06 June 2021

The Elsa Kania Bookshelf: Sino-American Competition, Technological Futures & Approaching Battlefield Singularity

Elsa B. Kania is an Adjunct Senior Fellow with the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. Her research focuses on China’s military strategy, defense innovation, and emerging technologies. Her book, Fighting to Innovate, should be forthcoming with the Naval Institute Press in 2022.

At CNAS, Ms. Kania has contributed to the Artificial Intelligence and Global Security Initiative and the “Securing Our 5G Future” program. Ms. Kania also works in support of the U.S. Air Force’s China Aerospace Studies Institute through its Associates Program, is a Non-Resident Fellow in Indo-Pacific Defense with the Institute for the Study of War, and is a Non-Resident Fellow with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre. She serves as an Adjunct Policy Advisor for the non-profit Institute for Security and Technology and has contributed to the Party Watch Initiative at the Center for Advanced China Research.

Ms. Kania has been invited to testify before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, and the National Commission on Service. She was named an official “Mad Scientist” by the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command and was a Fulbright Specialist in Australia with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Her writings and commentary have appeared in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Politico, and Defense One, among others. She has been quoted in outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, and The Economist. Her academic research has been published in The Journal of Strategic Studies and The Cyber Defense Review.

Ms. Kania’s initial professional experience included time as an intern with FireEye, a summer analyst for the Department of Defense, an analyst with the Long Term Strategy Group, a young ambassador with the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, and Research Fellow with the Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University. At Harvard, she worked as a research assistant at the Belfer Center and the Weatherhead Center.

Currently, Ms. Kania is a Ph.D. candidate in Harvard University’s Department of Government. She is also a graduate of Harvard College (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) and has received a Master of Arts in Government from Harvard University. Ms. Kania was a Boren Scholar in Beijing, China and maintains professional proficiency in Mandarin Chinese. Her views are her own.


Please note: Because of the sheer volume of works that Elsa Kania has published to date, only a limited subset is linked and summarized below. Please click here to access a full, periodically-updated list via Elsa’s LinkedIn profile.

Elsa B. Kania and John Costello, “Seizing the Commanding Heights: The PLA Strategic Support Force in Chinese Military Power,” Journal of Strategic Studies 44.2 (2021): 218-64.

Explains how the People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) complements the PLA’s existing arsenal by leveraging synergies and the integration of critical capabilities across space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum to support joint operations. Contends that the PLASSF would play an integral role in the PLA’s quest to ‘fight and win’ any future wars, and may meanwhile become a critical force for innovation.

Elsa B. Kania, “Artificial Intelligence in China’s Revolution in Military Affairs,” Journal of Strategic Studies, published online 12 May 2021.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) seeks not only to equal but also to overtake the US military through seizing the initiative in the ongoing Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). Chinese military leaders believe the form of warfare is changing from today’s ‘informatised’ (信息化) warfare to future ‘intelligentised’ (智能化) warfare. The PLA’s approach to leveraging emerging technologies is likely to differ from parallel American initiatives because of its distinct strategic culture, organisational characteristics, and operational requirements. This research examines the evolution of the PLA’s strategic thinking and concepts of operations, seeking to contribute to the military innovation literature by evaluating major theoretical frameworks for the case of China. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “How Should the U.S. Respond to China’s Military-Civil Fusion Strategy?” ChinaFile, 22 May 2021. 

During Donald Trump’s presidency, the term “military-civil fusion” (MCF) came to feature prominently in U.S. officials’ characterizations of their concerns about China. While efforts to integrate China’s civilian and defense economies have been a goal of China’s leaders for decades, Xi Jinping has elevated MCF as a priority and has expanded, intensified, and accelerated the effort across multiple domains, including to concentrate on more integrated development of emerging technologies. This strategy is regarded as critical to China’s capacity to succeed in a confrontation of systems.

During the Trump administration, U.S. officials expressed worries over the perceived threat of transfer of dual-use technologies, as well as about the long-term competitive challenge, should this initiative prove successful in improving synergies within China’s innovation ecosystem. Already, the rapid and ongoing advances in China’s military modernization have provided an impetus and sense of urgency for ongoing initiatives in American defense innovation intended to increase investments, explore novel mechanisms for rapid procurement, and improve the Pentagon’s capacity to leverage commercial technologies.

Over the past four years, the U.S. government has invoked military-civil fusion (MCF) to justify a range of policies. For instance, MCF was among the rationales for the reform and expansion of export controls to include certain “emerging” and “foundational” technologies, as well as for the addition of companies and universities to the “Entity List” and “Unverified List” that the Department of Commerce maintains. The Trump administration partially justified attempts to ban WeChat and TikTok from the United States through initial claims about the companies’ alleged linkage to MCF. Moreover, a presidential proclamation on Chinese students and researchers studying in the United States cited students’ proximity to entities engaged in MCF as grounds for denying or revoking visas.

As the administration of President Joe Biden reviews the Trump administration’s posture towards China, policy responses to MCF are likely to attract scrutiny. Should the U.S. continue the past administration’s approach to MCF, or is a recalibration in order? How can America increase its capacity to understand and evaluate military-civil fusion? Does the U.S. need new tools to respond to MCF? How can the Pentagon best position itself given the long-term challenge that China represents as a military rival and technological competitor?

Elsa B. Kania, “China’s Drive for Innovation within a World of Profound Changes,” Asia Policy 16.2 (April 2021).

This essay examines China’s drive for innovation as part of its national development strategy and addresses the tensions China faces between retaining control and autonomy in relevant sciences and technologies and becoming a global leader in these fields.


The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has assessed that the world is undergoing “profound changes unseen in a century” in part as a result of rapid advances in science and technology. The Covid-19 pandemic has heightened the impact of these changes and added to the disruption of the current global order. Such conditions present unique challenges and opportunities for China in the course of its national rejuvenation. Xi Jinping has accelerated the pursuit of China’s rise as a great power, and the 14th Five-Year Plan highlights the country’s capacity for innovation and to leverage science and technology in pursuit of that objective. Progress toward this goal, however, has been uneven. Although China aspires to be a new “high ground” in science and technology, the capacity for innovative Chinese technologies to go global may be undermined by a deficit of trust and transparency. If China does emerge as a leader in new frontiers of innovation in the course of the fourth industrial revolution, this shift could present significant implications for the future balance of power.


  • China’s drive for innovation will continue to confront certain incongruities. While the CCP has prioritized innovation, the imperative of party control may undermine the necessary conditions for it. And while China has risen within and benefited from a world of open science, intense competition in the geopolitical environment is complicating that paradigm.
  • China and its technology companies have shown increasing technological prowess (e.g., in coping with the Covid-19 pandemic) but still face technical impediments to overcoming strangleholds in key areas, such as semiconductors, that act as chokepoints.
  • For the U.S. to sustain its traditional leadership in science and technology, it will need to revitalize and reinvest in innovation domestically.

Elsa B. Kania and Adam Segal, “Globalized Innovation and Great Power Competition: The U.S.-China Tech Clash,” in Jacques deLisle and Avery Goldstein, eds., After Engagement After Engagement: Dilemmas in U.S.-China Security Relations (Washington, DC: 21 April 2021): 298-329.

Elsa B. Kania, “Economic Security Challenges and Technological Opportunities in the U.S.-Japan Alliance,” in Issues & Insights Vol. 21, SR 1 – 21st Century Technologies, Geopolitics, and the US-Japan Alliance: Recognizing Game-changing Potential (Honolulu, HI: Pacific Forum, 16 April 2021).

Throughout the month of October 2020, with support from the U.S. Embassy Tokyo, the Pacific Forum cohosted with the Center for Rule-Making Strategies at Tama University, the Keio University Global Research Institute, and the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology a series of virtual panel discussions on “Game Changing Technologies and the US-Japan Alliance.” Over 280 individuals joined the 10 sessions – 7 closed door and 3 public panels – that examined issues such as artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, big data, cybersecurity, drones, quantum computing, robots, and 3-D printing. A conversation of this length and breadth is difficult to summarize, but the following key findings attempt to capture this rich and variegated discussion.

General landscape

Mastery of new and emerging technologies is key to success in 21st century economic competition and global leadership. There is much talk about those technologies’ impact on “the balance of power,” but a fundamental question remains: The power to do what?

Technological prowess is vital not only to national defense and dominance, but also to provide a bulwark against interference by authoritarian governments in domestic and personal affairs.

Democracies are losing their historical influence over technology development, standard-setting, and limiting proliferation relative to the growing capacity of authoritarian competitors, but this can be corrected.

Japan has made national economic statecraft a priority but has considerable work to do to deal with the suite of issues associated with creating and effectively exploiting emerging technologies.

The ubiquity of many of these technologies and government initiatives like China’s Military-Civil Fusion (MCF) erase historical distinctions between military and civilian use. Traditional export controls focus on protecting military and dual-use items. The growing difficulty in distinguishing between military and civilian end-use and end-users makes export controls challenging to apply, and ineffective in practice.

Emerging technologies

Despite growing attention to emerging technologies in the U.S. and Japan and acknowledgement of the need for coordinated action to regulate their use, disparities between the two countries in terms of knowledge about, impact of, and proficiency in these technologies inhibit coordinated action.

Uncertainties inherent in the development of “emerging technologies” make regulation of their use and control of their dissemination difficult, if not impossible. Identifying the appropriate technology to control is also problematic, and there is agreement that “casting the net” too wide will inhibit innovation.

There is an inherent tension between a desire for international collaboration to spur innovation and the perceived need to control access to technologies to preserve economic and security-related advantages, particularly to prevent their diversion by or to other countries.

While there is an instinct in the U.S. to decouple economic exchange from perceived adversaries to prevent technology leakage, connections afford the US and its allies a window into the work of perceived adversaries and prevent surprise – both economic and strategic.

Economic incentives to get new technologies to market as quickly as possible may undermine the readiness of entrepreneurs to build in safety, security, and ethics. The declining cost of new technologies and their increasing availability to the public democratize access to dangerous tools and create a leveling effect among nations. … … …

Elsa B Kania, and Joe McReynolds, “The Biden Administration Should Review and Rebuild the Trump Administration’s China Initiative From the Ground Up,” Lawfare, 22 February 2021.

With the mid-January arrest of Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineering professor Gang Chen, the outgoing Trump administration’s Department of Justice handed its successors a firestorm of controversy to reckon with, including relentless criticism from academic institutions and Asian American advocacy groups. Chen’s case, part of a Trump-era Department of Justice program known as the “China Initiative,” centers on allegations that the celebrated professor, a Chinese-born American citizen, solicited millions in research funding from the U.S. government without properly disclosing that he was simultaneously working as a talent scout and subject matter expert for the Chinese government. As the Biden administration undertakes a review of Trump’s policies on China, the initiative’s approach is overdue for rethinking and recalibration.

The China Initiative was launched in November 2018 as a prosecutorial response to China’s persistent, pervasive, and well-documented campaign of economic espionage and illicit knowledge transfer. The core mission is both justified and necessary. Many of its prosecutions clearly serve the public good, including bringing charges against state-sponsored hackers for targeting American biomedical companies working on treatments for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. However, outright economic espionage is only one component of China’s overall innovation strategy. The Chinese government also relies heavily on modes of knowledge transfer that don’t align withtraditional definitions of espionage, such as targeted start-up acquisitions and talent recruitment. Such activities are often challenging to prosecute but nevertheless can damage the U.S. national interest. In response to these expansive knowledge transfer efforts, the China Initiative has moved beyond prosecuting straightforward cases of intellectual property theft and into “gray areas,” such as Chen’s case.

The charges against Chen stem from his alleged activities as a talent scout for the Chinese government—an activity that on its face is perfectly legal, albeit highly irksome to anyone concerned with the U.S.-China strategic balance. Beijing seeks to poach America’s top talent in cutting-edge research and development as part of its broader national strategy for competing with the United States as a global power, and talent scouting by scientists within the U.S. innovation system has played a key role in advancing Beijing’s agenda. However, scientists who receive U.S. government funding (which, in practice, is the majority of scientists outside the private sector) are legally held to a much higher standard of transparency and disclosure where their dealings with foreign governments are concerned. This has opened the door to cases under the China Initiative in which the allegation is not necessarily the theft of secrets but, rather, the academic equivalent of a lobbyist failing to register as an agent of a foreign power. … … …

Elsa B. Kania and Lorand Laskai, “A Sharper Approach to China’s Military-Civil Fusion Strategy Begins by Dispelling Myths,” Defense One, 4 February 2021.

The U.S. senators who found time to ask Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen about China’s military-civil fusion showed how widespread have become concerns about Beijing’s efforts to blur the lines between the country’s military and civilian entities. But the Trump administration’s oft-hyperbolic messaging about MCF has given rise to myths and several misperceptions. To confront the threat appropriately, the Biden administration will need a more sophisticated understanding of this strategy—and that will require separating facts from fictions.

Make no mistake: the concerns are legitimate. Amid Beijing’s drive to create a world-class military, Chinese companies have, on several occasions, acquired sensitive technology and stealthily transferred it to the country’s military. But the problem is also misunderstood or mischaracterized, such as when the Trump administration tried to ban TikTok, the Chinese social media platform, in part for being an “active” participant in MCF — but could produce scant evidence of national security harm.

Our new CNAS report, “Myths and Realities of China’s Military-Civil Fusion Strategy,” tackles several prominent misconceptions. … … …

Elsa B. Kania and Lorand Laskai, Myths and Realities of Military-Civil Fusion Strategy (Washington, DC: Center for a New American Security, 28 January 2021).

In U.S. policy debates on China, military-civil fusion (MCF) has emerged as a frequent subject of debate and concern. Once a niche topic of study among only avid watchers of Chinese military modernization and defense technological development, Beijing’s drive to break down barriers and create stronger linkages between its civilian economy and defense industrial base has started to draw considerable attention in Washington. During Donald Trump’s administration, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, senior officials across the State Department and Defense Department, and members of Congress all devoted time to MCF in speeches, using it to justify a broad range of policies. These included expanding investigations into intellectual property theft, banning Huawei from U.S. networks and critical infrastructure, urging companies like Microsoft and Google to stop working with Chinese counterparts, and even advocating for “decoupling” from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), such as in supply chains and by limiting technological collaboration.2 MCF has emerged as a key analytic driver of the intensifying economic and technological competition between the United States and the PRC in recent years. While Joe Biden’s administration will have an opportunity to reset the tone of the U.S.-China relationship and recalibrate the use of instruments of U.S. policy, China’s model of MCF is likely to remain a major concern for U.S. policymakers. … … …

Elsa B. Kania and Ian Burns McCaslin, “People’s Warfare Against COVID-19: Testing China’s Military Medical and Defense Mobilization Capabilities,” Institute for the Study of War, December 2020.

Examines the critical role the military played in China’s response to COVID-19. Highlights the national defense mobilization system’s ability to tap military and civilian resources to form a more centralized response to a crisis. Discusses the contributions of the military medical community, as well as those of non-medical military personnel who facilitated medically relevant work. Argues that these factors demonstrated during this peacetime event also constitute “critical elements of Chinese military readiness and potential operational resilience” in times of conflict.

Elsa B. Kania, “Balancing Planning and Autonomy to Squeeze Through Today’s ‘Bottlenecks’,” in Abigail CoplinPaul TrioloElsa KaniaRui ZhongJohn Lee, and Benjamin Larsen, “Experts: Xi’s Science and Technology Speech Echoes and Updates Deng Xiaoping,” New America, 23 September 2020.

Science remains at the center of China’s agenda for national rejuvenation. As this latest speech highlighted, Xi Jinping regards the strategy of “innovation-driven development” as critical to sustaining the country’s advancement on all fronts. As his invocation of the 1960s successes of the “Two Bombs, One Satellite” efforts illustrates, this outlook continues a tradition in which science has been harnessed in the service of state power. That legacy of success against the odds remains resonant, especially at present, as China encounters new headwinds. These remarks were candid in pointing to technical “bottlenecks” that Chinese research has yet to overcome. Meanwhile, U.S. policies that exploit China’s dependence upon “critical and core” technologies, especially semiconductors, continue to motivate redoubling of the drive for self-reliance and indigenous innovation. The recent frictions in U.S.-China relations are reinforcing this concentration on technological innovation as a concern of strategic importance. In response, China is also looking to expand and diversify its scientific exchanges and international cooperation.

Looking ahead to the 14th Five-Year Plan, which will cover 2021–25, the future direction of reforms and the potential for policy adaptation will be worth watching. At times, China’s approach to science and technology has been characterized or caricatured as wholly state-driven and thus reminiscent of past instances of industrial policies with all of their failings. However, this speech framed the state’s role as marshalling resources and creating a favorable environment for scientific progress, such as by expanding and reorganizing national laboratories. The balance between planning and autonomy in scientific research may continue to evolve. At the same time, there is a tension between this rhetorical commitment to promoting curiosity and creativity in scientific research with the Party-state’s tendency to assert control over scientists and enterprises.

Elsa B. Kania and Peter Wood, “The People’s Liberation Army and Foreign Technology,” in William C. Hannas and Didi Kirsten Tatlow, eds., China’s Quest for Foreign Technology Beyond Espionage (London: Routledge, 2020).

Throughout its history, Chinese military modernization and technological development have benefited significantly from the transfer and acquisition of foreign technologies. The PLA is now at the center of global attention for its deployment of advanced fighters, missiles, ships, and other capabilities. Initially heavily reliant upon the procurement and reverse-engineering of foreign weapons systems and defense technologies, today it appears to be transforming into a force capable of indigenous innovation. We trace the primary phases China has passed through including foreign military sales and acquisitions, and talent acquisition, to chart a trajectory toward becoming a “world-class military” (世界一流军队). For the PLA, IP theft and targeting of, for example, foreign avionics, aeroengines, and semiconductors, is not necessarily contradictory with simultaneously investing in original innovation in other fields. The PRC’s approach to innovation remains highly pragmatic, characterized by the juxtaposition of strengths and weaknesses. The road ahead remains long. … … …

Samuel Bendett and Elsa Kania, “The Resilience of Sino-Russian High-Tech Cooperation,” War on the Rocks, 12 August 2020.

This month, Russian security services announced the arrest of the president of the St. Petersburg Arctic Social Sciences Academy, who was accused of passing classified submarine detection information to Chinese intelligence. While Russia and China are signing joint agreements to develop high-tech research centers and initiatives, the outlook is more complex beneath the surface. As Washington reorients its strategy and posture for great-power competition, the high-tech partnership between Moscow and Beijing could be a force multiplier for both countries, if these efforts deliver on their promises.

These trends reflect the result of mutual interests and alignment of technological imperatives, which have contributed to the expansion of high-tech efforts between the two countries. There continue to be reasons for skepticism about the actual results and long-term trajectory of this evolving partnership, just as there are reasons for concern that elements of this effort may succeed. The current changes in the global innovation landscape and geopolitical environment have created an important strategic opportunity for China and Russia to counter and undercut American hegemony, including in the realm on issues of norms and global governance. As China and Russia continue to pursue such research collaborations, the United States should continue to evaluate the prospects and potential implications. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “The Ideological Battlefield: China’s Approach to Political Warfare and Propaganda in an Age of Cyber Conflict,” in Christopher Whyte, A. Trevor Thrall, Brian M. Mazanec, Information Warfare in the Age of Cyber Conflict (London: Routledge, 2020).

China’s Party-state and its military sees the Internet as an ideological battlefield. In an era of big data and rapid advances in artificial intelligence, China, unsurprisingly, appears to be actively interested in new techniques to exploit these technologies to monitor and manipulate public opinion. The very notion of Internet freedom is seen as a direct challenge to China’s model of “Internet management.” In the course of its rise, China is seeking to exercise global influence that is commensurate with its increased capabilities. In practice, China’s approach to and exercise of soft power often depart from the original notion, in ways that have invited the coining of the concept of “sharp power” to characterize Chinese activities and engagement in the world. In the aggregate, Beijing’s efforts have been since criticized as a new model of “authoritarian influence,” characterized as “sharp power,” which can be bullying or coercive. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “The 5G Challenge for NATO,” NATO Innovation and Technology (NITECH) Issue 3 (June 2020): 43-38.

Elsa B. Kania and Lindsay Gorman, “The United States Can’t Afford to Turn Away Chinese Talent,” Foreign Policy, 13 May 2020.

Discrimination aimed at foreign students will only harm American competitiveness.

The pandemic threatens a reckoning in U.S.-China relations. COVID-19’s arrival has highlighted the range of risks that can arise from the connectivity between the two countries. American policymakers are grappling with complex questions about how to recalibrate the character of U.S.-China economic interdependence and technological entanglement. But some of the answers that have been proposed are far too simple and may backfire on U.S. competitiveness. … … …

Elsa Kania on How the U.S. Can Mitigate Risk Responsibly,” interviewed by Shen Lu, The Wire China, 10 May 2020.

The analyst discusses tech transfer and avoiding profiling in countermeasures.

Elsa B. Kania has quickly become one of the most prominent voices analyzing U.S.-China relations, especially on Chinese military strategy and the dynamics of technological innovation. A Harvard graduate, she has studied in Beijing, worked as an analyst and testified before the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Now, she splits her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she’s a doctoral student at Harvard, and Washington, D.C., where she’s an adjunct fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Her current objective, she says, is to finish her book, Fighting to Innovate, which is forthcoming in 2021. What follows is a lightly edited Q. and A.

