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Fight Fire with Fire: The PLA Studies Hybrid Warfare

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  • China Aerospace Studies Institute

     Moscow’s recent escalation of its invasion of Ukraine has refocused the world’s attention on a war that began in 2014 with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its proxy war against Kyiv in eastern Ukraine. Russia’s successes in Ukraine in 2014 and the subsequent panic over Russian interference in Western democracies’ elections made “hybrid warfare,” the supposedly new form of warfare that Russia pioneered, a term that is commonly used but is often only vaguely understood.

     The Chinese Communist Party’s military, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), recently sought to impart to its rank-and-file a proper understanding of hybrid warfare by publishing a series of articles in its official newspaper. The articles were not the first concerning hybrid warfare that the newspaper has published, but the series is significant because such series are rare. The series was clearly meant to be studied by the entire PLA, so it represents the most authoritative explanation of the PLA’s conception of hybrid warfare that has been openly published.

     The series indicates that the PLA conceives of hybrid warfare as it is commonly conceived outside the People’s Republic of China (PRC), but it also indicates that the PLA believes that hybrid warfare is just the way that states, particularly great powers, now engage in conflict. However, the series also implies that the PLA regards the PRC’s capability to defend itself from hybrid threats as inadequate. It suggests that one lesson from the Russo-Ukrainian War is that hybrid warfare itself is the most effective way to combat hybrid warfare, implying that the PRC, too, must become proficient in hybrid warfare in order to counteract hybrid threats. Because the PLA and Beijing as a whole believe that the PRC faces grave hybrid threats from the USA and American allies, Beijing may attempt to fight fire with fire by conducting hybrid warfare campaigns of its own against its adversaries.

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