From Tiananmen to Taiwan and the South China Sea: China Updates Its Rules of Engagement

CommentarySeveral news outlets announced on June 13 that Chinese leader Xi Jinping had signed an order to implement rules on military operations other than war (MOOTW), consisting of 59 articles in six chapters. Xi is also the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC). These new rules, implemented on June 15, are designed to “standardize, and provide the legal basis for Chinese troops to carry out missions like disaster relief, humanitarian aid, escort, and peacekeeping, and safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests,” according to Chinese state-run media Global Times. In other words, the new rules provide the legal framework for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to operate domestically and in other non-wartime frameworks supporting the CCP. The PLA’s oath inculcates subservience of the military to the CCP: “I am a member of the People’s Liberation Army. I promise that I will follow the leadership of the Communist Party of China, serve the people wholeheartedly, obey orders, observe strict discipline, fight heroically, fear no sacrifice, work hard to improve my fighting ability, prepare for battle at all times, and under no circumstances will I ever betray the Military or the Motherland.” No Preparatory Announcement What was the significance of the announcement’s timing? The CCP had not hinted that this document was being drafted or that it would be published. Earlier CCP documents, such as the 2007 and the 2015 China Military Strategy White Papers, mention the MOOTW concept and its focus on “emergency rescue and disaster relief, counter-terrorism and stability maintenance, rights and interests protection, guard duty, international peacekeeping, and international humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR).” As reported by the Global Times, the rules will provide “a legal basis” for Chinese troops to carry out operations like “disaster relief, humanitarian aid, escort, and peacekeeping” and to “safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests.” The last item listed—“safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests”—is an addition to previous MOOTW definitions and is key to understanding the significance of the new rules. Three Warfares In June 1989, toward the end of the demonstrations for more freedoms in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the CCP tasked the PLA and police to clear the square and disperse the crowds. In doing so, the PLA murdered thousands of unarmed protesters. Other protesters across China were also murdered and injured. China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers march near the entrance to the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, on May 22, 2020. (NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images) The CCP does not want a repeat of the Tiananmen Square disaster that it denies happened. It wants to control any future “narrative,” as it does today with the Tiananmen Square massacre. The PLA’s Three Warfares guide the MOOTW rules for controlling the media (media warfare), perceptions (psychological warfare), and legal challenges to its actions (legal warfare—lawfare). For example, according to a report by Edwin S. Cochran, the PLA organizations responsible for media, legal, and psychological warfares include the “Central Military Commission (particularly the Joint Staff Branch and its Intelligence Bureau, the Political Work Division Liaison Branch, and the Office for International Military Cooperation), the Strategic Support Force, and PLA-controlled media enterprises.” These organizations would create the narrative most favorable to the PLA operations and would counter criticism of its operations. The regulations will delineate the roles and responsibilities of each during MOOTW events. Connection to Tiananmen Square Massacre The announcement of the new MOOTW rules, close to the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, was certainly on the minds of many who read about the new regulations when they were published, almost a week after the anniversary. The CCP would not have published the MOOTW rules before the Tiananmen Square massacre anniversary; even Chinese netizens would have made the connection to Tiananmen Square. By announcing the MOOTW rules a week after the anniversary, the CCP diminished criticism that these rules apply to the Tiananmen Square anniversary. Reverberations of the Tiananmen Square massacre calamity persist, despite the CCP’s attempts to suppress mention of it. For example, as of 2017, over 170 phrases (mostly related to Tiananmen) were forbidden on WeChat, China’s version of Twitter. Free speech and free thought are restricted in CCP-controlled China. For example, in 2017, the CCP’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT) announced 45 directives for all media in China. Thirteen of those directives “cover terminology restrictions

From Tiananmen to Taiwan and the South China Sea: China Updates Its Rules of Engagement

Commentary

Several news outlets announced on June 13 that Chinese leader Xi Jinping had signed an order to implement rules on military operations other than war (MOOTW), consisting of 59 articles in six chapters.

Xi is also the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC).

These new rules, implemented on June 15, are designed to “standardize, and provide the legal basis for Chinese troops to carry out missions like disaster relief, humanitarian aid, escort, and peacekeeping, and safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests,” according to Chinese state-run media Global Times.