Q. Your work often looks at the role the state plays in fostering innovation. How do China and the U.S. treat that role? … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “AI Weapons” in China’s Military Innovation (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 27 April 2020).

As the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) seeks to become a “world-class military,” its progress in advanced weapons systems continues to provoke intense concern from its neighbors and competitors. The Chinese military and China’s defense industry have been pursuing significant investments in robotics, swarming, and other applications of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Thus far, advances in weapons systems described or advertised as “autonomous” (自主) or “intelligentized” (智能化) have built upon existing strengths in the research and development of unmanned (无人) systems and missile technology. While difficult to evaluate the sophistication of these emerging capabilities, this initial analysis concentrates on indicators of progress in weapons systems that may possess a range of levels of autonomy.

This paper reviews advances in the Chinese military and defense industry to date, evaluates the potential implications of Chinese approaches to arms control and governance, assesses potential future developments, and then considers the strategic implications, as well as policy options for the United States and likeminded democracies. Based on publicly available information, the PLA’s trajectory in the development and potential employment of AI/ML-enabled and autonomous weapons systems remains uncertain. The maturity of these capabilities — as well as if, when, and to what extent weapons systems with greater levels of autonomy have been fielded — cannot be assessed with high confidence at this point. However, as technological competition emerges as an ever more prominent element of great power rivalry, it is clear the Chinese military and defense industry have undertaken active initiatives in research, development, and experimentation. Yet China’s progress will remain contingent upon the capacity to operationalize emerging weapons systems, which will require overcoming current technological and organizational challenges in testing, training, and concepts of operations.

Chinese advances in autonomy and AI-enabled weapons systems could impact the military balance, while potentially exacerbating threats to global security and strategic stability as great power rivalry intensifies. In striving to achieve a technological advantage, the Chinese military could rush to deploy weapons systems that are unsafe, untested, or unreliable under actual operational conditions. The PLA’s strategic choices about which capabilities could prove advantageous will influence the direction of Chinese military innovation. It is encouraging that Chinese military scientists and researchers are starting to debate and engage with safety issues and technical concerns, as well as legal and ethical considerations. Nonetheless, People’s Republic of China (PRC) arms sales to potential adversaries to the United States, and to militaries with little regard for the law of war, threaten U.S. values and interests, while accelerating the proliferation of these capabilities to non-state actors. Going forward, the United States should monitor these trends and pursue measures to mitigate such risks. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “Why Doesn’t the U.S. Have Its Own Huawei?Politico, 25 February 2020.

How Washington made its own bed on global competitiveness, and how it can get out.

The Trump administration has tried one tactic after another to confront the rise of Huawei, the Chinese company that has been fighting to establish a dominant position in 5G. To date, American attempts to browbeat allies and partners into shunning the company’s equipment have proved ineffective. When it comes to countering Huawei’s dominance, White House officials have offered a disorganized assortment of options to respond, and often muddled the messaging.

In the process, there is one major question that Washington still hasn’t directly confronted: Why doesn’t the United States have its own homegrown competitor? … … …

Elsa B. Kania and Andrew Imbrie, “Great Powers Must Talk to Each Other About AI,” Defense One, 28 January 2020.

Even as they compete, major militaries have reason to cooperate: to avoid misunderstanding and to establish best practices and pragmatic parameters.

Imagine an underwater drone armed with nuclear warheads and capable of operating autonomously. Now imagine that drone has lost its way and wandered into another state’s territorial waters.

A recipe for disaster? Perhaps. But science fiction? Sadly, no.

Russia aims to field just such a drone by 2027, CNBC reported last year, citing those familiar with a U.S. intelligence assessment. Known as Poseidon, the drone will be nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered.

While the dynamics of artificial intelligence and machine learning, or ML, research remain open and often collaborative, the military potential of AI has intensified competition among great powers. In particular, Chinese, Russian and American leaders hail AI as a strategic technology critical to future national competitiveness.

The military applications of artificial intelligence have generated exuberant expectations, including predictions that the advent of AI could disrupt the military balance and even change the very nature of warfare. 

At times, the enthusiasm of military and political leaders appears to have outpaced their awareness of the potential risks and security concerns that could arise with the deployment of such nascent, relatively unproven technologies. In the quest to achieve comparative advantage, military powers could rush to deploy AI/ML-enabled systems that are unsafe, untested or unreliable.

As American strategy reorients toward strategic competition, critical considerations of surety, security and reliability around AI/ML applications should not be cast aside. Any coherent framework for U.S. strategy must include policies to promote American innovation and competitiveness, while deepening cooperation with allies and partners.

The reality of great power rivalry will entail sharper contestation on issues where U.S. values and interests directly conflict with those of Beijing and Moscow, but it equally requires constructive approaches to pursuing selective and pragmatic engagement on issues of mutual concern.

Even against the backdrop of strategic distrust, there are reasons for major militaries to cooperate on measures to improve the safety, surety, and security of AI systems in military affairs. … … …

Andrew Imbrie, Elsa B. Kania, and Lorand Laskai, The Question of Comparative Advantage in Artificial Intelligence: Enduring Strengths and Emerging Challenges for the United States, CSET Policy Brief (Washington, DC: Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology, 23 January 2020). 

Who is leading in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)? How should leadership in AI be evaluated or measured? Which aspects of comparative advantage in AI possess the greatest strategic importance? These questions are critical to address as nations around the world embrace the potential of AI through a range of policy initiatives.

None of these questions yields easy answers. Leadership and comparative advantage in artificial intelligence are difficult concepts to measure. There is no one formula to determine who may be “winning” or will be leading in the long term across various aspects of the field. On some fronts, the United States remains in a relatively favorable position in AI, but its centrality in the ecosystem should not be assumed or taken for granted. The scope and scale of Chinese research in AI are rapidly increasing. Careful evaluation of relative strengths and weaknesses can generate more useful and actionable insights to assess policy choices.

The United States possesses distinct strengths in top AI talent and research. U.S. comparative advantages reflect its dynamic innovation ecosystem and capabilities in semiconductors. Such advantages can take decades to build and appear to be difficult to buy or quickly duplicate. While the People’s Republic of China (PRC) excels in commercial applications, American prominence in foundational elements and enablers of AI, including hardware, talent, and basic research, are important. Despite considerable progress in AI research in recent years, breakthroughs rarely occur in single moments. The latest advances are the product of decades of refinements to deep learning’s conceptual architecture. Future progress in AI will look less like the space race and instead require dynamic research environments that create and sustain synergies among government, industry, and academia.1

China’s future trajectory in AI remains uncertain. The development of AI in China will depend on the evolution of its overall environment for innovation. The Chinese government is devoting billions to AI through R&D initiatives and government guidance funds, which are stimulating private investments and expenditures by leading companies. These investments may prove effective despite likely inefficiencies in allocation, but also run the risk of introducing new distortions in the market through the surge in funding. The inflated valuations of China’s “AI unicorns” could be a symptom of an “AI bubble.” Looking ahead, the state of AI in China will be hard to disentangle from the broader macroeconomic environment.

This policy brief examines a number of potential strengths for the United States and PRC in AI. Our analysis identifies both areas of U.S. comparative advantage and those where it risks falling behind a rising China.2 Success in AI research, development, and applications will be shaped by the three building blocks of AI: hardware (e.g. AI chips that enable the underlying computing capabilities), the availability of data, and continued advances in algorithms. On the policy and commercial fronts, enablers of AI development include the workforce of AI researchers and engineers, availability of funding for basic and applied research, and private sector investments. Overall, competitiveness in AI will reflect the dynamism of national innovation ecosystems, which we consider in terms of educational opportunities, access to global talent through immigration, and networks of research collaboration.3 The creation of norms and frameworks for governance of AI are equally imperative, while the application of AI to enable a range of military capabilities could affect the future balance of power among nations.4

The state of AI as a field is dynamic and rapidly evolving. In summary, this brief can draw some initial conclusions about the state of play between the United States and China. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “Minds at War — China’s Pursuit of Military Advantage through Cognitive Sciences and Biotechnology,” National Defense University PRISM 8.3, 9 January 2020.

The United States is starting to confront unprecedented challenges to the military and technological superiority that it has enjoyed in recent history. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is emerging as a powerhouse across a range of emerging technologies, and Chinese leaders recognize today’s technological revolution as a critical, even historic, opportunity to achieve strategic advantage.1 As Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) and Commander-in-Chief of the CMC Joint Operations Center, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping has highlighted the importance of military innovation to “keep pace with the times” (与时俱进) and adapt to the global revolution in military affairs.2

Indeed, Xi has declared, “In circumstances of increasingly intense global military competition, only the innovators win.”3 Responding to this directive and imperative, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been actively exploring a range of new theories, capabilities, and technologies that are believed to be critical to future operational advantage.4 The PLA is looking to improve its capacity to leverage academic and commercial developments in the process through China’s national strategy of “military-civil fusion” (军民融合).5 In particular, Chinese innovation is poised to pursue synergies among brain science, artificial intelligence (AI), and biotechnology that may have far-reaching implications for its future military power and aggregate national competitiveness. Chinese military leaders appear to believe that such emerging technologies will be inevitably weaponized, often pointing to a quotation by Engels: “Once technological advancements can be used for military purposes and have been used for military purposes, they very immediately and almost necessarily, often violating the commander’s will, cause changes or even transformations in the styles of warfare.”6 The PLA intends to achieve an operational advantage through seizing the initiative in the course of this transformation. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “The 5G Fight of the Decade,” The Hill, 3 January 2020.

This year will bring one of the most rapid advances in the deployment of 5G and its applications. In the coming decade, 5G could create paradigm change in our digital economy and society. 5G is much more than a faster upgrade from 4G. It enables quantum leaps in speed and presents unique potential with its low latency. 5G will open up new possibilities in health, education, agriculture, manufacturing, and more, adding up to trillions of dollars to the global economy. American leadership within this emerging industrial technology revolution will require using the potential of secure and reliable 5G as a core foundation for our digital economy and society.

The debate in Washington has often centered around concerns over the security threats and international expansion of Huawei, the dominating Chinese champion in this field. While there are encouraging indications that the United States is now starting to concentrate on the full range of issues regarding 5G, American action to date is far from commensurate with what is at stake. Meanwhile, China has been making considerable investments in 5G deployment and applications, while even launching research on 6G. If the United States fails to overcome impediments and dedicate adequate investments toward progress on 5G, then China may succeed in getting ahead with a decisive advantage in this new frontier.

The 5G era is well underway in China. The first 5G enabled brain surgery occurred in a Chinese military hospital last year. China has launched the commercial employment of 5G, and 126,000 base stations have entered use across the country, with more than 400,000 base stations estimated to be deployed this year. Chinese consumers have been buying new 5G phones, while Apple will not release its own until later this year. Chinese network operators are expected to spend $411 billion on 5G in the next decade. Beijing is also establishing projects that will promote impactful applications of 5G on medicine, education, and industrial technology. … … …

Franz-Stefan Gady, “Elsa B. Kania on Artificial Intelligence and Great Power Competition,” The Diplomat, 31 December 2019.

On AI’s potential, military uses, and the fallacy of an AI “arms race.”

The Diplomat’s Franz-Stefan Gady talks to Elsa B. Kania about the potential implications of artificial intelligence (AI) for the military and how the world’s leading military powers — the United States, China, and Russia — are planning to develop and deploy AI-enabled technologies in future warfighting.

Kania is an Adjunct Senior Fellow with the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Her research focuses on Chinese military innovation in emerging technologies. She is also a Research Fellow with the Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University and a non-resident fellow with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). Currently, she is a Ph.D. student in Harvard University’s Department of Government.

Kania is the author of numerous articles and reports including Battlefield Singularity: Artificial Intelligence, Military Revolution, and China’s Future Military Power and A New Sino-Russian High-Tech Partnership. Her most recent report is Securing Our 5G Future, and she also recently co-authored a policy brief AI Safety, Security, and Stability Among Great Powers. She can be followed @EBKania.

What is artificial intelligence (AI) and what’s your preferred definition of it? 

As a political scientist who tends to be a realist with contrarian and constructivist inclinations, I suppose I could attempt to answer: AI is what states make of it? Moreover, the utility of any definition of AI depends upon its intended purpose. No definition can fully capture its complexity and continued progression. … … …

Andrew Imbrie and Elsa Kania, AI Safety, Security, and Stability Among Great Powers: Options, Challenges, and Lessons Learned for Pragmatic Engagement, CSET Policy Brief (Washington, DC: Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology, 19 December 2019).

Among great powers, AI has become a new focus of competition due to its potential to transform the character of conflict and disrupt the military balance. This policy brief considers alternative paths toward AI safety and security.

Today’s rapid advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning present a range of challenges and opportunities for the United States. Increasingly, U.S., Chinese, and Russian leaders recognize AI as a strategic technology that could become a critical determinant of future national competitiveness.1 AI/ML may be poised to transform not only our economies and societies, but also the character of conflict.2 The military applications of these technologies have generated particular concerns and exuberant expectations, including predictions that the advent of AI in military affairs could change the very nature of warfare.3 Undeniably, AI has become a focus in military competition among the great powers,4 with the potential to reshape international competition and undermine deterrence.5 … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “Chinese Military Innovation in the AI Revolution,” The RUSI Journal, 29 November 2019.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is pursuing military innovation through investment in emerging technologies.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) anticipates that today’s advances in emerging technologies, particularly artificial intelligence, could catalyse a new military revolution. Elsa B Kania explores how, fearing surprise and seeking strategic opportunity, the PLA is actively pursuing military actively pursuing military innovation and exploring new paradigms of military power. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “Party Control and Repression in the Age of AI,” Defense Dossier, Issue 25, American Foreign Policy Council, October 2019.

Elsa B. Kania, Securing Our 5G Future: The Competitive Challenge and Considerations for U.S. Policy (Washington, DC: Center for a New American Security, 7 November 2019).  

Today’s advances in fifth-generation telecommunications (5G) promise a transformational technology that is critical to enabling the next industrial revolution. 5G will provide massive benefits for future economic development and national competitiveness, including certain military applications. 5G is far more than simply a faster iteration of 4G. The benefits include its high speed, low latency, and high throughput, which enable data flows at vastly greater speed and volume than today’s 4G networks. Future smart cities will rely on 5G, autonomous vehicles will depend on this increased connectivity, future manufacturing will leverage 5G to enable improved automation, and even agriculture could benefit from these advances. The advent of 5G could contribute trillions to the world economy over the next couple of decades, setting the stage for new advances in productivity and innovation.

The United States risks losing a critical competitive advantage if it fails to capitalize upon the opportunity and manage the challenges of 5G. Today, China seems poised to become a global leader and first mover in 5G. The United States may be situated in a position of relative disadvantage. The U.S. government has yet to commit to any funding or national initiatives in 5G that are close to comparable in scope and scale to those of China, which is dedicating hundreds of billions to 5G development and deployment. There are also reasons for serious concern about the long-term viability and diversity of global supply chains in this industry. Huawei, a Chinese company with global ambitions, seems to be on course to become dominant in 5G, establishing new pilots and partnerships worldwide. … … …

Samuel Bendett and Elsa B. Kania, A New Sino-Russian High-Tech Partnership: Authoritarian Innovation In An Era Of Great-Power Rivalry (Barton, Canberra, ACT: Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 29 October 2019).

Sino-Russian relations have been adapting to an era of great-power rivalry. This complex relationship, categorised as a ‘comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era’, has continued to evolve as global strategic competition has intensified.1 China and Russia have not only expanded military cooperation but are also undertaking more extensive technological cooperation, including in fifth-generation telecommunications, artificial intelligence (AI), biotechnology and the digital economy.

When Russia and China commemorated the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China in October 2019,2 the celebrations highlighted the history of this ‘friendship’ and a positive agenda for contemporary partnership that is pursuing bilateral security, ‘the spirit of innovation’, and ‘cooperation in all areas’.3

Such partnerships show that Beijing and Moscow recognise the potential synergies of joining forces in the development of these dual-use technologies, which possess clear military and commercial significance. This distinct deepening of China–Russia technological collaborations is also a response to increased pressures imposed by the U.S. Over the past couple of years, U.S. policy has sought to limit Chinese and Russian engagements with the global technological ecosystem, including through sanctions and export controls. Under these geopolitical circumstances, the determination of Chinese and Russian leaders to develop indigenous replacements for foreign, particularly American technologies, from chips to operating systems, has provided further motivation for cooperation.

These advances in authoritarian innovation should provoke concerns for democracies for reasons of security, human rights, and overall competitiveness. Notably, the Chinese and Russian governments are also cooperating on techniques for improved censorship and surveillance and increasingly coordinating on approaches to governance that justify and promote their preferred approach of cyber sovereignty and internet management, to other countries and through international standards and other institutions. Today’s trends in technological collaboration and competition also possess strategic and ideological implications for great-power rivalry. … … …

Samuel Bendett and Elsa Kania, “A New Sino-Russian High-Tech Partnership Emerges as U.S. Tensions Mount,” The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 29 October 2019.

China and Russia have not only expanded their military cooperation but are also undertaking more extensive technological cooperation, including in 5G, artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology, new media and the digital economy.

In our new reportA new Sino-Russian high-tech partnership: authoritarian innovation in an era of great-power rivalry, published today by ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre, we map out the unique ecosystem underpinning expanding technology cooperation between Moscow and Beijing.

Sino-Russian relations have been adapting to an era of great-power rivalry. This complex relationship, categorised as a ‘comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era’, has continued to evolve as global strategic competition has intensified. When Russia and China commemorated the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China in October 2019, the celebrations highlighted the history of this ‘friendship’ and a positive agenda for contemporary partnership that is pursuing bilateral security, ‘the spirit of innovation’, and ‘cooperation in all areas’.

This rapidly emerging ecosystem shows that Beijing and Moscow recognise the value of joining forces in the development of dual-use technologies—which possess clear military and commercial significance. This cooperation is growing across five key areas: dialogues and exchanges; the development of industrial science and technology parks; the expansion of academic cooperation; joint investment funds; and the promotion of joint competitions.

The distinct deepening of this relationship is also a response to increased pressures imposed by the US. Over the past couple of years, US policy has sought to limit Chinese and Russian engagements with the global technological ecosystem, including through sanctions and export controls. Under these geopolitical circumstances, the determination of Chinese and Russian leaders to develop indigenous replacements for foreign, particularly American, technologies, from chips to operating systems, has provided further motivation for cooperation.

These advances in authoritarian innovation should provoke concerns for democracies for reasons of security, human rights and overall competitiveness. Notably, the Chinese and Russian governments are also cooperating on techniques for improved censorship and surveillance and increasingly coordinating on approaches to governance that justify and promote their preferred approach of cyber sovereignty and internet management to other countries and through international standards and other institutions. Today’s trends in technological collaboration and competition also possess strategic and ideological implications for great-power rivalry. … … …

Elsa B. Kania and Lindsey R. Sheppard, “Huawei’s 5G Tech Isn’t Worth the Risk,” Foreign Policy, 12 October 2019.

5G may have become a buzzword, but the notion that countries must rush to be first to deploy it is mistaken and reckless—and increases the odds of security breaches. There’s no doubt that 5G is important, promising the high speeds and unparalleled connectivity that are required to unleash the full potential of the “internet of things”—the ever-growing network of web-connected devices—and artificial intelligence. 5G could prove critical to economic competitiveness, but not only will a race to install the system end up backfiring, there is also reason to think twice about the claims of China’s Huawei that it alone can shape our technological future.

Huawei’s marketing—and Chinese government propaganda—has built the impression that it’s either Huawei or no way to 5G. The telecommunications firm declares itself the unparalleled leader in 5G as it attempts to secure commercial partnerships around the world, now boasting more than 50 contracts across some 30 countries. In Europe, Huawei has even launched a campaign urging residents to “Vote for 5G,” as if its 5G technologies were the only way for Europe to achieve a smarter future.

Huawei’s claims to be No. 1 in 5G can be misleading. Huawei is a leader and a powerhouse, but it is not the only top player. And it isn’t clear that the company is winning—at least, not yet. Although Huawei’s technological capabilities shouldn’t be underestimated, there are reasons to look skeptically at its supposed superiority in 5G. … … …

Elsa B. Kania and Wilson VornDick, “China’s Biotech Frontier—CRISPR, Military-Civil Fusion, and the new Revolution in Military Affairs,” Jamestown China Brief 19.18 (8 October 2019). 


China’s national strategy of military-civil fusion (军民融合, junmin ronghe) has highlighted biology as a priority. [1] It is hardly surprising that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is looking to leverage synergies among defense, scientific, and commercial developments in biological interdisciplinary (生物交叉, shengwu jiaocha) technologies. Chinese military scientists and strategists have consistently emphasized that biotechnology could become a “new strategic commanding heights of the future Revolution in Military Affairs” (军事革命, junshi geming) (PLA Daily, October 2015). Certainly, the PRC is not alone in recognizing the potential of biotechnology on the future battlefield, but the ways in which Chinese research is seeking to integrate developments among industry, academic institutions, and military-oriented programs—including through research collaborations and the procurement of dual-purpose commercial technologies—may prove striking. In particular, China is at the forefront of today’s breakthroughs in CRISPR-Cas, a new technique for gene editing that has demonstrated unique potential and precision despite its current limitations. [2] … … …

Samuel Bendett and Elsa B. Kania, “China, Russia Deepen Technological Cooperation,” Defense One, 4 October 2019.

