the United States around the world, the translation of the term was changed — but only in English.
To make the initiative sound less threatening, China changed the name to the shorter “Belt and Road Initiative.”
The Chinese government then set into motion a Mighty Wurlitzer of propaganda and media outlets — including the Xinhua News Agency internally and the Voice of China international cable and radio outlets — to erase all references to One Belt, One Road.
After the English rebranding was revealed during a three-star Pacific Command briefing, the command and all U.S. government agencies were urged to stop assisting Chinese propaganda and strategic messaging by avoiding all use of the Beijing-authorized term Belt and Road Initiative.
The concern is that using the term will fuel international support for Beijing’s narrative that China’s economic system of socialism with Chinese characteristics and its political ideology of one-party communist rule are preferred options for a China-led new world order.
China’s infrastructure program, along with the Beijing-funded Confucius Institutes on American and foreign college campuses, are being used by Beijing to exploit and gain leverage over free nations.
China continues to show its disregard for international rules by ignoring U.N. resolutions on North Korea and the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling denying Beijing’s sovereignty claims to own 90 percent of the South China Sea.
Randy Schriver, assistant defense secretary for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said last month that China’s military is a key player in the Belt and Road Initiative.
“The military is supportive of a comprehensive strategy that in many ways the leading edge is the predatory economics,” Mr. Schriver said in an interview. “And they’re supportive and complementary of one another. Where China is using economic tools, they’re often doing so in order to create access, potential bases and the like.”
NORTH KOREA HYBRID WARFARE
North Korea is engaged in low-intensity conflict that has been dubbed “gray zone” warfare that shifts between periods of virulent anti-U.S. hostility and charm offenses, according to military sources.
The regime of Kim Jong-un has two overriding strategic goals that are the driving forces behind its hybrid warfare programs: keeping the regime in power and seeking international legitimacy for the regime.
As part of this information warfare, North Korean operations swing like a pendulum between hostility and charm offensives.
Two phases of the hybrid warfare were visible over the past several years, when North Korea targeted the United States and South Korea with cyberattacks and other covert efforts that the sources said ultimately led to the impeachment and imprisonment of conservative former South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
Then after the election of President Trump in 2016 and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, North Korea launched a major charm offensive that is ongoing and seeks to exploit the Trump administration’s desire to negotiate the denuclearization of North Korea.
“They have been able to go from the brink of war in 2017 with the U.S. and [South Korea] to four historic peace summits all within one year, with all the strategic players vying for their attention,” said one military source.
The hostility phase, dubbed the “harm campaign,” stretched from 2014 to 2016 and involved antagonistic polices and rhetoric and confrontation, pushing the notion that the United States was preparing for a nuclear war against North Korea. A key characteristic of this phase was missile and nuclear testing.
In South Korea, the North Koreans used information operations to portray the Park administration as corrupt and in league with a hostile United States and that the government in Seoul had pursued policies that harmed the South Korean people.
Globally, North Korea stepped up cyberattacks against government and private institutions, notably spreading the WannaCry malware and stealing millions of dollars from banks. By March 2017, North Korea was linked to cyberattacks in 150 nations.
“From the [North Korean] and Kim Jong-un’s perspective, the impeachment and imprisonment of President Park could be seen as the total success of the [information operations] campaign,” the source said.
By late 2017, with the election of Mr. Trump and Mr. Moon, North Korea quickly shifted from hostility to engagement, promoting a new propaganda narrative using concepts of “peace, unification and economic cooperation.”
The new charm campaign was kicked off by North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics in South Korea and reached a high point with the summit in Singapore between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim.
As a result of the new campaign, North Korea halted its virulent anti-America propaganda inside the country and began promoting closer economic ties with South Korea.
Missile and nuclear tests also were halted, although cyberattacks, including those involving theft of funds from banks, are continuing.
North Korea’s goals of regime survival and international acceptance remain unchanged by the shifting hybrid warfare approaches.
MATTIS TALKS INF WITH NATO
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently held discussions with NATO allies on what to do about Russia’s breaking of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty that bans medium-range nuclear missiles.
Russia violated the INF treaty by building and deploying large numbers of a new intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missile designated the SSC-8.
Moscow so far is refusing to give up the illegal missile, and Congress has mandated that the Pentagon begin research into new U.S. intermediate-range missiles that, if deployed, would violate INF limits.
Mr. Mattis said in Paris earlier this month that for four years the U.S. government discussed the INF violation with Russia with the goal of bringing Moscow back into compliance.
“This is a treaty that is only signed between Russia and the United States, but it has very, very strong links to the security of Europe and the security of NATO,” he said.
Mr. Mattis said he sought advice while in Europe on “what do we do with a treaty that two nations entered into, one is still living by — that’s us, the United States — and Russia is not?”
“I cannot forecast where it will go,” Mr. Mattis said. “It’s a decision for the president. But I can tell you that both on Capitol Hill and in the State Department, there’s a lot of concern about the situation. And I’ll return with the advice of our allies and engage that discussion to determine the way ahead.”
There is mounting pressure on regional military commanders to jettison the INF treaty.
In Asia, recently retired Pacific Command commander Adm. Harry Harris, now the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, said he favors getting rid of the INF treaty because of China’s large force of intermediate-range missiles.
“We have no ground-based capability that can threaten China because of, among other things, our rigid adherence, and rightfully so, to the treaty that we signed onto, the INF treaty,” he said.
Adm. Harris said the U.S. military is at a disadvantage because of the threat of Chinese missile attacks against both bases and ships.
The military’s European Command could use new intermediate-range missiles to counter the threat posed by Russia’s illegal SSC-8.
An administration official said that Mr. Mattis does not favor pulling out of the INF treaty.
However, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is said to favor ending the INF treaty and moving ahead with building a new intermediate-range missile force.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.