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Sun Tzu and Chinese Strategy

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In order to disintegrate Chinese moral influence we must reveal their leaders true activities such as New York Times did in October 2012 when reporting that Wen Jiabao's relatives had tremendous financial assets in the U.S.

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       PLA Army Command Academy's frame inside the library

Chinese behaviors are based on Sun Tzu

     Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin stated in June 2013 that it is a great inconsistency between what China says and what China is doing. Regarding the maritime safety boat crash between Vietnam and China, China announced that Vietnamese boats collided Chinese Coast Guard vessels even though the video clearly indicated Chinese ship rammed Vietnamese.  

     All your doubts about those has been driven away if you understand Sun Tzu’s statement in the Art of War (AoW) Chapter 1 (Estimates), “ All warfare based on deception.” and ending up "There are strategist's keys to victory." This phrase was displayed inside of the Library of PLA Command Academy in Nanjing. 

     At the outside of the Library I saw the Academy's motto on the wall, which was derived from Sun Tzu's phrase in AoW Chapter 5 (Energy), ”Use the normal Force to engage; use the extraordinary to win.” An American scholar pointed out Chinese Cyber attack is based on this phrase[1].

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       PLA Army Command Academy's motto on the library wall

     Sun Tzu mentioned in AoW Chapter 13 (Employment of Secret Agents) that there are five sorts of secret agents, which are native, inside, doubled, expendable and living. The director of FBI named five PLA officers who conducted cyber spies toward American company. This is typical example of living secret agent.

     The State Councilor of the PRC, Yang Jiechi stated at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2012 “Japan stole Senkaku/Diaoyu islands” This is an example of expendable or deliberately given fabricated information.

     Sun Tzu also stated in AoW Chapter 6 (Weaknesses and Strengths) that An Army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids strength and strikes weakness. China avoids direct crash against strong military capabilities like the U.S. and Russia and strike weak naval states such as Philippines and Vietnam. Historically, China always fills the power vacuum which is created when the Super Power retreats. In 1973, when the U.S. retreated from Vietnam, China advanced to the Paracel Islands from 1974. After a few years, since 1984 when the Soviet Naval ships started to decrease in number from Cam Ranh Bay, China advanced to west of the Spratly Islands during 1987 to 1988. Right after the U.S. closure of the Clark Air Force Base and Subic Naval Base in the Philippines, China advanced east of the Spratly Islands from 1994 and occupied Mischief Reef, which is claimed by the Philippines.  

My Experiences in China

      In 2001, I had discussions with General Xiong Guankai, Deputy Chief of Staff in Beijing. When I muttered a phrase of Sun Tzu, General Xiong Guankai seemed to recite the whole of Sun Tzu, responding in entire sentences.

     At the same time, the Vice President of PLA National Defense University (PLANDU), the highest education institute, mentioned that Sun Tzu is the centerpiece of the education in PLANDU. According to Yahoo News-Searching/Chinese Information Bureau dated May 5 2006, PLA decided to use Sun Tzu as the educational textbook not only for officers but also for all enlisted soldiers/sailors.

When I had a chance to visit the PLA University of Science and Technology (PLAUST) for the Symposium for Presidents of Military Institutions in October 2011, I spoke to the president of PLAUST as well as at every meal. Whenever I would whisper a phrase of Sun Tzu, he would respond by quoting entire sentences. He also seemed to have memorized Sun Tzu.

     Since all Chinese military personnel seem to memorize Sun Tzu, Chinese strategy must be based on Sun Tzu. Even all Central Military Commission members except Xi Jinping are Generals and Admirals who memorise Tzu completely. Even though PLA's weapons and tactics are not as sophisticated as major western powers, this comprehensive strategy—which includes non-military means—is very clever, and we must understand how China has adopted Sun Tzu for its contemporary strategy.

What should we do?

     What should we do for countering Chinese strategy?  We have to know and use Sun Tzu against China. Sun Tzu stated, "The first five of the fundamental factors is moral influence which causes the people to be in harmony with their leaders. (AoW, Chapter 1)" In order to disintegrate Chinese moral influence we must reveal their leaders true activities such as New York Times did in October 2012 when reporting that Wen Jiabao's relatives had tremendous financial assets in the U.S. This transparency damaged the legitimacy of the Communist party through the Social Network Service, the reversed Media Warfare and Chinese weakness to strike. As a result the PLA cyber force, namely Unit 61398 in Shanghaiwanted to disturb the article by all means[2]. Dividing between rich and poor, urban and rural, majorities and minorities such as the Tibetans Uyghurians, Mongolians is to disrupt internal solidarity (AoW, Chapter 3).

     Sun Tzu also stated in Chapter 3 (Offensive Strategy) “ Next best is to disrupt his alliance.” In order to counter Chinese maritime aggression like water (AoW, Chapter 6), all maritime/democratic nations should bind together and create a strong hedge against that. Not to mention the United States, all victims for Chinese assertiveness such as Japan, Philippines, Vietnam and in some extent Indonesia, Malaysia, India should cooperate together to cope against China.      

     Sun Tzu is a double-edged sword, very effective to opponents but able to be boomeranged back upon herself whoever exercising her strategy. Indeed, He who is not sage and wise, humane and just, cannot use secret agents. (AoW, Chapter 13)

Former Director of the Japanese Defense Intelligence (Vice Admiral) Fumio Ota, Ph.D. 


[1] Dr. J. P. “Jack” London, “Made in China”, Proceedings, U.S. Naval Institute, April 2011, p.59.

[2]Tom Phillips, Sydney Morning Herarl, February 20th, 2013.

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