With joint dialogues, incubators, and technology parks, Beijing and Moscow are seeking to overcome deficiencies and compete with the United States.

China and Russia are deepening and expanding their ties — economic, military, technological — as external pressures limit their access to overseas markets and technology. Both countries hope the collaboration will help to compensate for domestic deficiencies and to compete successfully with the United States in today’s critical technologies.

This bilateral relationship, currently celebrating its 70th anniversary, has ebbed and flowed in the decades since the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China opened diplomatic relations.

This relationship, now upgraded to and characterized as a “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era,” is continuing to evolve amid today’s great power rivalry.

For Moscow, certain Chinese products, services and experience may be the lifeline for its industry, government, and military need to wean themselves from high-tech Western imports.

For Beijing, Russia’s skilled engineers and mathematicians are a valuable resource for tech and defense industry giants that are hungry for talent and faced with increasingly unfavorable conditions in the United States and Europe. And its military hopes to draw on Russian proficiency in designing advanced weapons and experience using emerging capabilities on today’s battlefields. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “Technology and Innovation in China’s Strategy and Global Influence,” in Scott D. McDonald and Michael C. Burgoyne, eds., China’s Global Influence: Perspectives and Recommendations (Honolulu, HI: Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, 1 October 2019).

From 30 January to 1 February 2019 the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies hosted a Department of Defense Regional Center collaboration titled “China’s Global Reach: A Security Assessment.” The goal of the workshop was to leverage expertise and unique perspectives from all five Department of Defense Regional Centers to examine the actions and intentions of the People’s Republic of China. To understand how these global activities impact the United States, this analysis was conducted within the context of the PRC’s perspective of its own foreign policy and in an environment defined by strategic competition, as referenced in the 2017 National Security Strategy and 2018 National Defense Strategy. The workshop leveraged the insights gained from a broad range of experts to formulate policy recommendations for defending state interests in the face of growing PRC assertiveness. The scholarship, insights, and recommendations of the participants are collected in this volume for the benefit of policy-makers, practitioners, and scholars. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, Emerging Technologies, Emerging Challenges – The Potential Employment of New Technologies in Future PLA NC3, Tech4GS Special Report, Technology for Global Security, 5 September 2019.

This paper presents an initial assessment of the implications of certain emerging technologies for the future of nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3). In particular, this examination of the potential for new technological developments in NC3 is informed by an assessment of the strategic objectives of and current developments underway by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). I evaluate how the PLA’s current advances in and approach to emerging technologies—including artificial intelligence, cloud computing, fifth-generation telecommunications, and quantum communications—may contribute to its future command and control of nuclear and conventional operations. This analysis considers initial indicators of how the PLA is starting to and/or may choose in the future to leverage new technologies in various elements of its NC3 architecture, including for early warning, decision support, improved targeting, and secure communications. Although certain of these technologies could enhance China’s confidence in its NC3 in ways that may prove stabilizing, there are also reasons for concern that the introduction of such complex, untested technologies could also create new risks and exacerbate the threat of miscalculation. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “In Military-Civil Fusion, China is Learning Lessons from the United States and Starting to Innovate,” The Strategy Bridge, 27 August 2019.

China’s national strategy of “military-civil fusion” (军民融合) is provoking some anxiety in Washington.[1] There are concerns the United States could be challenged, or even outright disadvantaged, in technological competition relative to the more integrated approach to innovation Chinese leaders are attempting to achieve. The whole-of-nation implementation of military-civil fusion indicates the seriousness of Chinese attempts to create and leverage synergies between defense and commercial developments, particularly in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and biotechnology.[2] It is important to recognize both the parallels and distinctions between American and Chinese concepts and approaches that can clarify the character of this competitive challenge.

China’s initiatives in military-civil fusion are informed by a close study of, and learning from, the U.S. defense industry and American defense innovation ecosystem to an extent that can be striking. In certain respects, military-civil fusion can be described as China’s attempt to imitate and replicate certain strengths from a U.S. model, but reflected through a glass darkly and implemented as a state-driven strategy.[3] In this regard, American responses to the challenge of China’s ambitions in innovation ought not to envy or seek to emulate aspects of China’s model, but rather should recognize the unique strengths of its own ecosystem, while redoubling current initiatives intended to promote innovation.[4] Although China’s strategy of military-civil fusion—and the powerful momentum behind merit serious scrutiny and examination, it is equally important to recognize the inefficiencies and weaknesses exhibited to date.[5] … … …

Elsa B. Kania and Wilson Vorndick, “Weaponizing Biotech: How China’s Military Is Preparing for a ‘New Domain of Warfare’,” Defense One, 14 August 2019.

Under Beijing’s civil-military fusion strategy, the PLA is sponsoring research on gene editing, human performance enhancement, and more.

We may be on the verge of a brave new world indeed. Today’s advances in biotechnology and genetic engineering have exciting applications in medicine — yet also alarming implications, including for military affairs. China’s national strategy of military-civil fusion (军民融合) has highlighted biology as a priority, and the People’s Liberation Army could be at the forefront of expanding and exploiting this knowledge.

The PLA’s keen interest is reflected in strategic writings and research that argue that advances in biology are contributing to changing the form or character (形态) of conflict. For example:

  • In 2010’s War for Biological Dominance (制生权战争), Guo Jiwei (郭继卫), a professor with the Third Military Medical University, emphasizes the impact of biology on future warfare.
  • In 2015, then-president of the Academy of Military Medical Sciences He Fuchu (贺福初) argued that biotechnology will become the new “strategic commanding heights” of national defense, from biomaterials to “brain control” weapons. Maj. Gen. He has since become the vice president of the Academy of Military Sciences, which leads China’s military science enterprise.
  • Biology is among seven “new domains of warfare” discussed in a 2017 book by Zhang Shibo (张仕波), a retired general and former president of the National Defense University, who concludes: “Modern biotechnology development is gradually showing strong signs characteristic of an offensive capability,” including the possibility that “specific ethnic genetic attacks” (特定种族基因攻击) could be employed.
  • The 2017 edition of Science of Military Strategy (战略学), a textbook published by the PLA’s National Defense University that is considered to be relatively authoritative, debuted a section about biology as a domain of military struggle, similarly mentioning the potential for new kinds of biological warfare to include “specific ethnic genetic attacks.”

These are just a few examples of an extensive and evolving literature by Chinese military scholars and scientists who are exploring new directions in military innovation. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “The Chinese Military Reforms and Transforms in the ‘New Era’,” Jamestown China Brief 19.15 (14 August 2019). 


The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been undergoing a far-reaching transformation with strategic implications for the military balance in the region and beyond. Starting in 2015, the PLA has been undertaking historic reforms that have involved extensive restructuring of the force. [1] The 2015 People’s Republic of China (PRC) national defense white paper (NDWP), titled “China’s Military Strategy,” had confirmed revisions to the PLA’s military strategic guidelines, while previewing the direction that Chinese military reforms have since taken (China Brief, July 2, 2015; Ministry of National Defense, May 26, 2015). In July 2019, the PRC issued its first official NDWP in four years, “China’s National Defense in the New Era” (Ministry of National Defense, July 24). This new NDWP is directed towards purposes of signaling and propaganda, while revealing PRC ambitions to reshape the global security architecture (China Brief, July 31). However, it declines to provide much in the way of substantive transparency beyond only limited updates on PLA reforms. Nonetheless, a careful reading of “China’s National Defense in the New Era” reveals notable insights and indications of the evolution of PRC interests, the progression of PLA reforms, and new directions in Chinese military modernization. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “In the ‘New Era,’ the PLA is Xi’s Army,” Party Watch, Center for Advanced China Research, 1 August 2019.

The PLA will always be the Party’s army. China’s latest national defense white paper, released on July 24 on July 24, highlights the imperative of adherence to the Party’s “absolute leadership” (绝对领导). Tellingly, the requirement that the PLA must “obey the Party’s commands” (听党指挥) is always prioritized ahead of preparing to “fight and win wars” (能打胜战) in Xi’s frequent exhortations exhortations. Although the PLA today is pursuing historic reforms reforms and undergoing unprecedented transformations as China attempts to build a “powerful military” that is “commensurate with its global standing,” certain concerns over Party control remain consistent nonetheless. “China’s National Defense in the New Era” includes an incongruous juxtaposition of an agenda for reform and innovation and innovation with the persistent insistence that “ideological and political work” remain “the first priority” for China’s armed forces. Our assessments must recognize the influence of the Party’s control in constraining and conditioning the trajectory of Chinese military modernization. … … …

Elsa Kania and Peter Wood, “Major Themes in China’s National Defense White Paper,” Jamestown China Brief 19.4 (31 July 2019).


On July 24, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) issued its first new national defense white paper (NDWP) since 2015 (Xinhua). “China’s National Defense in a New Era”  attempts both to articulate a vision of global security in which China is a driving force for “world peace,” and to establish clear red lines on China’s core “sovereignty, security, and development interests.” While unsparing in its critique of power politics and “hegemonism,” this document also calls for China’s armed forces to “adapt to the new landscape of strategic competition.” Although the paper includes some notable information regarding the modernization and development of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), these issues will be examined specifically in a later article.

While caution is required against over-interpreting a document intended for messaging to a global audience, certain themes provide important takeaways. In particular, “China’s National Defense in a New Era” offers insights into how the PRC leadership imagines a world order characterized by greater multipolarity, its aspirations to exercise leadership within that “community of common destiny,” and the strategic objectives on which Beijing will brook no compromise. This paper reveals Beijing’s intentions to reshape the current architecture of the global order towards a future more favorable for its interests, which are expanding into new domains around the globe. … … …

Elsa Kania, “China’s Strategic Situational Awareness Capabilities,” Issue Briefs—Country Profile, Center for Strategic & International Studies, 29 July 2019.


China has invested considerably in advancing its capabilities for strategic situational awareness.1 Although traditional shortcomings in strategic early warning have been a serious concern for China, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) today is developing a more mature architecture that could enhance its capability to undertake nuclear counterattack and conventional operations. Although the improvement of capabilities for early warning and situational awareness will remain a challenge for the PLA,2 these capabilities today encompass a growing number of satellites for remote sensing and electronic intelligence (ELINT), large, phased array radars and a range of other radars that are increasingly sophisticated, and early warning aircraft, as well as unmanned systems. The expansion and maturation of these varied systems will continue to be a priority for the PLA, pursuant to new missions and operational requirements in the region and worldwide.

China will likely redouble these efforts in response to new strategic requirements in coming years. According to the 2015 Ministry of National Defense white paper on “China’s Military Strategy,” “China will optimize its nuclear force structure, improve strategic early warning, command and control, missile penetration, rapid reaction, and survivability and protection.”3 This focus on improving strategic early warning reflects persistent concerns that the PLA has been lacking and lagging in these capabilities, which may exacerbate the risks of a “false negative” if a nuclear attack were to occur undetected.4 Meanwhile, the new focus in some authoritative writings on options for “rapid reaction” (快速反应) to an attack appears to imply the capability for a rapid second strike. There has been some speculation that China’s posture could evolve toward that of “launch on warning,” which would demand much more reliable early warning systems.5 Such a posture could be consistent with China’s traditional commitment to a “no first use” policy.6 The PLA also intends to expand its construction of a space-based system for strategic surveillance that could detect indicators of a potential nuclear attack, including warning of a surprise attack against China’s missiles.7 These trends will continue to merit analytic attention. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “The United States Must Compete to Innovate in 5G,” The National Interest28 July 2019.

Huawei has emerged as a national champion for China in 5G, and the United States is falling behind in the competition.

5G promises exciting possibilities and daunting challenges. This transformative technology will be critical to enabling the fourth industrial revolution, creating new industries and new possibilities, while perhaps providing trillions in economic dividends. At present, the United States seems to be situated in a position of relative disadvantage, while China appears to be poised to become a global leader in 5G. The claims by the Trump administration that the United States “is now leading the global race” for 5G should not obscure the reality of this challenge, nor will calls for “America First” in 5G contribute to the right policy choices. American leadership in 5G will depend upon a strategy that recognizes the criticality of not only actively investing in its deployment but also catalyzing new directions in innovation, while prioritizing security and deepening collaboration with allies and partners in the process.

5G is not merely a race to be won, nor should the objective of the United States be simply to deploy it “as soon as possible.” Instead, the deployment and realization of the full potential 5G will play out over at least a decade to come. 5G is not simply faster 4G, but rather creates a new paradigm for connectivity with very high speed, low latency and high throughput. Based on these characteristics, 5G will be integral to realizing the potential of the Internet of Things and promising applications of artificial intelligence, from remote surgeries to autonomous driving in smart cities. In this regard, 5G will become tantamount to critical infrastructure, because its disruption or exploitation could prove deeply damaging, even deadly. Consequently, security will be imperative, and talk of ‘racing’ for 5G risks undermining this critical foundation. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “America Must Invest in the Skills and Expertise to Compete with China,” The Hill, 26 July 2019.

For the United States, a smart and serious approach to competition with China requires improving our understanding of this key rival. American strategy must be informed by careful assessments commensurate with the complexity of this “new era” of relations between the United States and China. There is no shortage of issues for which expertise on China is essential, from trade and technology to defense and counterintelligence.

For American policies to be designed and implemented appropriately requires leveraging the insights of those with relevant skill sets, including language proficiency and knowledge, which can remain scarce and in high demand. The American national security community must prepare for the cognitive and human capital challenges of great power rivalry.

The government should address impediments to improving expertise on China within its workforce. The broken security clearance process has presented impediments to hiring and must be improved. The delays and protraction of investigations for anyone who has extensive international experience, combined with the intense scrutiny of those who have family overseas that often results in outright denials, can discourage Americans eager to serve our country or even deny them the opportunity to do so. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “Innovation in the New Era of Chinese Military Power,” The Diplomat, 25 July 2019.  

What to make of the new Chinese defense white paper, the first since 2015.

China’s State Council Information Office has just released a new national defense white paper, which is the first since the launch of major military reforms in 2015. This document includes an assessment of the international security situation and provides an official explanation of China’s defense policy, missions, military reforms, and defense expenditure. While unsparing in its critique of power politics and American “hegemonism,” the defense white paper also calls for China’s armed forces to “adapt to the new landscape of strategic competition.” In Xi Jinping’s “new era,” the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is urged to strengthen its preparedness and enhance combat capabilities commensurate with China’s global standing and interests. As the PLA pursues the objective of transforming into “world-class forces” by mid-century, the U.S. military may confront the unprecedented challenge of a potential adversary with formidable and rapidly advancing capabilities.

As an attempt to reassure the international community of China’s commitment to “world peace,” this defense white paper may have limited utility, particularly juxtaposed against the strident signaling of resolve on the “Taiwan question.” This articulation of China’s national defense is direct and explicit in highlighting the willingness to use force to prevent and defeat any attempts at “Taiwan independence.” In particular, China’s quest to achieve “complete reunification” is described as threatened by the potential “interference of external forces,” implicitly the United States, which is often characterized as a powerful adversary in Chinese military writings not intended for an external audience. The U.S. military is the target and often the teacher for Chinese military modernization, and the PLA must be prepared to use “all necessary measures” in order to “safeguard national unity.” … … …

Elsa B. Kania and Emma Moore, “The U.S. Is Unprepared to Mobilize for Great Power Conflict,” Defense One, 21 July 2019.

In an era of lightning wars and easy-to-reach civilian populations, U.S. planners are giving mobilization far less attention than it requires.

The “fully mobilized Joint Force,” the National Defense Strategy tells us, will be capable of “defeating aggression by a major power; deterring opportunistic aggression elsewhere; and disrupting imminent terrorist and WMD threats.” Yet neither that document, nor U.S. planners in general, are sufficiently grappling with certain mobilization challenges that could prove decisive in a future great power conflict.

There are a few reasons for this shortfall. While U.S. strategists have in the past tended to assume that overmatch will flow from military-technological superiority, this may be no longer feasible, given advances in Chinese military innovation. Tomorrow’s conflicts are also likely to begin far more quickly than wars of the past, allowing little time to shift from a peacetime to a wartime posture and thus necessitating greater concern for competitive mobilization. In addition, efforts to disrupt U.S. critical infrastructure and sow disinformation among the American population to undermine national resolve may be prominent features of future geopolitical competition.

Future conflicts could start rapidly and without warning. Surprise attacks could target U.S. battle networks, satellites, and logistics support in order to undermine C4ISR capabilities, while preventing or impeding power projection. In such a scenario, the American homeland is unlikely to be spared. The attacks of an adversary against U.S. critical infrastructure could cause major damage and disruption in ways that could undermine overall morale and create major impediments to mobilization. Given these threats and these apparent vulnerabilities, the resilience and survivability of the U.S. homeland must remain a core priority. So too, the U.S. military, which has become accustomed to operating in much more permissive environments in its recent history, must also be prepared to mobilize and operate under such demanding conditions. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “Chinese Military Innovation in Artificial Intelligence,” Testimony Before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 7 July 2019.

Xi Jinping has called upon the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to become a world-class military (世界一流军队) by mid-century.1 Chinese military modernization has been directed towards learning from and targeting the U.S. military, which is seen as a powerful adversary (强敌). Since the 1990s, the PLA has concentrated on developing asymmetric capabilities aimed at exploiting potential American vulnerabilities and undermining current American advantages. The PLA aspires not only to equal but also to surpass the U.S. military by seizing the initiative in the course of the ongoing Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) that is being catalyzed by today’s advances in emerging technologies.2 Chinese military strategists anticipate a transformation in the form and character of conflict, which is seen as evolving from today’s “informatized” (信息化) warfare to future “intelligentized” (智能化) warfare.3 The PLA may even offset U.S. military power if successful in advancing innovation and leapfrogging ahead in the course of this transformation. The advent of AI on the future battlefield might disrupt the balance of power in ways that risk jeopardizing strategic stability and undermining deterrence in the U.S.-China relationship. At the same time, the PLA continues to confront critical challenges to operationalizing artificial intelligence (AI) across a range of applications, from issues of talent to the management of data and adaptation as an organization. Looking forward, as this rivalry intensifies, the United States must recognize the imperative of investing in our own innovation and sustaining our core competitive advantages.

The PLA is actively exploring and experimenting with new concepts and capabilities to leverage artificial intelligence to enhance its combat power and deterrence. Chinese defense academics and military strategists are creating ideas and theories of ‘intelligentized operations,’ seeking to determine new mechanisms for victory.4 The use of AI in war-gaming and operations research could contribute to conceptual advancements, including the exploration of new notions of human-machine coordination and confrontation.5 In the process, the PLA is closely studying and adapting lessons learned from U.S. concepts and initiatives, but there is often a significant asymmetry of information, insofar as the state of AI research and applications in China often receive less attention from American strategists. The primary purpose of this testimony—and the author’s research over the past couple of years, which is based entirely on open sources that are readily available—has been to contribute to improved understanding of the implications of these military and technological advancements in the People’s Republic of China, in ways that can inform future directions in American competitive strategy.6 … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “The 5G Fight is Bigger than Huawei,” Foreign Policy, 22 May 2019.

A badly implemented ban would be a Pyrrhic victory at best.

The latest salvos in the Trump administration’s campaign against Huawei may prove, at best, to be a Pyrrhic victory—or, at worst, directly undermine U.S. interests and objectives. At the moment, it remains unclear how the recent executive order, which creates sweeping authorities to bar and exclude companies or technologies linked to a “foreign adversary” from the United States, and the addition of Huawei to the government blacklist known as the Entity List will be implemented in practice.

It is not too late for U.S. President Donald Trump to recalibrate toward the smarter approach needed for such a complex challenge. In the process, the U.S. government should also pursue more proactive policies that concentrate on ensuring future American competitiveness in 5G, the fifth generation of mobile networks.

The U.S. government is justified in a forceful response to mitigate real, urgent threats to U.S. critical infrastructure, and it is reasonable to constrain high-risk vendors and carriers from U.S. critical infrastructure. However, the framing of this measure in terms of “foreign adversaries” also represents a missed opportunity for the U.S. government to present stronger arguments that reflect the systemic concerns involved, which go far beyond Huawei.

There is no shortage of reasons to consider banning Huawei from U.S. networks, but how that determination is made—ideally with a level of credibility, objectivity, and transparency—matters greatly. In the process, coordination with countries that share similar concerns but may not see China as an outright “adversary”—as the executive order implicitly describes it—will be critical. So far, even close allies and partners in Europe have expressed some skepticism of U.S. concerns on Huawei, and greater consensus should be pursued on the basis of agreement on ‘red flags’ for risk. The U.S. approach to 5G security must continue to extend to encompass all aspects of its design, deployment, and management.

To that end, it is necessary to recalibrate the conversation on 5G security by shifting the focus away from Huawei to criteria and concerns that are underlying their infamy. Any Chinese company can be subject to exploitation in a system that law to protect against arbitrary, often extrajudicial, exercise of state power and where laws and practices in intelligence indicate the intention to leverage enterprises to that end. Some further factors that are prominent in the case of Huawei, but not unique to the company, include a track record of bribery and corruption, a distinct shortfall in transparency, including about the actual nature of its ownership, and connection to incidents of espionage, not to mention a relatively lackluster track-record on cyber security. Regardless of nation of origin, any vendor with such problematic characteristics should encounter strong scrutiny. … … …

Elsa B. Kania and Emma Moore, “Great Power Rivalry Is Also a War for Talent,” Defense One, 19 May 2019.

