It seems that the Chinese military does not share the same enthusiasm for information technology as the DoD.

“China has issued an edict banning its 2.3 million military personnel from blogging or creating homepages or websites, AP reports. The new rules came into force on 15 June, as part of a People’s Liberation Army Internal Affairs Regulation. Wan Long, a PLA political commissar, told Xinhua news agency: “Soldiers cannot open blogs on the internet no matter [whether] he or she does it in the capacity of a soldier or not.”

I read this article in the context of another article “Diplomacy 2.0” which Galrahn covered as important background in discussing the Marine Corps Operating Concepts (3rd edition). Short term, I believe this will help the Chinese in obscuring both their military and diplomatic intentions. But, in the long term, I am not so sure this will work out for them. What I wonder is, what are the tactical or strategic advantages that Milblogging actually brings to the Nations that allow it. Much the World’s economy is predicated upon shared electronic connectivity and the ability of ideas and information to pass quickly and easily across people and nations. Because of this, are we now starting to see China form the modern version of the Soviet Union’s economic policies of the 20th Century?

Posted by CTR1(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III in Foreign Policy, Soft Power
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  • I think we should be careful. I don’t see any strategic or tactical advantages of social software or the general use of social communication tools, although like all things advantages can be exploited with those tools based on circumstances and situations.

    This is new wine in old bottles. In many situations today I would argue that radio is at least as important of a tool as a new technology like Twitter, and we need to think clearly examining how to integrate public communications into operations at both the strategic and tactical levels. Whenever there is a military action to be taken that requires communication to a specific audience or population – it is at that point where communication technologies become an operational necessity.

    That is not unlike any point in the past even as the tools are different. One could argue Paul Revere’s ride in 1775 was a modern equivalent of public communication to a target audience.

    In the case of China – they have a policy that intentionally says nothing to the rest of the world, and another intentional policy to prevent influence on the domestic population. The restriction on use of communication technologies that can be used to shape perceptions, communicate information of influence, or otherwise be used for asymmetrical connectivity is in line with their national policy.

    The question to be asked here is whether the Chinese people are like people elsewhere in the world – as people everyone else have decided that connectivity is a desired aspect of human social behavior in many populations globally. If it is part of the human social behavior of the Chinese people, then we have learned of at least one way of empowering the people and one methodology the government sees as a direct threat to their control. There are other aspects to examine in this decision by the Chinese government, but those two jumped out immediately for me.

  • YNSA Pawlikowski

    It seems to me that China is acting as a shocked reactionary just stepping into the arena of the technology laden 21st Century. Consider not only how they are blocking milblogging, one of the largest sources of tacit knowledge becoming common knowledge among today’s military professionals, but also the apparent blocking of Google outright from China: .
    I’m not steeped enough in history to compare this to Soviet economic policy, but it does mark a grievous miscalculation even the Soviets did not make: the Chinese are crippling their “lessons learned” chances. The Soviets were actually very supportive of the spread of lessons learned, even producing such products as “The Bear Went Over the Mountain” in analysis of their Afghanistan failures.

    Uneducated analysis: China fears anything they perceive will shatter their state-spun alternate reality. China fears 99% control. The interesting dynamic to consider is: will this create a culture where officers and troops are unwilling to put on the table any radical new ideas, ever?

    China will have to come to grips with the fact that, grip as a fist might, water will still slip through.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    I agree that it is in accordance with their State’s policy to ban all blogging by their military personnel. But, I am willing to say that it will not be in accordance with the desires of their population, communication is an essential trait of the human condition. The Soviets couldn’t manage their population’s desire to be more apart of the World, and I don’t assume the Chinese are any better at this than the Soviets were.

    YNSA, China seems to be betting that Baidu – a Chinese search engine, will be able to compete internationally. They’ve got what they wanted from Google, I am sure they have stolen an algorithm or two from them. Why keep a competitor around that doesn’t want to play nice and censor the internet for them?

  • Chuck Hill

    The fact that they made a regulation against it means that their personnel were blogging, and I would bet it will continue underground.

    They are going to miss out on the open exchange of ideas that a more liberal policy would make possible.

    Only a few years before the collapse of the Soviet empire, it seemed impossible to most observers. As long as the Chinese economy is expanding and everyone feels the future would be better than the present, the party will remain in power, but some cracks are showing. Ethnic minorities, rural vs city dwellers, pollution, corruption. Ultimately the Chinese government will have to reform or something nasty is going to happen.

  • YNSA Pawlikowski

    I believe Google’s been playing this game with China for a while now. If I’m not mistaken, their Secure Socket Layer Gmail server had come out a few years ago expressly to circumnavigate the Great Firewall, and just a few months ago Google’s search function was given an SSL option. I wouldn’t be too surprised if one of Google’s pet projects on Labs turns into another circumnavigation tool.

    To your first point, I would say that it is indeed impossible to ever fully regulate what your soldiers post online. A concerted effort can gain you an acceptable degree of anonymity most places, I imagine it is possible in China as well.

  • Herbal

    The question I would ask is: are the Chinese restricting blogging primarily because they understand the threat of external exploitation or because they understand the threat of internal dissent?

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    Herbal, both. Especially considering most of the external exploitation around the World comes from Chinese IPs.

  • jwithington

    Unfortunately, Big Navy didn’t find it a humorous use of national security assets; these guys got into some trouble, at least with their CO.

  • jwithington

    Wrong topic for the comment! Admin, feel free to delete.

  • Japanese militarism took off … ! … exactly because of this kind of rigid, total mind control of its personnel and of the Japanese people at large, and militarist Maoism is at least as dangerous as militarist Bushido.

    On the other hand, Internet can be extremely difficult to keep out … without destroying its source, anyway.

    And if the internal problems grow, the Maoist leadership might start looking for a major external diversion.

    This is another reason we want Russia … which is basically open to the Internet and the West … to be lining up with *us*.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    Lou, it’s funny you mention that, I am currently reading “Japan’s War: The Great Pacific Conflict” by Edwin P. Hoyt. I nearly included your sentiment in my post, actually.

    You’re exactly right. The Japanese military cloistered itself off from the rest of the Nation and the world. They thought themselves as the savior’s of Japan against the ravages of the politicians and lead that Nation strait into a war that ended in two of their cities nuked.

    The comments made to our SECDEF’s face receintly by senior Chinese officers, as well now this move to cut their military off from the world, hints at such a path.

    I’ve read before, either here at USNI or perhaps it was at CDR Salamander’s place, that it will be the ‘cooler heads’ that prevent any situation with China from escalating into open conflict. A military that does not interact at all levels with their world is not a military that will allow cooler heads to prevail, I worry.

  • This seems relevant:

    Thuggery against individuals standing against corporate or state injustice can happen in any country – the apparent murder of Iraq war whistleblower Dr. David Kelly in Britain in July 2003 leaps to mind – but I would have thought the PRC government in Peking would intervene on behalf of the proleteriat if it was a matter of commercialized exploitation against an individual citizen in a Marxist state.