China’s military is working harder to find and keep good people. The U.S. must step up its own efforts.

China’s technological prowess suggests that United States cannot indefinitely assume a military advantage based on weapons and equipment. Yet Pentagon leaders tempted to find comfort in the superiority of the American servicemember — “people are our greatest asset,” as they are wont to say — should note that the People’s Liberation Army is prioritizing efforts to catch up in its ability to find, attract, and retain talented people. If the U.S. military is to keep this edge, it needs to improve its own efforts, and quickly.

Traditionally, human capital has been a relative weakness for the PLA, which has been more generally known for its quantity, not the quality, of its personnel. However, ongoing reforms have shrunk and reshaped that a force that once relied heavily on conscription, including the demobilization of several hundred thousand personnel. Increasingly, the PLA is trying to recruit more educated and “high-quality” officers and enlisted personnel. In the process, the Chinese military has also changed its system for recruiting civilian personnel, including to concentrate on those with technical proficiency. China is also exploring new options to apply a national strategy of military-civil fusion to talent development.

Meanwhile, demographic trends in American society are making it harder for military recruiters to find adequate talent. By some estimates as many as 71 percent of young people in the U.S. are ineligible for military service, due to factors that include health and fitness or lack of education. Of the recruitable population, even fewer are inclined to serve, with women significantly less likely to see the military as an option.

Talent is and will remain at the core of America’s competitive advantage over China. The U.S. military must continue to reevaluate and explore options to reform current approaches to recruiting and retaining diverse talent to prioritize critical skill-sets and proficiencies. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “Not a ‘New Era’—Historical Memory and Continuities in U.S.-China Rivalry,” The Strategy Bridge, 7 May 2019.

At first glance, the return to a world of great power rivalry may seem sudden.[1] The National Defense Strategy, published in January 2018, highlighted the “reemergence of long-term, strategic competition” against such great power rivals as Russia and China as the “central challenge” to U.S. interests and security.[2] The notion of a new era has become pervasive and nearly inescapable in both American and Chinese discourse, and the phrasing may, at first, appear entirely appropriate. After decades in which U.S. policy has been more oriented towards engagement, U.S. strategy today clearly and explicitly recognizes China as a competitor, seemingly undertaking a historic reorientation in ways that can be seen as reflecting a major discontinuity with the past.[3] At the same time, Xi Jinping often alluded to the notion of a new era (新时代), in which China is increasingly contesting American global leadership.[4] However, the typical turning to this phrasing of a new era to characterize recent trends in U.S.-China relations, while perhaps rhetorically appropriate, can obscure what is not new, emphasizing novelty at the expense of recognizing the history and relative consistency in certain aspects of U.S.-China relations. That is, this common characterization of the 2017-2018 timeframe, as marking the start of a distinct epoch of strategic competition between China and the United States, confers a newness to this era of great power rivalry that can be greatly exaggerated, at the expense of recognizing the influence of the past couple of decades of history on the trajectory of U.S.-China relations.

The emergence of this strategic competition—and the start of the U.S.-China security dilemma that tends to intensify it—have arguably predated by far the recent attention in U.S. policy.[5] There is a long history of mistrust between China and the United States, frequently exacerbated by divergent perspectives and asymmetries of perception. These dynamics have only intensified in recent years in ways that heighten tensions over underlying conflicts of values or interests perhaps all but irreconcilable for reasons of regime type and ideology.[6] Indeed, the directionality of U.S. policy, which has emphasized engagement, has often contributed to the threat perceptions of Chinese leaders who have seen U.S. hopes and expectations of China’s transformation as a threat of existential character, creating a “regime security” dilemma.[7] Conversely, frequent protestations by China that it will never seek hegemony are not seen as credible by the United States or as enduring, given shifts underway in the balance of power that may reshape Chinese interests and incentives in the process.[8] … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “Testimony on ‘Future Mobilization Needs of the Nation,’” National Commission on Service, 24 April 2019.

… … In my remarks and written testimony, I first provide an assessment of the strategic challenge that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) presents as a great power rival.1 I then discuss policy considerations for American military and national mobilization challenges, including questions involving the Selective Service System, in light of this challenge.

The PRC’s apparent prioritization of a whole-of-nation approach to national defense mobilization could indicate a serious concern with scenarios of large-scale and/or protracted warfare. In a future conflict, the United States might be situated in a position of disadvantage as a result of lesser capability for rapid mobilization of military and industrial resources, relative to a potential adversary that could undertake a much more extensive national defense mobilization at greater speed and scale.

The United States must undertake a significant reevaluation of the demands of our national mobilization for future contingencies that could involve confrontation with one, perhaps even two, great power rivals. In the process, the U.S. military and government can build upon and learn from the history of our past experiences in defense and industrial mobilization, while adapting to today’s unique demands of talent and technology. Looking to the challenges of strategic competition, the United States must recognize that diversity and inclusion are critical strengths that we must embrace in order to fully leverage the talents of all Americans who aspire and are inspired to serve. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “Learning Without Fighting: New Developments in PLA AI War-Gaming,” Jamestown China Brief 19.7 (9 April 2019).

The Opportunities and Challenges of Intelligentization

A lack of recent experience in combat is often characterized as a major liability and potential disadvantage for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in any future conflict scenario. [1] Despite notable advances in its capabilities in recent years, apparent shortcomings remain in the “software” of the PLA’s training and readiness, and perhaps even its will to fight and courage (China Brief, December 1, 2016). The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has not been at war since its 1979 conflict with Vietnam—of which several current military leaders, including members of the Central Military Commission, are veterans—and there are intense concerns today about the perils of “peace disease.” Today, the PLA’s contemporary experiences in military operations other than war (MOOTW), including counter-piracy and peacekeeping operations, offer only limited experience of direct relevance to potential high-end conflict scenarios. In future fights, the PLA could confront a range of difficulties that could include the apparent rigidity of its command structure, and the relative inexperience of its officers and enlisted personnel. Despite major reforms, the PLA could continue to struggle with joint operations, even as it seeks to leverage a new doctrinal approach that is still being formulated (Diplomat, June 6, 2017). At the same time, the PLA is redoubling its efforts in military innovation, rapidly developing and looking to operationalize emerging technologies—particularly artificial intelligence (AI)—that may require major adaptations in concepts, structures, and training.

For the PLA, Xi Jinping’s exhortation to prepare to “fight and win” future wars may thus prove a daunting endeavor. How is the PLA attempting to overcome such critical challenges? While seeking to enhance the realism and sophistication of “actual combat” (shizhan, 实战) training, the PLA is also expanding its activities in war-gaming and adopting new techniques in training, including the use of virtual reality to enhance realism and enable psychological conditioning (Xinhua, January 17, 2017). In this regard, these aspects of the PLA’s exploration of new directions in military innovation will inform its response to what it sees as a “Revolution in Military Affairs” (junshi geming, 军事革命), or RMA, which is catalyzed and deepened by today’s emerging technologies (Xinhua, August 20, 2014). In particular, AI is seen as a critical strategic technology that is transforming today’s “informatized” (xinxihua, 信息化) warfare to future “intelligentized” (zhinenghua, 智能化) warfare (CNAS, November 2017).

During his work report to the 19th Party Congress in October 2017, Xi Jinping urged the PLA to “Accelerate the development of military intelligentization [junshi zhinenghua, 军事智能化] and improve joint operations capabilities and all-domain operational capabilities based on network information systems” (Xinhua, October 27, 2017). This authoritative exhortation seems to elevate “intelligentization,” which involves leveraging AI technologies to enable and enhance a range of future military capabilities, as a guiding concept for future Chinese military modernization. Clearly, China recognizes AI as integral to future national competitiveness, with the potential to change the global balance of power. These ambitions to “lead the world” in AI were prominently highlighted in the launch of the New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan (Xinyidai Rengong Zhineng Fazhan Guihua, 新一代人工智能发展规划) (PRC State Council, July 20, 2017). This plan also calls for the PRC to “Strengthen the use of new generation AI technologies as a strong support to command decision-making, military deductions [junshi tuiyuan, 军事推演, e.g., war-gaming and operations research], and defense equipment, among other applications.” The interest in the application of “military deductions” has included the use of AI in war-gaming (bingqi tuiyuan, 兵器推演), as well as complex simulations. In particular, the PLA’s apparent progress in the use of AI in war-gaming provides an initial indicator of its attempts to explore new concepts of operations for the dynamics of intelligentized operations, while also seeking to enhance the acumen and preparedness of its officers and personnel for future warfare. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “The ‘Regime Security Dilemma’ in U.S.-China Relations,” The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 21 March 2019.

Today’s debates on whether US–China relations are deteriorating towards a ‘new cold war’ often involve disagreement over the extent to which there’s an ideological dimension to this competition. By some accounts, it’s purely about power and security, resulting from the historical inevitability of rivalry, if not outright conflict, between rising and ruling powers near a moment of transition.

In The tragedy of great power politics, John J. Mearsheimer claimed, ‘Whether China is democratic and deeply enmeshed in the global economy or autocratic and autarkic will have little effect on its behavior, because democracies care about security as much as non-democracies do, and hegemony is the best way for any state to guarantee its own survival.’ This tendency of realism to dismiss the relevance of regime type and ideational considerations is particularly problematic in the case of US–China relations.

American strategy has consistently involved a commitment to founding principles and freedoms. Even in its call for a shift to ‘principled realism’, the latest US national security strategy characterises today’s competitions as struggles between ‘those who value human freedom and dignity and those who oppress individuals and enforce uniformity’. Implicitly, the notion of a liberal or ‘rules-based’ global order implies a dedication to democracy and to international institutions that restrain pure power and coercion through rules that are intended to be impartially implemented.

This reality of American strategy and democracy is often perceived to pose an existential challenge to the political and regime security of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Under such an order, China’s party-state has been seen at times as a historical anachronism. The CCP has continued to defy expectations of failure or collapse, demonstrating a combination of resilience and brittleness along the way, and reaping the benefits of selectively embracing the world, while preoccupied with maintaining control at any cost.

In recent history, there has been a fundamental asymmetry between American and Chinese perspectives on US policy towards China. While an approach of engagement is often characterised as primarily cooperative from an American perspective, the very notion has been seen by Beijing as a Trojan horse from the start. This asymmetry has created what might be characterised as a ‘regime security dilemma’ between China and the United States. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “China’s Quantum Quandary,” in Chris C. Demchak and Benjamin Schechter, eds. Military Cyber Affairs: Systemic Cyber Defense 3, no. 2 (2019).

China aspires and possesses the potential to lead a new quantum revolution.3 Over more than a decade, Chinese researchers have demonstrated consistent advances in the research, development, and operationalization of a range of quantum technologies. China’s launch of the world’s first quantum satellite in August 2016 captured headlines, not only possessing great prestige but also representing an important experimental milestone that is now enabling practical progress.4 To date, China is at the forefront of implementing quantum key distribution (QKD), a technique to enable provably secure communication that involves a cryptographic protocol in which keys are exchanged in quantum states through entanglement.5 The Chinese government is investing in the continued construction of a national quantum communications infrastructure, which will integrate local networks and a national backbone of optical fibers with an expanding constellation of satellites to enable security and scalability.6 Already, these systems have started to be employed for military, government, and commercial applications.7 Joining in the global… … …

Elsa Kania, in Paul TrioloElsa KaniaJacqueline MusiitwaMaarten Van HorenbeeckJustin ShermanRui ZhongJessica Cussins Newman, and Charlotte Stix, “Online Symposium: Chinese Thinking on AI Security in Comparative Context,” New America, 21 February 2019.

Experts place a Chinese think tank’s AI Security White Paper in context

Beyond their enthusiasm about the positive potential of AI, Chinese technical leaders and policymakers are also starting to engage with concerns over the safety and security implications of rapid advances in AI technologies, which are recognized as a “double-edged sword.” As this white paper describes, rigorous and sophisticated consideration of a range of risks and issues that might arise with advances in AI is underway at CAICT, which has emerged as a key player on these issues. Certain aspects of this white paper should hardly be surprising to those who have tracked recent debates on AI safety, including concerns over data security and cybersecurity, as well as defects in algorithms. However, I’d highlight in particular certain elements of this discussion and framework that reveal the extent to which there can be an ideological dimension to the Chinese government’s approach to these issues, raising concerns about the impact of China’s aspirations for leadership in AI for the future of these technologies. Hopefully, there will be opportunities for the U.S. and Chinese research communities, and even governments, to engage and collaborate on issues of AI safety and security, but potential asymmetries in priorities and concepts are a challenge that should be openly acknowledged from the start.

In particular, the white paper identified risks to state/national security from AI that include not only military concerns but also the security of China’s political system, including “hidden dangers” of the impact of AI on public opinion. There is also a focus on the utility of AI to facilitate information censorship and public opinion monitoring. For instance, the paper says, AI can facilitate rapid review and removal of “harmful network content,” a notion that is fairly expansively interpreted in the Chinese system. At the same time, AI will be leveraged as the Chinese government looks to improve its capacity for “social governance,” which in practice often includes coercive attempts to shape and control society. So too, notions of “societal security” are difficult to extricate from the political and ideological environment in which these concepts are applied. Even concerns about structural employment resulting from AI applications, which are common across countries, will likely be approached by the Chinese government as threats to political/regime security.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see whether the concerns over the risks posed by AI to national security will extend beyond such technical discussions to shape the Chinese military’s approach to its own research and development of AI applications. This white paper raises concerns that AI “can be used to build new-type military strike forces, directly threatening national security,” and it points out: “the applications of intelligent weapons will cause: control to become remote, increased precision of strikes, miniaturization of conflict domains, and process intelligentization.” However, the discussion of trends toward “a new round of arms race” highlights U.S. and Russian efforts without acknowledging the PLA’s own extensive investments and developments in the advancement of military intelligentization, which Xi Jinping personally has urged the PLA to advance. As concerns of AI ethics and safety emerge as a core element of the U.S. Department of Defense’s own AI Strategy, perhaps China will consider providing greater transparency on the extent to which these concerns influence its own approach to AI for national defense, beyond this initial consideration of such issues by CAICT.

Elsa B. Kania, “What Do the Huawei Indictments Mean for the Future of Global Tech?ChinaFile, 2 February 2019.

None of Huawei’s recent troubles should be surprising to those familiar with the company’s history, which have been dogged by controversy, including apparent corrupt practices and connection to incidents of hacking. But the details of the indictments are startling nonetheless.

Given the relative impunity Huawei has enjoyed and the brazenness of its behavior, these charges and indictments are entirely fair for the U.S. to pursue. However, the timing for these actions has raised concerns of politicization. The Chinese government, for instance, has characterized these charges as “unreasonable suppression” of the company.

The concerns should also extend far beyond Huawei itself to deeper systemic challenges. These are not unique to Huawei but involve the legal and extralegal demands that all Chinese companies must face. In particular, China’s National Intelligence Law declares, “any organization or citizen shall support, assist in and cooperate in national intelligence work,” as well as conceal intelligence activities of which they are aware. This legal coating might even be considered superfluous, given the many other opaque mechanisms through which the Party exerts control. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “Made in China 2025, In Perspective,” The Diplomat, 1 February 2019.

Elsa B. Kania, “War Books: Chinese Military Innovation in Perspective,” Modern War Institute, West Point, 28 January 2019.

Elsa B. Kania, “Why China’s Military Wants to Beat the US to a Next-Gen Cell Network,” Defense One, 8 January 2019. 

Elsa B. Kania, “Chapter 20. Artificial Intelligence in Future Chinese Command Decision-Making,” in Nicholas D. Wright, editor, and Mariah C. Yager, integration editor, AI, China, Russia, and the Global Order: Technological, Political, Global, and Creative Perspectives, A Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA) Periodic Publication (December 2018).


The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is exploring the use of AI technologies to enhance future command decision-making. In particular, the PLA seeks to overcome admitted deficiencies in its commanders’ capabilities and to leverage these technologies to achieve decision superiority in future “intelligentized” (智能化) warfare. Building upon its development of the integrated command platform, which has included basic decision support, the PLA’s ongoing construction and improvement of its joint operations command system could leverage AI technologies, particularly to enhance situational awareness and to improve cognitive speed in decision-making. In the process, Chinese military experts have examined the DARPA program Deep Green from the mid-2000s, which was ultimately defunded, as an example of the capabilities that intelligentized command decision-making could enable. Moreover, the recent successes of AlphaGo appears to have inspired Chinese strategists to explore how today’s advances in AI could provide a critical advantage on the future battlefield. The PLA’s apparent expectation that the future increases in the tempo of operations will outpace human cognition could result in a pragmatic decision to take humans out of the loop in certain operational environments in which speed is at a premium. However, the PLA also recognizes the importance of integrating and leveraging synergies among human-machine “hybrid” intelligence. Looking forward, the PLA’s capacity to adapt to these technological and organizational challenges will impact and may constrain its pursuit of military innovation.

Elsa B. Kania, “Challenges of Technology, Innovation, and Competition in the New Year,” The Hill, 29 December 2018.

We may remember 2018 as a year in which great power rivalry materialized at the forefront of American strategy — with emerging technologies as a critical dimension of this competition. At a time when divisive politics and intense partisanship have undermined solutions to even the most urgent policy dilemmas, there are reasons nonetheless for cautious optimism about the potential for progress on issues of technology, innovation and competition.

The current advances in emerging technologies possess strategic significance in their own right, yet take on greater urgency because of this rivalry. Such new frontiers as biotechnology, artificial intelligence (AI), fifth-generation mobile communications (5G), and quantum computing are integral to economic competitiveness and are also the “very technologies that ensure we will be able to fight and win the wars of the future,” according to the U.S. National Defense Strategy. Today, traditional American leadership is contested, as China emerges as a powerhouse in science and technology, with aspirations to become a global leader in innovation. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “China’s Strategic Support Force at Three,” The Diplomat, 29 December 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, Quantum Hegemony, presentation to Center for a New American Security, 20 December 2018. 

Elsa B. Kania, “The Much Ado About Huawei Continues,” Lawfare, 19 December 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, “Discourse and Chinese Power,Party Watch Initiative, 27 November 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, “Enthusiasm and Challenges in China’s Embrace of AI,” in “The China Dream Goes Digital: Technology in the Age of Xi,” European Council on Foreign Relations, October 2018. 

Elsa Kania, “The AI Titans’ Security Dilemmas,” Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Fall Series, Issue 218, 29 October 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, “Strategic Competition Beyond Confrontation with China,” The Hill, 29 October 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, Enthusiasm and Challenges in China’s Embrace of AI, China Analysis, European Council of Foreign Relations, 25 October 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, China’s Quantum Future – Xi’s Quest to Build a High-Tech Superpower,” Foreign Affairs, 26 September 26, 2018.

Elsa Kania on China’s Quantum Quest,” Lawfare Podcast, September 22, 2018. 

Elsa B. Kania and Paul Scharre, “Quantum Hegemony?” podcast for Center for a New American Security, 21 September 2018.

Paul Scharre, Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology and National Security program at CNAS, hosts a discussion with Technology and National Security Adjunct Fellow Elsa Kania on her new report about the basics of quantum technology, China’s related efforts, and what the United States should do to maintain its technological leadership.

Elsa B. Kania, “Quantum Surprise on the Battlefield,” Mad Scientist Initiative, 20 September 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, “China Has a Space Force.’ What Are Its Lessons for the Pentagon?Defense One, 29 September 2018. 

Elsa B. Kania, “China’s Quantum Future – Xi’s Quest to Built a High-Tech Superpower,” Foreign Affairs, 26 September 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, “A ‘New Era’ of Chinese Military Innovation — China’s ‘First Offset’ and Future Warfare,” presentation in SMA INDOPACOM Speaker Series, 19 September 2018.

SMA hosted a speaker session presented by Ms. Elsa Kania (Center for a New American Security [CNAS]) as a part of its SMA INDOPACOM Speaker Series. Ms. Kania began her presentation by stating that China is advancing an innovation-driven strategy in favor of economic development and military modernization. She discussed how China “recognizes an opportunity to achieve an advantage in emerging technologies,” such as artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing, that could be used in future “intellegentized” warfare. She also spoke about the prioritization of defense innovation, the progress being made in terms of “unmanned” and “intelligent” systems, and China’s plans and ambitions in terms of both AI and quantum technology. She explained the potential military applications of AI, machine learning (ML), and quantum technology as well. To conclude her presentation, Ms. Kania discussed the implications of China’s increasing technological ambitions and military innovations.

Samantha Hoffman and Elsa Kania, “Huawei and the Ambiguity of China’s Intelligence and Counter-Espionage Laws,” The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 13 September 2018.

Since late August, Chinese telecom firm Huawei, along with another Chinese telecom, ZTE, has been banned from providing 5G equipment to Australia. The Australian government didn’t directly name the companies, but said that ‘the involvement of vendors who are likely to be subject to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government that conflict with Australian law, may risk failure by the carrier to adequately protect a 5G network from unauthorised access or interference.’

Huawei later issued a statement, saying that:

Chinese law does not grant government the authority to compel telecommunications firms to install backdoors or listening devices, or engage in any behaviour that might compromise the telecommunications equipment of other nations. A mistaken and narrow understanding of Chinese law should not serve as the basis for concerns about Huawei’s business. Huawei has never been asked to engage in intelligence work on behalf of any government.

The problem is, Huawei’s claim doesn’t respond adequately to the evidence-based skepticism on which the Australian government based its decision.

For Chinese citizens and companies alike, participation in ‘intelligence work’ is a legal responsibility and obligation, regardless of geographic boundaries. … … …

Elsa B. Kania and Samantha Hoffman, “Huawei and the ambiguity of China’s intelligence and counter-espionage laws,” The Strategist, 13 September 2018.

Elsa B. Kania and John Costello, Quantum Hegemony? China’s Ambitions and the Challenge to U.S. Innovation Leadership (Washington, DC: Center for a New American Security, 12 September 2018).

China is positioning itself as a powerhouse in quantum science. Within the past several years, Chinese researchers have achieved a track record of consistent advances in basic research and in the development of quantum technologies, including quantum cryptography, communications, and computing, as well as reports of progress in quantum radar, sensing, imaging, metrology, and navigation. Their breakthroughs demonstrate the successes of a long-term research agenda that has dedicated extensive funding to this domain while actively cultivating top talent. China’s rise as a powerhouse in quantum science was displayed to the world with the August 2016 launch of the world’s first quantum satellite, Micius (or Mozi, 墨子). Since then, China’s launch of new national “megaprojects” in quantum communications and computing reflect the continued prioritization of these technologies. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, The PLA’s Unmanned Aerial Systems: New Capabilities for a “New Era” of Chinese Military Power (Montgomery, AL: China Aerospace Studies Institute, August 2018).

Surveys the PLA’s history regarding unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), their employment by the PLA to date, their potential future missions, and their presence across the various components of the PLA. The PLA continues to work diligently on all aspects of its aerospace forces. This includes areas not only of traditional aircraft, but also in more modern, and some cutting edge, technologies. The UAV is one area in which the PRC in general, and the PLA specifically, has invested significant time and effort. While the author recognizes that the term “unmanned” is the common and official term, and uses it throughout this monograph, it is rather misleading in the fact that humans, at least up until today, still play a critical role in their operations. In any case, the PRC is the world’s largest producer of UAVs at this time, and captures a vast portion of the commercial market, as well as the military one. While it is important to keep the commercial aspects in mind, this particular study will focus on military UAVs, their development, deployments, and current and potential uses on the battlefield of today and tomorrow. The monograph seeks to serve as a starting point to understand this growing field, and to give analysts a common baseline from which to work, and from which to judge growth, both rapidity and complexity, in the future. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “China’s Ambitions in Artificial Intelligence – A Challenge to the Future of Democracy,” Power 3.0, 8 August 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, “The Han-Opticon: Social Credit and AI in the Surveillance State,” The Little Red Podcast, 6 August 2018.

Samuel Bendett and Elsa B. Kania, “Chinese and Russian Defense Innovation, with American Characteristics? Military Innovation, Commercial Technologies, and Great Power Competition,” The Strategy Bridge, 2 August 2018.

As great power rivalries intensify, China, Russia, and the United States are redoubling their pursuit of defense innovation in emerging technologies that could change the character, perhaps even the nature, of warfare. At present, U.S. primacy in innovation remains a critical, though contested, advantage. China is emerging as a scientific and technological powerhouse, while Russia is creatively pursuing asymmetric advantages. Since advances in these dual-use technologies, including robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), are emerging increasingly from the private sector, the capacity to integrate and leverage commercial technologies will be critical in this race for advantage.

Historically, the U.S. has leveraged close relationships between defense, academia, and the private sector, and the Department of Defense has recently expanded and intensified its efforts to build bridges in an effort to introduce the technologies of Silicon Valley into the military. Despite a robust history of partnership—and the successes of the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx)—this relationship can also be tense and rocky at times. The recent backlash against Google’s work with Project Maven, which resulted in a campaign by employees demanding a policy against building “warfare technology,” culminated in Google’s decision not to renew the contract. Google has since issued principles that included a commitment not to pursue applications of in weapons using artificial intelligence.[1] Given the intensity of concerns over the weaponization of artificial intelligence, these debates will likely persist. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “China’s AI Giants Can’t Say No to the Party,” Foreign Policy, August 2, 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, “China May Become the World’s Leader in AI. But at What Cost?” ChinaFile, 30 July 2018.

China’s advances, advantages, and challenges in AI have received ample attention. So I want to highlight several features of China’s approach, and then consider certain questions that could provide important indicators of this trajectory. To start, the current alarm and enthusiasm over AI in the U.S. and China may, at times, seem excessive, and perhaps even warn of a bubble. However, it is clear that these technologies are emerging as integral to national competitiveness in a new era of great power rivalry, at a time when U.S.-China “entanglement” and interdependence are creating new frictions.

The U.S. should not dismiss China’s approach to AI as merely involving state planning and industrial policies doomed to prove ineffective. While China’s plan may have captured headlines with the declared ambition to “lead the world,” the nation’s emergence as a powerhouse in AI predates and extends far beyond the state’s imprimatur and prioritization. Beijing may have labeled Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, and iFlytek a “national team” in AI, but these are not traditional “national champions”: they have all emerged as leaders in the field primarily through their own efforts, but are now also receiving state support and contributing to a national agenda. While China is devoting ample funding to basic research, investments in AI, as well as funding for start-ups, have also started to surpass levels in the U.S.

Increasingly, China seems to be pioneering a new paradigm of innovation that hybridizes elements of the very policies that enabled traditional U.S. leadership in science and technology. Historically, the U.S. innovation ecosystem has been sustained by public-private partnerships and close collaboration between industry and the military. Today, similar synergies are emerging within China. For instance, Baidu is leading China’s National Engineering Laboratory for Deep Learning Technology and Applications, with partners including Tsinghua University and Beihang University. Chinese tech companies are engaging with universities for talent and research, such as the new Baidu and China Unicom “AI + 5G Joint Lab.” Meanwhile, Beijing is unrolling major educational offensives that seek to expand human capital resources rapidly.

Despite concerns of a new cold war, leadership in AI will not be a zero-sum game; each nation may emerge as an “AI superpower” in its own right. At the same time, while it is not clear what “winning” an “AI (arms) race” would require, or even what the right metrics for progress may be, today’s trends create new risks and threats. Several dynamics are worth watching. Can China overcome its difficulties in semiconductors to achieve an edge in AI chips and specialized hardware? Will China’s apparent advantage in data become an enduring contributor to competitiveness or prove ephemeral? To what extent will the Digital Silk Road enable access to new and valuable sources of data? Within China, will the leveraging of these technologies for censorship and surveillance strengthen the state’s coercive capabilities or create new dependencies and vulnerabilities? And could the diffusion of these technologies threaten the future of democracy?

Michael Horowitz, Elsa Kania, Gregory Allen, and Paul Scharre, “Strategic Competition in an Era of Artificial Intelligence,” Center for a New American Security, July 25, 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, “China’s Threat to American Government and Private Sector Research and Innovation Leadership,” Testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Full Committee Hearing, 19 July 2018.

In my remarks, I will discuss the near-term threat of China’s attempts to exploit the U.S. innovation ecosystem and also address the long-term challenge of China’s advances and ambitions in strategic technologies.

In recent history, U.S. leadership in innovation has been a vital pillar of our power and predominance. Today, however, in this new era of strategic competition, the U.S. confronts a unique, perhaps unprecedented challenge to this primacy.

Given China’s continued exploitation of the openness of the U.S. innovation ecosystem, from Silicon Valley to our nation’s leading universities, it is imperative to pursue targeted countermeasures against practices that are illegal or, at best, problematic.

At the same time, our justified concerns about constraining the transfer of sensitive and strategic technologies to China must not distract our attention from the long-term, fundamental challenge—to enhance U.S. competitiveness, at a time when China is starting to become a true powerhouse and would-be superpower in science and technology (科技强国). … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “Spooky Action: Sorting Hype from Reality in China’s Quantum-Tech Quest,” Defense One, July 17, 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, “Tsinghua’s Approach to Military-Civil Fusion in Artificial Intelligence,” Battlefield Singularity, 5 July 2018.

What does military-civil fusion (军民融合) in AI look like in action? I’ve translated an article by a vice president of Tsinghua University, often characterized as “China’s MIT,” which describes its commitment to supporting China’s national strategy for military-civil fusion, while advancing an “AI superpower strategy” (人工智能强国战略).

The Road of Military-Civil Fusion for Artificial Intelligence Development’

You Zheng (尤政), Vice President of Tsinghua University

June 8, 2018

At present, artificial intelligence (AI) is a strategic technology that will lead the future and is also one of the fastest growing fields of technology today. The development of AI will have a major and even disruptive impact on social and economic development and on people’s lives and production. Colleges and universities are points linking the first productive forces for science and technology, the first resources for human talent, and the first impetus for innovation. In the process of implementing an AI superpower strategy (人工智能强国战略), (we) should fully give play to our advantages in personnel cultivation and in science and technology research.

Tsinghua University is one of the earliest units to systematically undertake research on AI technologies. In 1978, the Department of Computer Science established the “Artificial Intelligence and Intelligent Control” teaching and research group, and recruited the first batch of artificial intelligence master students. Tsinghua University has a number of AI research bases, including the State Key Laboratory of Intelligent Technology and Systems (智能技术与系统”国家重点实验室) established in 1990 and the Intelligent Microsystems Ministry of Education Key Laboratory of the (智能微系统教育部重点实验室), and several AI teams. Take the team of academician Zhang Bo (张钹) as an example; they have achieved globally influential results in the field of general AI (通用人工智能) as represented by natural language understanding. This team undertook the “AI Theories and Crux Technologies for Future Human-Machine Cooperative (Combat) Operations” (“面向未来人机协同作战的人工智能理论与关键技术”) project with total funding of over 100 million RMB [about $15 million] from the CMC Science and Technology Commission National Defense Frontier Innovation Special Zone (国防前沿创新特区). Their research results in Bayesian memory learning theories and methods have attracted great attention in the field of international AI. (They) advanced the achievement of innovative results deep learning adversarial attack and defense (对抗性攻防) theories and algorithms for AI safety/security, winning all three championships in an international competition convened by Google. The team member, associate professor Zhu Jun (朱军), was selected among the MIT Technology Review’s “35 Innovators under 35” in China, and chosen by IEEE Intelligent Systems for “AI’s 10 to Watch.” It can be said that Tsinghua University possesses a very good foundation and accumulation (of research) in the field of AI, and with regard to serving the AI superpower strategy, is duty bound.

In accordance with central requirements, Tsinghua University will closely integrate the national strategy of military-civilian integration and the AI superpower strategy. Tsinghua University was entrusted by the CMC Science and Technology Commission to take responsibility to construct the High-End Laboratory for Military Intelligence (军事智能高端实验室). With regard to basic theories and core technologies, military intelligence and general AI possess commonalities. Therefore, Tsinghua University regards the construction of the High-End Laboratory for Military Intelligence as the core starting point for serving the AI superpower strategy.

In the process of constructing the High-End Laboratory for Military Intelligence (军事智能高端实验室), Tsinghua University adheres to the concept of gripping with both hands basic research and applied research. Premier Li Keqiang has repeatedly emphasized the importance of basic research. Without basic research acting as a support, it is difficult to sustain the development of high technologies, and it is also difficult to have real competitiveness. Therefore, the consolidation of basic research is a responsibility that colleges and universities should take on in the nation’s AI strategy. At the same time, AI development in China has very large dividends in application scenarios, and applied technology research is also very important. Therefore, Tsinghua University insists on basic research as a support in applied technology research in AI talent training and scientific research innovation, with military requirements as a guide, promoting the development of basic AI research. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “China’s Challenge to U.S. Quantum Competitiveness,” The Hill, 30 June 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, “Technological Entanglement: Cooperation, Competition and the Dual-Use Dilemma in Artificial Intelligence,” Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 28 June 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, “China’s Play for Global 5G Dominance—Standards and the ‘Digital Silk Road,” The Strategist, 27 June 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, “Should the U.S. Start a Trade War with China over Tech?ChinaFile26 June 2018.

In the strategic competition for technological dominance, the U.S. can win only by sprinting ahead, not just building walls. Anxieties over Chinese techno-nationalism are provoking policies that are reactive and defensive, such as potential restrictions on Chinese investments and acquisitions in “industrially significant technology.” While countermeasures are clearly warranted – given China’s history with and continuation of tech transfer and industrial espionage – U.S. policy must be targeted and calibrated to balance the risks and benefits of the deep “entanglement” and extensive interdependence between U.S. and Chinese innovation ecosystems. At worst, policies that result in harmful escalation or prove too indiscriminate in their impact could damage U.S. competitiveness, at a time when the U.S. must reinvigorate its own innovation ecosystem.

China’s approach to indigenous innovation has involved the exploitation of tech and knowledge transfers, including in academia. For example, an engineering student named Liu Ruopeng took advantage of the openness of academic collaboration while at Duke and has since leveraged that sensitive research on metamaterials in support of the Chinese military. Certain joint laboratories and research collaborations that involve partners closely linked to Chinese military research will also merit greater scrutiny. In response to these issues, there is a clear rationale for the review of such partnerships and screening on the basis of ties to a foreign military or government.

But the openness that is so integral to American innovation should be sustained and safeguarded. Visa restrictions that target Chinese STEM students purely on the basis of nationality are damaging and discriminatory.

It is critical to look beyond today’s concern with limiting China’s access to U.S. technologies, and instead recognize that the essential strategic challenge will be China’s emergence as a “science and technology superpower” (科技强国). Increasingly, China is progressing beyond relying on foreign technologies and instead aspiring to achieve truly original and disruptive innovation. China has the ambition – and the potential – to emerge as a true leader in emerging technologies: its rapid advances in biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and quantum technologies are starting to reflect truly “made in China” innovation. The U.S. thus confronts a competitor that is not merely seeking to steal but rather aspiring to “offset” its current innovation dominance.

The U.S. must go on the offensive, not fearing competition with China, but rather embracing it. That is, the U.S. must recognize and reinforce its own enduring advantages in science and technology through policies that have enabled and can revitalize its own innovation ecosystem. These include a focus on STEM education at all levels, robust and sustained investments in basic research, and openness to welcome talented scientists and entrepreneurs, including from China. Although the U.S. should not attempt to pursue what Jack aptly characterizes as ‘American techno-nationalism’ and China-style industrial policy in response to Chinese indigenous innovation, greater public-private partnership to expand cooperation and coordination in research in strategic technologies, including quantum computing, will be critical going forward. Rather than fighting a “tech cold war,” the U.S. must rise to the challenge of a rising China.

Elsa B. Kania, “China’s First Offset?” presentation via CyberWeek, 20 June 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, “New Frontiers of Chinese Defense Innovation: Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Technologies,” SITC Research Brief, 12 May 2018.

Will the Chinese military succeed in advancing new frontiers of defense innovation? China has already emerged as a powerhouse in artificial intelligence and quantum technologies. The continued advances in these dual-use technologies may be leveraged for military applications pursuant to a national strategy of military-civil fusion. At this point, the trajectory of technological developments is uncertain, and considerable challenges remain to the actualization of deeper fusion of China’s defense and commercial sectors. However, if successful, China’s ambitions to lead in these strategic technologies could enable it to pioneer new paradigms of military power.

Elsa B. Kania, “Beyond Cold War: Paradigms for U.S.-China Strategic Competition,” Policy Roundtable: Are the United States and China in a New Cold War? Texas National Security Review, 15 May 2018.

Beijing has long called for the United States to abandon what it calls its “Cold War mentality” (冷战思维). Today, that critique, long a staple of official Chinese propaganda, is starting to ring true as the United States once again emphasizes great power rivalry in identifying China as a strategic competitor.55 The notion of a “new Cold War” may be a convenient conceptual framework for the intensifying competition between the United States and China, but Washington should indeed abandon Cold War prescriptions for containing China. At best, such an approach would play directly into the hands of China’s propaganda machine. Instead, the United States must recognize that China’s ambition for what it describes as “national rejuvenation” constitutes a challenge that eclipses the Cold War in both complexity and consequence.

An Unrivaled Challenger

Across all dimensions of national power, China is a far more formidable rival than the Soviet Union or modern Russia. For better and worse, China’s quest for “national rejuvenation” — with ambitions to “regain its might and re-ascend to the top of the world” — has already started to shift the world order’s center of gravity.56 China’s emergence as an economic powerhouse, enabled by its integration into the global economy, has created both positive dividends and negative externalities for the United States and the world. Its quest to become a “superpower” in science and technology could enable China to emerge as a new center of innovation, including in biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and quantum technologies. Meanwhile, the Chinese military is pursuing rapid modernization and defense innovations that could offset — rather than match, as the Soviet military did — America’s current military-technological advantage in the Pacific and beyond. … … …

Elsa B. Kania and John K. Costello, “The Strategic Support Force and the Future of Chinese Information Operations,” Cyber Defense Review 3.1 (Spring 2018): 105-121.

The establishment of the Strategic Support Force (战略支援部队, SSF) in December 2015 was a critical milestone in the history of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), against the backdrop of its historic reform agenda. [1] The SSF’s creation reflects an innovation in force structure that could allow the PLA to operationalize its unique strategic and doctrinal concepts for information operations. Despite limited transparency, it is nonetheless possible to glean critical details about the SSF’s composition and key missions, based on a range of open sources. [2] It is clear that the SSF has been designed as a force optimized for dominance in space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic domain, which are considered critical “strategic commanding heights” for the PLA. [3] Under its Space Systems Department (航天系统部), the SSF has seemingly consolidated control over a critical mass of the PLA’s space-based and space-related assets. Through these capabilities, the SSF has taken responsibility for strategic-level information support (信息支援) for the PLA in its entirety, enhancing its capability to engage in integrated joint operations and remote operations. [4] Concurrently, the SSF has integrated the PLA’s capabilities for cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare into a single force within its Network Systems Department (网络系统部), which could enable it to take advantage of key synergies among operations in these domains. However, beyond the SSF, the PLA also appears to be building up network-electronic operations (网电作战) capabilities within its national Joint Staff Department headquarters and within new regional theater commands (战区), reflecting the emergence of a multi-level force structure specializing in information operations. Thus, the SSF reflects the PLA’s uniquely integrated approach to force structure and operations in these vital new domains. This realization of this paradigm through the SSF will enhance the PLA’s capabilities to fight and win future “informatized” (信息化) wars. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “Rivalry in Rejuvenation—Seeking New Paradigms for U.S.-China Strategic Competition,” The Strategy Bridge, 24 April 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, “The Pursuit of AI Is More Than an Arms Race,” Defense One, 19 April 2018.

Dealing wisely with the challenges of artificial intelligence requires reframing the current debates.

Are the U.S., China, and Russia recklessly undertaking an “AI arms race”? Clearly, there is military competition among these great powers to advance a range of applications of robotics, artificial intelligence, and autonomous systems.

So far, the U.S. has been leading the way. AI and autonomy are crucial to the Pentagon’s Third Offset strategy. Its Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team, Project Maven, has become a “pathfinder” for this endeavor and has started to deploy algorithms in the fight against ISIS. The Department of Defense also plans to create a “Joint Artificial Intelligence Center,” which could consolidate DoD AI initiatives.

At the same time, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army is prioritizing military innovation at the highest levels, pursuing a range of defense applications of AI, including swarm intelligence and decision support systems for submarines. The Russian military, meanwhile, is redoubling its efforts, seeking a range of capabilities from smarter missiles to enhanced electronic warfare.

These great powers are hardly alone; Israel, India, Japan, Korea, France, Australia, and the United Kingdom, and others are also exploring the potential of such new capabilities. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “PLA Political Work in Cyberspace,” Party Watch, Project 2049 Institute, 18 April 2018.

At a time when Xi Jinping is reasserting the CCP’s power and authority, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has intensified its exploration of new methods for “political work” (政治工作). The concept of political work has a long history within the PLA and has received increased attention since a 2014 meeting at Gutian meeting at Gutian, held on the 85th anniversary of the 1929 Gutian Conference, which initially established the “basic principle of the Party leading the military.” At the 2014 meeting, Xi Jinping emphasized that political work is the “lifeline” (生命线) of a powerful army, calling for its improvement in an era of information networks. That is, political work is leveraged for purposes of indoctrination, to ensure the good conduct and Party loyalty of PLA officers and enlisted personnel. Since then, there have been repeated calls for innovation for innovation in political work, reflecting a concern over its lack of efficacy, confronting such challenges as endemic corruption. Perceiving cyberspace as the latest battleground for ideological struggles, the CCP and PLA seek to ensure to ensure that political work plugs into into the “wings” of the Internet and introduces new ‘data links’ to strengthen that lifeline. Increasingly, the PLA is exploring exploring and experimenting with new techniques to extend political work from the real world to the virtual in an age of information technology. … … … 

Elsa B. Kania, China’s Strategic Ambiguity and Shifting Approach to Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems,”Lawfare, 17 April 2018.

On April 13, China’s delegation to United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems announced the “desire to negotiate and conclude” a new protocol for the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons “to ban the use of fully autonomous lethal weapons systems.” According to the aptly named Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the delegation “stressed that [the ban] is limited to use only.” The same day, the Chinese air force released details on an upcoming challenge intended to evaluate advances in fully autonomous swarms of drones, which will also explore new concepts for future intelligent-swarm combat.

The juxtaposition of these announcements illustrates China’s apparent diplomatic commitment to limit the use of “fully autonomous lethal weapons systems” is unlikely to stop Beijing from building its own.

Although momentum towards a ban on “killer robots” may seem promising—with a total of twenty-six countries now supporting such a measure—diplomacy and discussion about autonomous weapons may still struggle to keep up with technological advancement. Moreover, great-power militaries like the U.S. and U.K. believe a ban would be premature. Even as multiple militaries are developing or have already attained autonomous weapon systems, the U.N. group has yet to reach a consensus on what even constitutes a lethal autonomous weapons system, “fully autonomous” or otherwise. And despite emerging consensus on the importance of human control of these systems—however they might be defined—the U.S., Russia, Israel, France and the United Kingdom have explicitly rejected proposals for a ban. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, Careful What You Wish For—Change and Continuity in China’s Cyber Threat Activities (Parts 1 and 2), The Strategist, 5/9April 2018.

At a time when ‘cyber anarchy’ seems to prevail in the international system, the emergence in 2015 of US–China consensus against ‘cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property’ initially appeared to promise progress towards order. The nascent norm against commercial cyber espionage that emerged between Xi Jinping and Barack Obama was later reaffirmed by the G‑20. China subsequently recommitted to this proscription in a number of bilateral agreements, including reaching a parallel commitment with Australia in April 2017.

While frail, such a norm might be celebrated as a triumph for cyber diplomacy, yet its inherent ambiguities have also created a grey zone that makes non-compliance difficult to demonstrate. At the same time, Beijing’s pursuit of economic security means that priority targets will likely continue to face persistent intrusions from more capable threat actors.

In fact, based on the technicalities of its terms, there’s fairly limited evidence of Chinese cyber intrusions since 2015 that obviously or blatantly contravene the Xi–Obama agreement.

Arguably, US diplomacy has contributed to reshaping China’s cyber-espionage operations. However, despite the decline in activities, the results haven’t been entirely as intended. The pattern of activities undertaken by Chinese advanced persistent threat (APT) groups since the agreement reflects China’s exploitation of the leeway in its phrasing. For example, the condition that neither the US nor China will ‘knowingly’ support IP theft may have encouraged higher levels of plausible deniability in Chinese cyber espionage operations since.

Notably, in September 2017 the Department of Justice indicted ‘owners, employees and associates’ of the Guangzhou Bo Yu Information Technology Company Limited (Boyusec). Also known as APT3, Boyusec is notionally a private company, but seems to have operated as a contractor on behalf of China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS).

Despite the apparent redirection of Chinese military cyber forces to develop combat capabilities (see my previous post), MSS-linked APTs have evidently remained quite active. But those groups now seem to operate with greater operational security and sophistication, at least compared to the relative ‘noisiness’ of previous APT groups. … … …

Although there’s been a discernible reduction in the magnitude of Chinese cyber intrusions in the past few years, the threat has been transformed, not diminished. While US diplomacy has helped reshape Chinese cyber activities during this period, the reorganisation and professionalisation of Chinese cyber forces constitute a greater long-term challenge.

In September 2015, then-US President Barack Obama and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping announced:

[N]either country’s government will conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, including trade secrets or other confidential business information, with the intent of providing competitive advantages to companies or commercial sectors.

This agreement was initially hailed as a ‘significant step’ despite strong skepticism about its prospects for success. Initially, reports and assessments pointed to a distinct decrease in the operations of Chinese advanced persistent threat (APT) groups, although a range of factors other than US pressure likely accounted for the change.

In October 2017, the first US–China Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity Dialogue reaffirmed that, ‘Both sides will continue their implementation of [that] consensus’. Since then, however, debates about the agreement’s efficacy have continued, and the US later warned its Chinese counterparts about apparent backsliding.

As of March 2018, the US government’s Section 301 investigation into China’s ‘acts, policies, and practices related to technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation’—which serves as the basis for the tariffs imposed against China by the Trump administration—has found:

China continues its policy and practice, spanning more than a decade, of using cyber intrusions to target US firms to access their sensitive commercial information and trade secrets.

So, there’s indeed a degree of continuity in Chinese cyber-espionage activities. Despite this, notable changes have occurred, particularly since late 2015. In particular, there now appears to be clearer prioritisation and greater sophistication in targeting, which has increasingly been undertaken, often with some plausible deniability, by China’s Ministry of State Security. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “China’s Strategic Arsenals in a New Era,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 20 April 2018.

Explains how the PLASSF consolidates, and enables the integration of, China’s capabilities for space, cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare—the first three new “strategic frontiers” of warfare; the last a CCP standby. Focuses particularly on how the PLASSF can help the PLARF fulfill its evolving technological and operational requirements.

Elsa B. Kania, The Pursuit of AI is More Than an Arms Race,” Defense One, 19 April 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, China’s Strategic Ambiguity and Shifting Approach to Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems,Lawfare, 17 April 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, “China’s Quest for Enhanced Military Technology,” podcast with John Amble, Modern War Institute, West Point, 29 March 2018. 

Elsa B. Kania, “Much Ado About Huawei (Part 2),” The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 28 March 2018.

While Huawei itself, as well as its activities in Australia and worldwide, merit detailed scrutiny, the system and conditions within which it operates constitute a deeper source of concern. At present, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is openly seeking deeper ‘fusion’ between the party–state apparatus and business enterprises in ways that raise questions about the extent to which Huawei (regardless of a reported reshuffling of its board)—or indeed for any Chinese company—can operate with true independence.

Beyond the fact that Beijing’s commitment to true rule of law remains questionable, there are, in fact, new legal frameworks that could mandate that Huawei and other enterprises support Chinese intelligence activities. Consequently, the current concerns about Huawei should be only the start of closer consideration of the implications of these trends.

At a time when Huawei is actively pursuing commercial opportunities and collaborations worldwide, any deliberate introduction of vulnerabilities into its products or networks would clearly contradict its own corporate interests. However, it’s clear that Huawei’s global expansion, in and of itself, can serve as a vector for Beijing’s influence.

Concurrently, the CCP’s potential ability to exploit Huawei’s reach—with or without the company’s complicity or foreknowledge—must be recognised as a risk inherent in the nature of the Chinese party–state, which has become ever more apparent under Xi Jinping.

It’s evident that the CCP is appreciably deepening its influence over China’s rising private sector. In recent years, just about every major Chinese tech company—including Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, iFlytek, Xiaomi and Sina, among many othershas established a party branch or committee.

Huawei is not unique in this regard, and those party committees (党委) can operate without transparency regarding the extent to which the CCP may exercise influence over the company’s direction and decision-making.

Elsa B. Kania, “Much Ado About Huawei (Part 1),” The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 28 March 2018.

Huawei has provoked recurrent concerns and generated nearly incessant controversy in recent news cycles.

In the US, the potential for Huawei to dominate 5G network services was the implicit justification for the recent presidential order blocking Broadcomm’s attempted takeover of Qualcomm, which was seen as a risk to US national security.

Huawei’s quest for leadership in 5G was also an impetus for the Trump administration’s controversial proposal for a US government ‘moon shot’ to build secure 5G as a ‘single, inherently protected, information transportation superhighway’ that could serve as the ‘Eisenhower national highway system for the information age’.

In Australia, concerns about Huawei’s potential involvement in building 5G networks have also provoked controversy, along with strong US resistance to the idea.

To date, Huawei’s rapid emergence as a global powerhouse in telecommunications has been striking. Already the world’s largest telecom equipment manufacturer, as of 2017 Huawei surpassed Apple to become the world’s second-largest smartphone brand.

Huawei is believed to be on track to lead the ‘race’ to develop and deploy 5G worldwide. Not only is it dominant in China, but it’s also pursuing partnerships with telecommunications enterprises across Asia and Europe. Huawei plays an increasing role in creating technical standards for 5G. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “China’s Quest for Political Control and Military Supremacy in the Cyber Domain,” The Strategist, 16 March 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, “PLA Human-Machine Integration,” presentation via Army Mad Scientist’s Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050, 9 March 2018.

Elsa B. Kania and Sam Bendett, “Artificial Intelligence Trends in China and Russia,” Genius Machines, Defense One, 7 March 2018.​

Elsa B. Kania, “Is China Seeking Quantum Surprise?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1 March 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, “China’s AI Agenda Advances,” The Diplomat, 14 February 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, “Chinese Sub Commanders May Get AI Help for Decision-Making,” Defense One, 12 February 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, “‘Unmanned, Intangible, Silent Warfare’ – New Threats and Options for Taiwan,” Global Taiwan Brief 3.3 (7 February 2018).

As the character of conflict is transformed by the advent of robotics and artificial intelligence on the battlefield, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) recognizes and seeks to capitalize upon this trend towards “unmanned, intangible, silent warfare” (無人, 無形, 無聲戰爭) that is increasingly “intelligentized” (智能化). Consequently, the PLA has prioritized advances in military robotics and ‘unmanned’ (i.e., uninhabited) systems. To date, the PLA has fielded a range of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), while also developing and, to a limited extent, fielding unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), and unmanned surface vehicles (USVs). Concurrently, the Chinese defense industry is actively pursuing research and development for a range of cutting-edge unmanned systems, including those with stealth, supersonic, and swarming capabilities. The PLA is also prioritizing the development of military applications of artificial intelligence (AI), including to enable data and intelligence fusion and to support command decision-making. In the near future, unmanned and autonomous systems could serve as a force multiplier for the PLA’s combat power.

For Taiwan, the PLA’s pursuit of and ongoing advances in these capabilities are cause for concern. As Ian Easton of the Project 2049 Institute noted in his recent book, The Chinese Invasion Threat, such a scenario would likely include the use of unmanned systems to support initial strikes and an amphibious assault alike. The PLA appears to be preparing to leverage unmanned systems for a range of missions, including intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); integrated reconnaissance and strike; information operations, especially electronic warfare; and data relay, including communications relay and guidance for over-the-horizon (OTH) targeting. Notably, continued progress in swarm intelligence (集群智能) could enable asymmetric assaults against major US weapons platforms, such as aircraft carriers. For instance, China’s Military Museum includes in one exhibit a depiction of a UAV swarm combat system (無人機蜂群作戰系統) with swarms used for reconnaissance, jamming, and “swarm assault” (群打擊) targeting an aircraft carrier. Recognizing the potential of “saturation attacks” to overcome even sophisticated defenses, the PLA could leverage similar tactics against Taiwan, and reportedly there have been efforts to convert retired fighter jets for this purpose. Concurrently, the PLA Navy is likely to acquire and employ unmanned surface vessels (USVs) that could be used troop transport or logistic support, and the PLA Marine Corps might even utilize unmanned tanks or amphibious combat vehicles in support of a future landing campaign. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “Tech Entanglement—China, the United States, and Artificial Intelligence,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 6 February 2018.

In Washington and Beijing’s complex bilateral relationship, artificial intelligence has emerged as a new domain of both cooperation and competition. Even as China and the United States increasingly compete in artificial intelligence on the national level, the two countries’ business and technology sectors are deeply entangled, competing and collaborating by turn.

Although this degree of engagement can be mutually beneficial, US enterprises must also remain cognizant of the agenda and priorities of the Chinese Communist Party, which do not always accord with core US interests and values. In certain instances, ties between US tech firms and Chinese entities, some with military connections, have sparked concerns in the United States—notably, within the Pentagon—that such engagement could result in the transfer of dual-use technologies, advance China’s military modernization, or aid in Beijing’s construction of an ever more pervasive and sophisticated surveillance state, potentially enabling and exacerbating human rights abuses. If unaware or indifferent, US enterprises risk being exploited by the Party—or becoming complicit in Beijing’s AI-enabled efforts to advance the state’s surveillance capabilities and military modernization efforts. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “Strategic Innovation and Great Power Competition,” The Strategy Bridge, 31 January 2018.  

At this time of disruptive transitions, the new U.S. National Defense Strategy rightly recognizes that the character of warfare is changing due to the advent of a range of disruptive technologies.[1,2] In particular, the strategy highlights rapid advances in advanced computing, big data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), autonomy, robotics, directed energy, hypersonics, and biotechnology, which are characterized as “the very technologies that ensure we will be able to fight and win the wars of the future.”[3] The emergence of and unique convergences among these technologies could transform current paradigms of military power in uncertain, unpredictable ways. In addition, since commercial developments have been a primary driver of recent progress in many of these disparate technologies, the diffusion of advances will occur much more quickly and prove difficult to constrain, especially with the free exchange of ideas and talent across borders. In recent history, military-technical advantage has been a key pillar of U.S. military predominance. However, today’s trends, including China’s rapid emergence as a scientific powerhouse, seem unlikely to allow for the U.S. or perhaps any actor to achieve uncontested edge, and poor policy choices could lead to disadvantage. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, presentation to “Panel: Conflicts, Rights and the Machine: Addressing the Evolving Methods of Warfare,” Raisina Dialogue 2018, Observer Research Foundation, 18 January 2018.

With global military spending on the rise, we may now be on the cusp of a series of new technological innovations that will fundamentally influence the way we conduct warfare. There is an emphasis on robotic weapons platforms for use in the air, on land and at sea, and their diversity is expanding rapidly. With increasing automation and autonomy of these platforms, and the integration of artificial intelligence, we must also grapple with the evolving character of war and the legal and ethical challenges that arise. This panel explored the paradoxes of robotic warfare – such as the possibility of increased risk to civilians and non-combatants despite more effective targeting, and the increased propensity to deploy lethal force owing to the reduced risk for armed forces personnel.

  • Hugo Slim, Head of Policy & Humanitarian Diplomacy, International Committee of the Red Cross
  • Lydia Kostopoulos, Advisor, AI Initiative, The Future Society, Harvard Kennedy School
  • Elsa B. Kania, Adjunct Fellow, Technology and National Security Program, Center for a New American Security
  • General Chris Deverell, Joint Forces Commander, U.K.
  • Amandeep Singh Gill, Ambassador & Permanent Representative of India to the UN Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, Switzerland (Moderator)

Elsa B. Kania, “The Party Commands the Net,” Party Watch, Project 2049 Institute, 15 January 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, “On Battlefield Singularity,” Dead Prussian Podcast with Mick Cook, 11 January 2018.​

Elsa B. Kania, “Strategic Challenges of China’s Advances in Artificial Intelligence,” Raisina Dialogue, January 2018.

Elsa B. Kania, “Technological Entanglement? — Artificial Intelligence in the U.S.-China Relationship,” Jamestown China Brief, 22 December 2017.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become a new arena for engagement and competition between the United States and China. In July, China’s State Council published the New Generation AI Development Plan (新一代人工智能发展规划) which declared, “AI has become a new focal point of international competition. AI is a strategic technology that will lead the future,” articulating China’s ambition to “lead the world” and become the “premier AI innovation center” by 2030 (State Council, July 20). Perhaps recognizing that a new era has begun, the U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS) published in mid-December announced, “To maintain our competitive advantage, the United States will prioritize emerging technologies critical to economic growth and security” (National Security Strategy, December 18). In particular, the NSS highlights that AI is advancing especially rapidly and could present growing risks to U.S. national security going forward, while characterizing China as a “strategic competitor” that unfairly seeks to “unfairly tap into [U.S.] innovation” through the theft of intellectual property and “cyber-enabled economic warfare.” Concurrently, the U.S. and China are pursuing military applications of AI, recognizing its potential to transform the character of future conflict (State Council, July 20; Battlefield Singularity, November 28).

Even as Beijing and Washington highlight international competition in AI, the U.S. and Chinese technology sectors remain more entangled than ever, competing and collaborating by turn. There are high and growing levels of Chinese tech investments in the U.S. and in U.S. tech investments in China, even as concerns grow about the risks of such investment. Indeed, between 2012 and mid-2017, China-based investors bankrolled U.S. tech companies to the tune of $19 billion across 641 different deals, with particular focus on AI, robotics, and augmented or virtual reality (CB Insights, August 1). Increasingly, U.S. investors are also investing in Chinese AI enterprises. For instance, Chinese AI startup ByteDance, which makes the AI-enabled news aggregator Toutiao, has raised at least $3.1 billion with support from prominent U.S. private equity firms (CB Insights, December 12). Major Chinese companies—including Baidu, Tencent, Huawei, iFlytek, and SenseTime—are establishing AI laboratories and research partnerships in the U.S. and many leading Chinese AI entrepreneurs are graduates of top U.S. universities (South China Morning Post, March 25; Xinhua, April 28; Huawei). While Chinese tech companies are eagerly seeking to poach top talent from Silicon Valley, Google just opened its first AI laboratory in China, seeking to take advantage of top AI talent and future human capital potential (Google, December 13).

Although such engagement can enhance U.S. and Chinese innovation ecosystems to mutual benefit, this level of entanglement can be and has been exploited to advance Chinese state plans and priorities. However, the reality of national and military competition is becoming increasingly apparent as China advances a state-driven agenda for AI development to enhance its economic and military competitiveness. The U.S. and China possess very different political economies in their respective national approaches to AI. Certainly, it is clear that the locus of innovation in AI in the U.S. and China has largely shifted towards the private sector. The dynamism of major Chinese tech companies and a growing number of start-ups has been a key impetus for China’s AI revolution. However, as AI emerges as a national priority at the high levels, the Chinese Party-State is seeking to ensure that the development of AI in China follows Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interests and imperatives. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “The Human Factor of the PLA’s “Unmanned” Systems,” The Strategy Bridge, 13 December 2017.

Interview with Elsa Kania,” Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, 11 December 2017.

Elsa B. Kania, “The U.S. Must Match China’s All-of-Nation Push in AI,” Defense One, 8 December 2017​.

Elsa B. Kania, “Artificial Intelligence and Chinese Military Power,” Foreign Affairs, 5 December 2017.

Elsa B. Kania, “Battlefield Singularity: Artificial Intelligence, Military Revolution, and China’s Future Military Power,” (Washington, DC: Center for a New American Security, November 28, 2017).

Examines the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) in the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” and its implications for China’s military capabilities. In particular, it focuses on China’s ambitions for AI, strategic thinking on AI in warfare, the prospects for advancing military-civil fusion (MCF) in AI, projected employment of AI for military purposes, and relevant organizations and potential funding for future research and development of AI.

Elsa B. Kania, “Seeking a Panacea: the Party-State’s Plans for Artificial Intelligence” (Parts 1 and 2), Party Watch, Project 2049 Institute, 31 October and 15 November 2017.

While seeking to leverage AI to enhance its performance legitimacy, the Chinese CommunistParty (CCP) is also taking advantage of the potential of AI and big data to bolster its capacity for control. China’s New Generation AI Development Plan (新一代人工智能发展规划) highlights  that AI can “play an irreplaceable role in effectively maintaining social stability,” including through enabling prediction and early warning of risks to social security through rapidly detecting changes in mass public opinion and psychology. Since preserving social stability is considered an existential imperative for the Party, the CCP is actively increasing increasing the use of big data and AI to enhance social governance (社会治理). Indeed, Xi Jinping’s report Jinping’s report during the 19th Party Congress included a call for the “intelligentization” (智能化) of social governance. As Samantha Hoffman Hoffman has written, this concept, which has deep roots in traditionalCCP ideology, involves improvement of “governance capacity to shape, manage, and respond to social demands,” with the use of tactics to coerce and coopt individuals. Looking forward, the Party-State’s expanding employment of big data and AI to enhance the precision and pervasiveness of policing, censorship, and surveillance, in collaboration with private enterprises, could reinforce regime stability but may also create new risks and challenges.

To write of China’s “rise” in artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer unexpected. There has been regular reporting on reporting on China’s advances in AI, often highlighting the rapid increases in the numbers of publications and patents, metrics in which China is starting to surpass the U.S., along with the dynamism of major Chinese technology companies, such as BaiduAlibaba, and Tencent (BAT), and a range of start-ups, such as iFlytek. This July, China released the New Generation AI Development Plan (新一代人工智能发展规划), which articulates a highly ambitious agenda for China to “lead the world” in AI by 2030. There have been several predictions of future Chinese predominancein AI based on such factors as the amount of data and talent available. Certainly, such developments are noteworthy and newsworthy. China might very well succeed in becomingthe world’s “premier AI innovation center,” if able to overcome current shortcomings shortcomings in the available talent and to catch up in AI hardware and advanced algorithms.

Elsa B. Kania, “The Critical Human Element in the Machine Age of Warfare,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 15 November 2017.

Elsa B. Kania, “Emerging Technology Could Make China the World’s Next Innovation Superpower,” The Hill, 6 November 2017.

Elsa B. Kania, “The Policy Dimension of Leading in AI,Lawfare, 19 October 2017.

Elsa B. Kania, “The Party’s ‘Hurdles’: The Internet, Propaganda, and Power,” The Diplomat, 27 September 2017.

Elsa B. Kania, “Great Power Competition and the AI Revolution: A Range of Risks to Military and Strategic Stability,” Lawfare, 19 September 2017.

Gregory Allen and  Elsa B. Kania, “China Is Using America’s Own Plan to Dominate the Future of Artificial Intelligence,” Foreign Policy, 8 September 2017.

The Chinese are massively investing in AI research and tech, while the Trump administration is cutting federal programs wholesale.

In late 2016, the Obama administration published three reports that shared an extraordinary conclusion: advances in machine learning, a technology that allows systems to learn and improve without explicit programming, are enabling a revolution in Artificial Intelligence (AI). As AI systems become increasingly capable of not only routine tasks like driving a car, but also complicated ones like designing car engines, AI technology will be the driving force behind transformations across both the economy and national security.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the authors of the Obama administration reports have received a heartfelt compliment from their Chinese counterparts. With China’s July 2017 Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan, the country has announced that it, too, sees AI as the transformative technology that will underpin future economic and military power. China’s plan calls for exceeding all other nations in AI by 2030, but the checklist for China’s ambitious agenda is strikingly similar to the policies prescribed by the Obama administration’s reports. Greatly increase long-term investment in AI research and development (R&D)? Check. Promote collaboration on AI between the private tech sector and the government? Check. Develop a pipeline of top AI talent? Check. Invest to mitigate AI’s potential risks and societal disruptions? Check. The similarities go beyond such high-level objectives, even including many specific policy details and recommendations.

A reader of both documents would be forgiven for concluding that the Chinese strategy’s authors had copies of the White House reports on their desks as they wrote. Unlike a college term paper, however, there are no extra points for originality in governance. All that matters is to have the right policies and to implement them effectively. Unfortunately, there is plenty of reason to worry that China may have an edge in implementing policies practically cribbed from the United States. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “Trump Cards and Leapfrogging: The PLA’s Trajectory from Asymmetry to Innovation​,” The Strategy Bridge, 6 September 2017.

Elsa Kania and Stephen Armitage, “Disruption Under the Radar: Chinese Advances in Quantum Sensing,” Jamestown China Brief 17.11 (17 August 2017).

This piece builds upon prior research and analysis on Chinese advances in quantum information science and quantum technologies, previously featured in China Brief in the series “China’s Quantum Leap,” parts one and two.

Today, technologies that harness the “spooky” properties of quantum phenomena, once purely science fiction, are fast becoming a reality. Backed by the Chinese leadership at the highest levels, Chinese scientists are achieving rapid progress in a variety of different applications, including quantum encryption—which creates uncrackable communication—and quantum computing, which will enable tremendous computing power that could render most modern forms of encryption obsolete. While each of these technologies could rewrite the rules of how information can be used and processed, quantum sensing—the use of quantum entanglement to enable extremely precise measurement—could most fundamentally alter operational realities of future conflict.

Quantum sensing could be used in a number of technologies with direct military applications. In particular, quantum radar can be used to detect targets that cannot be discerned through conventional radar, and quantum navigation similarly leverages quantum properties to create a precise form of positioning system that may eventually replace GPS. Together, such technologies could be critical to China’s future military capabilities and might become a key focus of U.S.-China technological competition. … … …

Dennis J. BlaskoElsa Kania, and Stephen Armitage, “The PLA at 90: On the Road to Becoming a World-Class Military?” China Brief, Jamestown China Brief 17.11 (17 August 2017).

China recently celebrated the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with a parade and military exercises at the Zhurihe Training Base in Inner Mongolia (CCTV, July 30). Although the display was characterized as a demonstration of China’s growing military might—particularly new equipment and weapons platforms, including advanced missiles and aircraft—the event also provided important indications of the PLA’s approach to operations and the first-ever demonstration of an actual military operation during a parade. The PLA’s anniversary celebration thus reflected its progress toward becoming a “world-class military” and confidence despite remaining challenges related to the ongoing, historic reforms. Shortly after the parade, Xi Jinping announced: “The PLA has basically completed mechanization and is moving rapidly toward ‘strong’ informationized armed forces,” achieving the 2020 goal of its “three-step development strategy” (PLA Daily, August 2).

PLA Parades in Perspective 

Traditionally, PLA parades such as those held in Beijing in 2009 and the 2015 Victory Day Parade—have tended to be highly choreographed displays that are counterproductive in terms of the force’s operational capabilities in actual combat (实战), taking considerable time away from training for the units involved (China Brief, September 24, 2009). For prior parades in Beijing, units from all over the country were required to send personnel and equipment to prepare for the drive down Chang’an Jie months in advance, losing the opportunity to train in a more realistic way for almost an entire training season.

The ongoing military reforms, announced in 2015 and set to continue until 2020, are intended to bridge the gap between the “two incompatibles,” the “two inabilities,” and “five incapables” relative to where the State and Party need the PLA to be (China Brief, May 9, 2013). In other words, the true test for the PLA is whether the units that operate its equipment can actually perform the missions assigned, and that depends on the level and realism of training the units receive and the quality of their personnel. That this parade was organized at a training base at least enabled some units to engage in training while preparing for the parade, reflecting a greater commitment to preparation for combat operations. Additionally, PLA parades have been opportunities to display a vast array of new equipment, which has greater potential capabilities than the older equipment replaced, signaling the military’s modernization. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “Options for Expanding U.S.-Taiwan Partnership in Artificial Intelligence,” Global Taiwan Brief 32.2 (16 August 2017)

US-Taiwan scientific and technological cooperation has enabled a range of productive exchanges of ideas and insight. This history of engagement–in areas ranging from energy to space science and biomedical research–can serve as an apt foundation for US-Taiwan partnership and cooperation to expand in the realm of a critical emerging technology: artificial intelligence (AI). AI possesses tremendous strategic importance to national competitiveness, with the potential to serve as a driver of future economic growth and enabler of disruptive military capabilities.

Increasingly, AI has become a key focus of international competition. On July 20, China’s State Council issued the Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan (新一代人工智能發展規劃), which articulates an ambitious agenda for China to lead the world in AI. China intends to pursue a first-mover advantage to become the “premier global AI innovation center” by 2030 through building up the capability for indigenous innovation.

Taiwan, too, has prioritized the development of AI. Taiwan’s Forward Looking Infrastructure Development Program, approved in the spring of 2017, will devote USD $167 million to developing AI and promoting talent. Taiwan plans to spend USD $32.73 million each year over five years to support the construction of three to four new AI innovation centers, while seeking to attract domestic and international talent. In April, Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology announced plans to establish the Taiwan AI Labs later this year. This new research institute will seek to integrate academic, governmental, and private sector expertise and resources, with funding from local enterprises and investors.

Through these initiatives, Taiwan may have the opportunity to leverage its existing strengths and find new niches in AI. As Minister of Science and Technology Liang-Gee Chen highlighted, “The importance of AI for Taiwan is apparent through its semiconductor companies. Right now, they have an opportunity to enter the sphere of AI, and Taiwan needs to grab onto this opportunity.” In addition, Taiwan has started to use AI for medical applications, and there will be a variety of future opportunities to enhance its competitiveness across a variety of sectors through AI. Of note, Taiwanese AI start-up Appier has been highly successful in the employment of AI to enable advertisers to improve their campaign strategies, and now looks to expand in Asia. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “China’s Plan to ‘Lead’ in AI: Purpose, Prospects, and Problems,” (Washington, DC: New America, 1 August 2017).

The present global verve about artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies has resonated in China as much as anywhere on earth. With the State Council’s issuance of the “New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan” (AIDP, 新一代人工智能发展规划) on July 20, China’s government set out an ambitious roadmap including targets through 2030. Meanwhile, in China’s leading cities, flashy conferences on AI have become commonplace. It seems every mid-sized tech company wants to show off its self-driving car efforts, while numerous financial tech start-ups tout an AI-driven approach. Chatbot startups clog investors’ date books, and Shanghai metro ads pitch AI-taught English language learning. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “The Dual-Use Dilemma in China’s New AI Plan: Leveraging Foreign Innovation Resources and Military-Civil Fusion,” Lawfare, 28 July 2017.

Elsa B. Kania, “China’s Artificial Intelligence Revolution,” The Diplomat, 27 July 2017.   

Elsa B. Kania, “Swarms at War: Chinese Advances in Swarm Intelligence,” Jamestown China Brief (6 July 2017).

Elsa B. Kania, “China’s Quest for an AI Revolution in Warfare,The Strategy Bridge, 8 June 2017.

Elsa B. Kania, “Strategic Planning in the PLA,” The Diplomat, 7 June 2017.

Elsa B. Kania, “When Will the PLA Finally Update Its Doctrine?,” The Diplomat, 6 June 2017.  

Elsa B. Kania, “Beyond CFIUS: The Strategic Challenge of China’s Rise in Artificial Intelligence,” Lawfare, 20 June 2017.​

Elsa B. Kania, “In Military-Civil Fusion, China is Learning Lessons from the United States and Starting to Innovate,” The Strategy Bridge, 8 June 2017.

China’s national strategy of “military-civil fusion” (军民融合) is provoking some anxiety in Washington.[1] There are concerns the United States could be challenged, or even outright disadvantaged, in technological competition relative to the more integrated approach to innovation Chinese leaders are attempting to achieve. The whole-of-nation implementation of military-civil fusion indicates the seriousness of Chinese attempts to create and leverage synergies between defense and commercial developments, particularly in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and biotechnology.[2] It is important to recognize both the parallels and distinctions between American and Chinese concepts and approaches that can clarify the character of this competitive challenge.

China’s initiatives in military-civil fusion are informed by a close study of, and learning from, the U.S. defense industry and American defense innovation ecosystem to an extent that can be striking. In certain respects, military-civil fusion can be described as China’s attempt to imitate and replicate certain strengths from a U.S. model, but reflected through a glass darkly and implemented as a state-driven strategy.[3] In this regard, American responses to the challenge of China’s ambitions in innovation ought not to envy or seek to emulate aspects of China’s model, but rather should recognize the unique strengths of its own ecosystem, while redoubling current initiatives intended to promote innovation.[4] Although China’s strategy of military-civil fusion—and the powerful momentum behind merit serious scrutiny and examination, it is equally important to recognize the inefficiencies and weaknesses exhibited to date.[5] … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “Strategic Planning in China’s Military,” The Diplomat, 7 June 2017.

Which organizations are responsible for the PLA’s high-level thinking on reform and innovation?

As the China’s next national defense white paper should be forthcoming this summer, the Central Military Commission’s Strategic Planning Office, an organization that may play a critical role in its development, merits closer consideration. Through the Strategic Planning Office and its predecessor organizations, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has intensified its focus on strategic planning in order to support its historic reform agenda and other high-level priorities, while attempting to improve and centralize high-level coordination and planning across existing bureaucratic boundaries. Looking forward, the Strategic Planning Office will remain an integral aspect of the PLA’s efforts to advance a long-term strategic agenda that includes the implementation of complex organizational reforms, military-civil integration, and defense innovation. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “When Will the PLA Finally Update Its Doctrine?The Diplomat, 6 June 2017.

The slow revision process has been a “bottleneck” in the PLA’s march toward joint operations.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has not officially released a new generation of operational regulations, which are believed to be roughly equivalent to doctrine, since its fourth generation of them in 1999. The protracted process for their revision has apparently become a “bottleneck” for the PLA’s advances in joint operations and training. Evidently, its attempts to update these doctrinal documents in response to new strategic challenges have lagged behind its intended progression toward jointness, while failing to keep pace with changes in the form of warfare. There may be several factors that have delayed the revision process, including inter-service rivalry or bureaucratic and cultural impediments to change. These dynamics have plagued attempts to advance PLA reforms in the past, yet the current historic reform agenda has sought to overcome such obstacles.

At this point, the fifth-generation operational regulations do appear to be forthcoming within the foreseeable future, given multiple indications of extensive, ongoing revision and evaluation. However, the timing remains uncertain. Since operational regulations are considering integral in guiding the PLA’s approach to training and actual combat activities, the completion of the revision and full release of this fifth generation could indicate the PLA has overcome prior challenges to achieve substantive doctrinal progress that could enable future advances, including perhaps in space and cyber warfare.

The PLA’s operational regulations serve as guidance at the campaign and tactical levels of warfare, based on underlying campaign guidelines and combat regulations. Although the PLA’s operational regulations have received relativelylimited analytical attention, these have been integral elements of the PLA’s approach to combat throughout its history. The formulation of the PLA’s original combat regulations, which were influenced by the translation of Soviet doctrine, dates back to around 1958, and this first generation was finalized in 1964. The second and third generations were issued in the 1970s and 1980s respectively. In 1999, the new, fourth generation of operational regulations notably included the PLA’s inaugural Joint Campaign Guidelines, which addressed joint blockade and island-landing operations, as well as joint anti-air raid operations, and campaign guidelines for each service. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “AlphaGo and Beyond: The Chinese Military Looks to Future “Intelligentized” Warfare, Lawfare, 5 June 2017. 

Elsa B. Kania, “China’s War for Narrative Dominance,” The National Interest, 28 May 2017.

Elsa B. Kania, “China’s Employment of Unmanned Systems: Across the Spectrum from Peacetime to Wartime,” Lawfare, 22 May 2017.

David Gitter and Elsa B. Kania, The Limits of CCP Liaison Work – Rift, Rapprochement, and Realpolitik in Sino-Vietnamese Relations (Arlington, VA: Project 2049 Institute, 16 May 2017).

In September 2016, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc visited China in his first official trip since taking office, which resulted in an agreement to handle maritime disputes in the South China Sea “properly” and advance bilateral cooperation. During this high-level exchange, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) top leaders received Prime Minister Phuc and his delegation and emphasized both countries’ communist party leadership as the basis for managing issues.1 Although Sino-Vietnamese tensions in the South China Sea have not fully abated, the visit reflected a substantive improvement relative to the nadir in the relationship associated with the HD-981 oil rig incident in the summer of 2014.2 That event severely damaged Vietnam’s trust in the notion that its interests could best be preserved through a foreign policy tilt towards China. Beijing’s actions at the time reflected its ongoing efforts to implement a strategy aimed at balancing “rights protection” and “stability maintenance” within this complex bilateral relationship.3 Sino-Vietnamese relations have since shown amicable signs of progression, with China hosting Vietnam’s Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong for his first foreign trip and their first foreign guest of 2017. The exchange resulted in a joint communiqué to uphold mutual political trust and strengthen their strategic cooperative partnership.4

This progress towards rapprochement reveals the sophistication of the Chinese leadership’s multidimensional approach, which has integrated coercive signaling, economic leverage, and extensive high-level party-to-party exchanges.5 The latter measure is often facilitated through the liaison work undertaken by the CCP Central Committee’s International Department (中共中央对外联络部). This party-centric dimension of diplomacy between China and Vietnam has received relatively scarce analytical attention thus far but remains active and are important elements of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) pursuit of its foreign policy interests. 6 CCP diplomacy has focused on appealing to the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam’s (CPV) shared revolutionary heritage and socialist ideology, emphasizing the need to protect the overall special relationship that both countries supposedly enjoy. This relationship is frequently described as a “community of common destiny,” to the exclusion of other regional powers such as the United States. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “From the Third U.S. Offset to China’s First Offset – The Revolutionary Potential of Quantum Technologies,” The Strategy Bridge, 6 April 2017.

Elsa B. Kania, “PLA Strategic Support Force: The ‘Information Umbrella’ for China’s Military,” The Diplomat, 1 April 2017.

Elsa B. Kania, “The PLA’s Potential Breakthrough in High-Power Microwave Weapons,” The Diplomat, 11 March 2017.

Elsa B. Kania, “The Next U.S.-China Arms Race: Artificial Intelligence,” The National Interest, 9 March 2017. 

Elsa B. Kania, “China’s Quest for Informatization Drives PLA Reforms,” The Diplomat, 4 March 2017.

Elsa B. Kania, “Chinese Advances in Unmanned Systems and Military Applications of Artificial Intelligence—the PLA’s Trajectory towards Unmanned, ‘Intelligentized’ Warfare,” Testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 23 February 2017.

Elsa B. Kania, “The Strategic Support Force – A Force for Innovation?” The Diplomat, 23 February 2017.

Elsa B. Kania, “China May Soon Surpass America on the Artificial Intelligence Battlefield,” The National Interest, 21 February 2017.

Elsa B. Kania, “China’s Strategic Support Force: A Force for Innovation?” The Diplomat, 18 February 2017.

The new PLA branch might be China’s key to leapfrogging the United States on military technology.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has tasked the new People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Strategic Support Force (SSF) with pursuing “leapfrog development” and advancing military innovation. The SSF, which has consolidated the PLA’s space, cyber, and electronic warfare capabilities, has consistently been characterized as a “growth point” for the construction of “new-type” forces, while also considered an important force in joint operations. The SSF not only possesses the capabilities to contest space and cyberspace, the “new commanding heights of strategic competition,” but also may take responsibility for the PLA’s initial experimentation with and eventual employment of a range of “new concept weapons.” Looking forward, the SSF could become a vital force for innovation through which PLA may seek to leapfrog the U.S. military in critical emerging technologies.

In its design, the SSF is intended to be optimized for future warfare, in which the PLA anticipates such “strategic frontiers” as space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic domain will be vital to victory, while unmanned, “intelligentized,” and stealthy weapons systems take on an increasingly prominent role. According to its commander, Gao Jin, the SSF will “protect the high frontiers and new frontiers of national security,” while seeking to “seize the strategic commanding heights of future military competition.” Through its integration of space, cyber, and electronic warfare capabilities, the SSF may be uniquely able to take advantage of cross-domain synergies resulting from the inherent interrelatedness and technological convergence of operations in these domains. The frequent characterization of the SSF as responsible for the construction of “new-type” or “new-quality” combat forces does allude to these known capabilities, which are often characterized in such terms. However, the concept is also used to refer expansively to a variety of forces based on advanced technologies. For instance, the SSF will likely incorporate unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), including for electronic warfare. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “The Implications of the Three Warfares for Taiwan (Parts 1, 2, and 3),” Global Taiwan Brief9 November 201623 November 201615 February 2017.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) utilizes techniques and methods associated with the “three warfares” to target Taiwan, particularly through the efforts of the former General Political Department’s (GPD) Base 311 (61716 部隊), its “Public Opinion Warfare, Psychological Warfare, and Legal Warfare Base” (輿論戰心理戰法律戰基地). Base 311, which has its headquarters in Fujian, within Fuzhou province, seemingly oversees at least six regiments that are responsible for engaging in the three warfares against Taiwan, including through multiple forms of propaganda.

While a comprehensive analysis of Base 311 would be beyond the scope of this article, an overview of its recent activities offers an illustration of its efforts to influence public opinion in Taiwan, including through associated proxy organizations, in peacetime. In a wartime scenario, Base 311’s engagement in the three warfares could be impacted by the PLA’s organizational reforms, which may enable increased coordination of these political warfare activities with information warfare. … … …

Under the aegis of “wartime political work,” the Chinese People’s Liberation Army  (PLA) has developed a systematic framework (see part 1) for the “Three Warfares” that builds upon foundational principles, including notably the concept of “disintegrating enemy forces” (瓦解敵軍). Recent writings by Chinese strategists from influential PLA institutions build upon this traditional framework in attempts to articulate a highly integrated approach to public opinion warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare that has increasingly emphasized their employment in conflict scenarios. Indeed, the available PLA writings on the Three Warfares reflect their integration into the PLA’s science of political work and high-level thinking on military strategy. In addition, the PLA’s incorporation of the Three Warfares into its approach to joint campaigns (聯合戰役), including scenarios involving Taiwan, indicates their perceived utility as critical aspects of the PLA’s approach to targeting Taiwan during a potential conflict scenario. … … …

Taiwan has traditionally been the primary target of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) employment of the “Three Warfares” (三戰), which consist of public opinion warfare (輿論戰), psychological warfare (心理戰), and legal warfare (法律戰). The approaches associated with the Three Warfares—underpinned by the aim of “disintegrating enemy forces” (瓦解敵軍) through non-kinetic measures—date back to the earliest days of the Red Army and draw upon traditional aspects of Marxist-Leninist ideology. Over time, the PLA has progressively developed a more systematic framework for the Three Warfares, under the aegis of wartime political work (戰時政治工作), which it has applied to Taiwan, the United States, and other countries.

This article—the first in a series of three—will review the PLA’s development of a systematic approach to the Three Warfares; the subsequent article will examine the PLA’s high-level strategic thinking on the Three Warfares, based on the publications of key research institutes; and the final article will consider more closely the PLA’s efforts to target Taiwan and suggest potential countermeasures. … … …

David Gitter and Elsa Kania, U.S.-China Frictions in Film: Hollywood with Chinese Characteristics,” The Diplomat, 29 December 2016.

China’s film policies are a window into its broader view of cultural products.

There has been some speculation among U.S. film industry insiders that the Chinese government may be willing to significantly loosen limits on foreign films that can be shown in China in the year 2017. As 2016 draws to a close, the U.S. film industry has observed certain seemingly positive signs that industry authorities in China may be willing to negotiate flexibly in the New Year. For example, by the end of 2016, at least 38 foreign films will have been released in China, a number that exceeds the 34 films mandated in current bilateral agreements.

This seems to confirm previous assertions made by China Central Television (CCTV) executive Lu Hongshi, a senior producer and industry adviser, that the foreign film quota is on track to open up further in 2017-2018. Lu has stated, “Leveraging the Chinese market is the Chinese dream of the Americans,” although he admitted that it remains to be seen how quickly restrictions are lifted.

The current challenges and constraints that U.S. film companies have confronted in their attempts to gain access to China offer an interesting window into the politicized and restricted environment of the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) politics and cultural industry. Unsurprisingly, films that feature favorable views of the Chinese government and promote “traditional Chinese values” as competitive in modern society are more likely to be selected by Chinese film industry authorities for showing in China and to prove competitive in this market. This tends to create incentives for U.S. film companies to adjust their content in accordance with these implicit stipulations, which raises concerns about self-censorship.

Similarly, films that have been produced through co-production arrangements that impart U.S. filmmaking skills and technologies to Chinese partners will presumably be preferred by these authorities, since such transfers of expertise can contribute to the development of the indigenous Chinese film industry, which in turn can promote CPC propaganda. These issues have been a source of ongoing controversy in the U.S.-China relationship for many years. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, The Next South China Sea Flashpoint? – Unmanned Systems,” The Diplomat, December 29, 2016.

Both China and the U.S. are increasingly using unmanned vehicles in contested waters.

The seizure of a U.S. Navy unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) by China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) earlier this month was certainly unprecedented and may augur future frictions. Although the PLAN has since returned the UUV, this incident remains subject to debate. Beyond the legal implications of such a blatant violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Beijing’s attempted signaling in this case has included a continuation of prior attempts to impose limitations upon U.S. surveillance activities in the vicinity of China. A Chinese Ministry of National Defense spokesperson took advantage of the incident to call for the U.S. to cease reconnaissance activities in the maritime space adjacent to China (中国当面海域), despite the fact that UNCLOS permits it, warning that China would remain “vigilant” and take the “necessary measures” to deal with such activities.

In addition to clumsy attempts to justify the seizure of the UUV, Chinese media accounts of the incident have noted not only the perceived potential that U.S. UUVs could collect intelligence on the movements of Chinese submarines, but also that this supposedly more advanced UUV could provide “valuable information.” While it is difficult to test the veracity of either of those assertions, the PLAN’s actions reflect its intensified focus on the potential utility of UUVs. Looking forward, the utilization of unmanned systems in such contested waters could become a prominent aspect of the East and South China Sea disputes and a frequent flashpoint.

This particular incident is consistent with a trend toward the increased employment of unmanned systems in the East and South China Seas by the U.S. and Chinese militaries alike. The U.S. military has routinely used UUVs such as the one recently seized, typically to collect relatively innocuous oceanographic data. As tensions in the South China Sea have intensified, the United States has increased the frequency of its reconnaissance flights with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), such as the Global Hawk, over the South China Sea. Reportedly, there have been several incidents in which the PLA sought to engage in electronic interference against the Global Hawk. … … …

Peter Mattis and Elsa Kania, “Modernizing Military Intelligence: Playing Catch-Up (Part 2),” China Brief 16.19 (21 December 2016).

This two-part series is adapted from remarks delivered at The Jamestown Foundation’s Sixth Annual China Defense and Security Conference and chapter in China’s Evolving Military Strategy (2016)Part One addresses the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) evolving thinking on intelligence. Part Two addresses the organizational aspects of how the PLA’s intelligence evolved away from military operations and how this problem is being addressed under the current reform program.

In the early 2000s, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) outlined an expansive set of intelligence missions that the military’s intelligence organizations were ill-prepared to execute. PLA intelligence needed to be able to support operational decision-making at all levels, support deterrence operations, and guide information warfare in the network, electro-magnetic, and psychological domains (China Brief, December 5). The military intelligence apparatus centered in the General Staff Department, however, had been allowed to drift. After the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) military intelligence took on new responsibilities in support of Party rather than military leadership because of its unique capabilities and the dissolution of civilian intelligence bureaucracies. Although the PLA slowly began to reassert itself over its principal intelligence departments through personnel appointments beginning in December 2005, PLA intelligence and warfighting concepts only started to align during the latest round of reforms (China Brief, November 5, 2012). … … …

Elsa B. Kania and John Costello, “Quantum Leap (Part 2): The Strategic Implications of Quantum Technologies,” Jamestown China Brief 16.19 (21 December 2016).

This is the second in a series of two articles that examines and evaluates the ramifications of Chinese advances in quantum information science. While part 1 reviewed China’s national framework for and progress in this scientific domain, this second article evaluates the military applications and strategic implications of quantum technologies.  

China’s high-level focus on quantum information science reflects its recognition of the revolutionary implications of quantum technologies. China has operationalized and employed “unhackable” quantum cryptography to secure sensitive communications, while pursuing quantum computing capabilities whose enormous computing power could overcome most existing forms of encryption. Concurrently, Chinese scientists are starting to explore other quantum technologies, including supposedly “stealth-defeating” quantum radar. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) recognizes the strategic significance and operational potential of quantum technologies in their attempts to achieve a decisive advantage. Notably, these disruptive technologies—quantum communications, quantum computing, and potentially quantum radar—may have the potential to undermine cornerstones of U.S. technological dominance in information-age warfare, its sophisticated intelligence apparatus, satellites and secure communications networks, and stealth technologies. … … … 

Elsa B. Kania and John Costello, “Quantum Leap (Part 1): China’s Advances in Quantum Information Science,” Jamestown China Brief 16.18 (5 December 2016).

This is the first in a series of two articles that examines and evaluates the ramifications of Chinese advances in quantum information science. While this initial article reviews China’s framework for and progress in this scientific domain, the subsequent article will evaluate the military and strategic implications of quantum technologies.  

In August 2016, the launch of the world’s first quantum satellite, Micius (墨子), drew international attention China’s rapid advances in quantum information science. These breakthroughs demonstrate the success of a long-term national research agenda that prioritized innovation in this critical technological domain. Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, this high-level focus on quantum information science has intensified and been explicitly linked to both national security and economic competition. While it is difficult to evaluate the feasibility or timeframe within which China’s quantum ambitions may be realized, Chinese scientists’ consistent progress in quantum information science seems likely to continue. Looking forward, China could potentially leapfrog the U.S. in this critical technological domain to become the world’s first quantum power.

High-Level Prioritization of Quantum Science

In recent years, China has placed quantum information science at the center of its national security strategy. This research agenda took on increased importance after the leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Snowden’s revelations detailing the extent of U.S. intelligence capabilities intensified the Chinese leadership’s anxieties regarding China’s domestic information security and its susceptibility to advanced forms of espionage. In particular, the Snowden leaks were a wake-up call regarding the disparity between China’s offensive cyber capabilities and those of the United States. The result has been an intensified focus on quantum technologies with the potential to bridge these offensive and defensive gaps. In fact, the Snowden leaks were so central to Chinese motivations that Snowden has been characterized as one of the two greatest individuals contributing most to China’s subsequent advances in this technological domain (Xinhua, August 16). The second, Pan Jianwei (潘建伟), is typically lauded as generally regarded as the father of Chinese quantum information science. While quantum communications networks are much more secure against cyber espionage, future quantum computing has the potential to leapfrog U.S. cyber capabilities. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “Cyber Deterrence in Times of Cyber Anarchy—Evaluating the Divergences in U.S. and Chinese Strategic Thinking,” International Conference on Cyber Conflict (CyCon), IEEE, October 2016.

The advent of the cyber domain has introduced a new dimension into warfare and complicated existing strategic concepts, provoking divergent responses within different national contexts and strategic cultures. Although current theories regarding cyber deterrence remain relatively nascent, a comparison of U.S. and Chinese strategic thinking highlights notable asymmetries between their respective approaches. While U.S. debates on cyber deterrence have primarily focused on the deterrence of cyber threats, Chinese theorists have also emphasized the potential importance of cyber capabilities to enhance strategic deterrence. Whereas the U.S. government has maintained a consistent declaratory policy for response, Beijing has yet to progress toward transparency regarding its cyber strategy or capabilities. However, certain PLA strategists, informed by a conceptualization of deterrence as integrated with warfighting, have advocated for the actualization of deterrence through engaging in cyber-attacks. Regardless of whether these major cyber powers’ evolving strategic thinking on cyber deterrence will prove logically consistent or feasibly operational, their respective perspectives will certainly shape their attempts to achieve cyber deterrence. Ultimately, cyber deterrence may continue to be “what states make of it,” given conditions of “cyber anarchy” and prevailing uncertainties regarding cyber conflict. Looking forward, future strategic stability in Sino-U.S. cyber interactions will require mitigation of the misperceptions and heightened risks of escalation that could be exacerbated by these divergent strategic approaches. … … …

Elsa B. Kania and Ken Allen, “Holding Up Half the Sky? (Part 2)—The Evolution of Women’s Roles in the PLA,” China Brief (26 October 2016).

Elsa B. Kania, “Holding Up Half the Sky? (Part 1)—The Evolution of Women’s Roles in the PLA,” China Brief(4 October 2016).

David Gitter and Elsa Kania, “How Beijing Uses People-to-People Ties as Leverage Over Taiwan,” The Diplomat, 1 October 2016.

Beijing hopes to convince Taiwanese to pressure their government into more politically accommodating positions.

Since Tsai Ing-wen’s inauguration in May 2016, her reluctance to endorse the so-called “1992 consensus,” a vague understanding that the Mainland and Taiwan constitute “one China,” has become an increasingly contentious issue in cross-strait relations, resulting in Beijing’s suspension of official communication mechanisms between the two sides. Beijing has also sought to exert pressure against the Tsai government by undermining Taiwan’s international space. This has led to the recent rejection of Taiwan’s participation in the annual meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), as well as the deportation of nearly 200 Taiwanese citizens accused of fraud from countries such as ArmeniaCambodiaKenya, and Malaysia to Mainland China, instead of Taiwan. These continued pressure tactics may also have economic consequences for Taiwan. In recent months, tourism from Mainland China to Taiwan has decreased significantly, and the asymmetric interdependence in cross-strait economic relations could be further exploited if relations were to worsen.

Perhaps less apparent is the fact that the multiple dimensions of Beijing’s coercive diplomacy have been complemented by the Communist Party of China’s renewed utilization of people-to-people relations in order to advance political objectives. … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “The PLA’s Latest Strategic Thinking on the Three Warfares,” Jamesown China Brief 16.13 (22 August 2016).

Beijing’s response to the unfavorable South China Sea arbitration outcome has highlighted an important aspect of its military strategy, the “three warfares” (三战). Consisting of public opinion warfare (舆论战), psychological warfare (心理战), and legal warfare (法律战), the three warfares have been critical components of China’s strategic approach in the South China Sea and beyond. In peacetime and wartime alike, the application of the three warfares is intended to control the prevailing discourse and influence perceptions in a way that advances China’s interests, while compromising the capability of opponents to respond.

Beijing has sought to delegitimize the arbitration process and achieved some success in undermining the coalescence of consensus in support of the ruling, while engaging in coercive signaling and deniable attempts to punish the Philippines. China’s response has also included “regularized” “combat readiness patrols” over the South China Sea by H-6K bombers, as well as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks against Philippine government websites (China Military Online, August 6; China Military Online, July 19; InterAksyon, July 15). Consistently, Beijing has attempted to advance narratives that frame itself as the upholder of international law, while claiming that the U.S. is to blame for the “militarization” of the South China Sea (China Military Online, June 23). For instance, official media has frequently characterized the arbitration process as a “farce,” and China’s ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, has argued that the arbitration case would “undermine the authority and effectiveness of international law,” justifying China’s rejection of it as a defense of “international justice and the true spirit of international law” (Xinhua, July 12; PRC Embassy to the U.S., July 13). … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “The Undersea Dimension of Strategic Competition in the South China Sea,” Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 28 July 2016.

As the South China Sea dispute continues to command headlines, such issues as China’s island building, U.S. Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS), and the contested arbitration have received justified attention, but a concurrent trend in the activities of the PLA Navy (PLAN) in the South China Sea also merits closer consideration. Within the past several months, the PLAN’s South Sea Fleet (南海舰队) has engaged in relatively sophisticated anti-submarine warfare (ASW) drills (反潜作战演练). Historically, China has remained relatively weak in ASW and continues “to lack either a robust coastal or deep-water anti-submarine warfare capability,” according to the Department of Defense.1 Despite such persistent shortcomings, the apparent advances in the realism and complexity of these recent drills suggest that the PLAN’s ASW capabilities could be progressing. Given the context, these drills, which were reported upon in detail in official PLA media,2 might also have been intended as a signaling mechanism at a time of heightened regional tension. Presumably, the PLAN is also motivated by concerns about U.S. submarines operating in the region and the submarines procured by multiple Southeast Asian nations, including rival claimant Vietnam.

While China’s ongoing investments in ASW platforms have indicated an increased prioritization of improving its ASW capabilities, the PLAN’s ability to advance in this regard will also be influenced by its level of training and experience.3 Certainly, the levels of stealth and sophistication of current and future U.S. submarines will continue to pose a considerable challenge. Although the PLAN’s ASW capabilities will likely remain limited in the short term, its attempts to realize advances in ASW reflect a new aspect of its efforts to become a maritime power and attempt to achieve “command of the sea” (制海权) within the first island chain.4 … … …

Elsa B. Kania, “A Force for Cyber Anarchy or Cyber Order? — PLA Perspectives on ‘Cyber Rules,’” Jamestown China Brief 16.11 (6 July 2016).

In early June, the Eighth Round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) “welcomed” apparent progress on cyber security, an issue that has been among the most contentious aspects of this bilateral relationship in recent years (U.S. Department of State, June 7). As the official press release noted, the U.S.-China High-Level Dialogue on Cybercrime and Related Issues occurred last December and recently reconvened in June, and the inaugural Senior Experts Group on International Norms in Cyberspace and Related Issues took place this May and will meet again this fall. Since the previous U.S.-China cyber security working group had been suspended after the indictment of 3PLA hackers in May 2014, this resumption of substantive bilateral engagement on these issues constitutes at least an initial step toward the search for common ground on cyber security that these dialogues seek to advance.

This diplomatic progress on cyber issues, which builds upon other recent advances, raises the question of whether shared interests could enable future cooperation between the U.S. and China or strategic competition will persist in this new, anarchic domain. In 2015, Beijing agreed through the UN’s Group of Government Experts consensus report that certain norms and aspects of existing international law, including the UN Charter, do apply in cyberspace. [1]During his September 2015 state visit to the U.S., President Xi apparently agreed to restrain Chinese commercial cyber espionage activities and pledged, along with President Obama, to refrain from cyber-attacks against civilian critical infrastructure during peacetime (White House Press Office, September 25, 2015). [2] … … …

Elsa Kania and Kenneth Allen, “The Human and Organizational Dimensions of the PLA’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,” Jamestown China Brief 16.8 (11 May 2016).

PLA theorists see unmanned operations (无人作战) as integral elements of future warfare. For instance, in a January 2016 article, Xiao Tianliang, editor of the People’s Liberation Army National Defense University’ 2015 edition of The Science of Military Strategy, alluded to “unmanned systems autonomous operations” (无人系统独立作战) and “unmanned systems and manned systems joint operations” (无人系统与有人系统联合作战) as likely to have a “huge impact” on traditional operational models (PLA Daily, January 5). As such, China’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and in particular, the organizations, as well as educational and training programs, established to support these systems are worthy of attention.

The PLA’s “Golden Launcher” of Military UAVs

When Xi Jinping met the PLA’s delegation to the National People’s Congress in March 2016, one of the military personnel who received particular notice was Master Sergeant Class One (一级军士长) Ju Xiaocheng (巨孝成), the director of a UAV launch site subordinate to the Army Artillery Academy (炮兵学院无人机发射站站长), which was renamed the Army Officer Academy (陆军军官学院) in 2011, in Hefei, Anhui Province (Baike, [Accessed May 7]). Based on his record of a 100 percent success rate in UAV launches, Ju has been praised as the PLA’s “golden launcher” of military-use UAVs (军用无人机“金牌发射手”) (China Military Online, March 14; China Military Online, March 15).

At the time, Xi declared to Ju, “UAVs are important operational forces for the modern battlefield. You must carry out your duties well and cultivate qualified personnel” (China Military Online, March 14). The career trajectory of this UAV team’s technician (无人机队技师), who has personally trained the majority (as of 2009, approximately 80 percent) of the entire PLA’s UAV specialty cadre (无人机专业干部), offers an interesting illustration of the process through which the PLA has developed these personnel thus far (Xinhua, May 26, 2009; PLA Daily, April 4). … … …

Elsa B. Kania, The PLA’s Forthcoming Fifth-Generation Operational Regulations—The Latest ‘Revolution in Doctrinal Affairs’?” Jamestown China Brief (21 April 2016).

Elsa Kania, China’s Cyber Strategy in Times of ‘Cyber Anarchy’—The People’s Liberation Army’s Evolving Strategic Thinking on Information Warfare, Thesis Presented to the Harvard College Department of Government, March 2016.

This examination of the evolution of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s strategic thinking on information warfare and cyber warfare between the late 1990s and the present reveals not only a relatively high degree of consistency between the thinking of early information warfare theorists and their contemporaries in certain areas, but also substantive changes in the PLA’s current approach to information operations and “cyber military struggle.” In particular, the PLA’s conceptualization of cyber reconnaissance, attack, and defense as integrated; emphasis on civil-military integration, including the mobilization of non-military cyber forces; and offense-oriented approach to cyber deterrence constitute highly distinctive elements of Chinese strategy. This assessment of the relative validity of the alternative explanations—including a process of ideational diffusion, reactivity to shifting US strategy in the context of a nascent security dilemma, and the influence of traditional strategic concepts, such as “people’s warfare”—associated with notable changes and continuities offers new insights on the underlying dynamics influencing the PLA’s strategic thinking on and operational approach to cyber warfare, within the context of its strategy for information operations and prioritization of winning future “informationized” local wars.

Elsa B. Kania, “The Latest Indication of the PLA’s Cyber Warfare Strategy,” Jamestown China Brief 15.24 (21 December 2015).

Comparing the Strategic Guidance for Military Struggle in Cyberspace from the 2013 and 2015 editions of The Science of Military Strategy 

The 2015 text of The Science of Military Strategy (战略学), published by the PLA’s National Defense University (NDU) in April, offers an interesting contrast with the 2013 Academy of Military Science (AMS) edition. These authoritative texts, which are used as teaching and reference materials for senior PLA officers, articulate the PLA’s thinking on and approach to military strategy in multiple domains and contexts. [1] Since the AMS has a more direct role in the formulation of military strategy, the 2013 text of The Science of Military Strategy might be more authoritative than the 2015 edition. [2] However, this NDU text also presents an influential perspective that merits closer examination. [3] Notably, the 2015 text includes not only sections on ‘military struggle in cyberspace’ (网络空间军事斗争) and network-electromagnetic space operations (网络电磁空间作战) but also a full chapter on measures to establish and develop the PLA’s cyberspace forces. [4]

There are sections within this 2015 text that seem to reflect a relatively distinctive approach to certain issue areas, including military struggle in cyberspace. The various differences and divergences between these two texts might indicate variance in perspective at the institutional level and/or a discernible change in the PLA’s recent strategic thinking on conflict in this new domain. [5] Although this limited, preliminary comparison of the 2013 and 2015 texts hardly allows for a definitive assessment of the potential shifts in China’s strategic thinking on cyber warfare during this timeframe, this recent edition of The Science of Military Strategy does introduce certain concepts that are new relative to the 2013 AMS text, including the prioritization of defending China’s cyber sovereignty (网络主权) and “cyber borders” (网络边疆), while also articulating the intention to establish a “cyberspace forces leadership structure” (网络空间力量领导体制), analogous to U.S. Cyber Command. [6] … … …

Elsa B. Kania, Active Defense in the Cyber Domain,” The Diplomat, 12 June 2015.

Elsa B. Kania, “The South China Sea: Flashpoints and the U.S. Pivot,” Harvard Political Review, 11 January 2013.

Claims and Concerns

The South China Sea has long been a flashpoint for regional rivalries and tensions. Subject to a range of competing territorial claims—including from Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan, the South China Sea is at the nexus of competing and converging interests. Through these contested waters flows over one-third of world trade, and within it lies a plethora of natural resources—including oil, natural gas, and fishing reserves. Here too, a seemingly inane but critical distinction for the claimants has been the difference between a “rock” and an “island,” the latter of which must be able to support human habitation. This is a concept subject to contention, as various tenuous outposts have been established, often overlying reefs that would otherwise be submerged. While a rock only commands a 12 nautical mile expanse of territorial waters, an island may be the basis for a 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that grants rights over the resources within. Recent developments—including an estimate by the Chinese oil company CNOOC that the disputed areas could contain up to 17 billion tons of oil as well as 498 trillion cubic feet of natural gas—have raised the stakes.

Beyond the relevant regional players, the United States too has much at stake. At the July 2010 meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Vietnam, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton articulated the United States’ “national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea.” As the U.S. now ‘pivots’ to the Pacific, it has sought a more active role in this dispute. This past July, at an ASEAN forum in Cambodia, following “intense” and inconclusive discussions on the South China Sea, Clinton warned, “None of us can fail to be concerned by the increase in tensions, the uptick in confrontational rhetoric and disagreements over resource exploitation.” The trajectory of this longstanding dispute may prove to be a test for the development and potential stability of the region. … … …