In other words, the new rules provide the legal framework for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to operate domestically and in other non-wartime frameworks supporting the CCP. The PLA’s oath inculcates subservience of the military to the CCP:

“I am a member of the People’s Liberation Army. I promise that I will follow the leadership of the Communist Party of China, serve the people wholeheartedly, obey orders, observe strict discipline, fight heroically, fear no sacrifice, work hard to improve my fighting ability, prepare for battle at all times, and under no circumstances will I ever betray the Military or the Motherland.”

No Preparatory Announcement

What was the significance of the announcement’s timing?

The CCP had not hinted that this document was being drafted or that it would be published. Earlier CCP documents, such as the 2007 and the 2015 China Military Strategy White Papers, mention the MOOTW concept and its focus on “emergency rescue and disaster relief, counter-terrorism and stability maintenance, rights and interests protection, guard duty, international peacekeeping, and international humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR).”

As reported by the Global Times, the rules will provide “a legal basis” for Chinese troops to carry out operations like “disaster relief, humanitarian aid, escort, and peacekeeping” and to “safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests.”

The last item listed—“safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests”—is an addition to previous MOOTW definitions and is key to understanding the significance of the new rules.

Three Warfares

In June 1989, toward the end of the demonstrations for more freedoms in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the CCP tasked the PLA and police to clear the square and disperse the crowds. In doing so, the PLA murdered thousands of unarmed protesters. Other protesters across China were also murdered and injured.

china PLA
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers march near the entrance to the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, on May 22, 2020. (NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images)

The CCP does not want a repeat of the Tiananmen Square disaster that it denies happened. It wants to control any future “narrative,” as it does today with the Tiananmen Square massacre. The PLA’s Three Warfares guide the MOOTW rules for controlling the media (media warfare), perceptions (psychological warfare), and legal challenges to its actions (legal warfare—lawfare).

For example, according to a report by Edwin S. Cochran, the PLA organizations responsible for media, legal, and psychological warfares include the “Central Military Commission (particularly the Joint Staff Branch and its Intelligence Bureau, the Political Work Division Liaison Branch, and the Office for International Military Cooperation), the Strategic Support Force, and PLA-controlled media enterprises.”

These organizations would create the narrative most favorable to the PLA operations and would counter criticism of its operations. The regulations will delineate the roles and responsibilities of each during MOOTW events.

Connection to Tiananmen Square Massacre

The announcement of the new MOOTW rules, close to the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, was certainly on the minds of many who read about the new regulations when they were published, almost a week after the anniversary.

The CCP would not have published the MOOTW rules before the Tiananmen Square massacre anniversary; even Chinese netizens would have made the connection to Tiananmen Square. By announcing the MOOTW rules a week after the anniversary, the CCP diminished criticism that these rules apply to the Tiananmen Square anniversary.

Reverberations of the Tiananmen Square massacre calamity persist, despite the CCP’s attempts to suppress mention of it. For example, as of 2017, over 170 phrases (mostly related to Tiananmen) were forbidden on WeChat, China’s version of Twitter.

Free speech and free thought are restricted in CCP-controlled China. For example, in 2017, the CCP’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT) announced 45 directives for all media in China. Thirteen of those directives “cover terminology restrictions for territory and sovereignty issues, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and Xinjiang, as well as the disputed Spratly and Senkaku Islands,” according to an article in The News Lens.

Listed below are SAPPRFT rules and examples of the banned phrases, as translated from Chinese state-run media Xinhua by The News Lens:

  • Taiwan should never be referred to as a country.
  • If references to Taiwan’s governmental system and other such institutions cannot be avoided, then quotation marks should be used, such as Taiwan’s “Legislative Yuan,” “Executive Yuan,” Taiwan’s “National Tsing Hua University,” “Palace Museum,” and other such names should be put in quotation marks.
  • Never use “President (or Vice-President) of the Republic of China” to refer to the leaders of Taiwan, even if the titles are put in quotation marks.
  • Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and China cannot be used together; for example, “China–Hong Kong,” “China–Macau,” and “China–Taiwan.” Use instead “the inland and Hong Kong,” “Mainland and Taiwan,” or “Beijing–Hong Kong,” “Shanghai–Hong Kong,” and “Minnan–Taiwan.”
  • “Taiwan Independence” should be put in quotation marks.
  • Do not refer to Taiwan as “Formosa.” If paraphrasing or quoting in a report, put it in quotations.
  • The “Nansha Islands” should not be referred to as the “Spratly Islands.”
  • Diaoyu Island should not be referred to as the “Senkaku Islands.”
  • It is forbidden to refer to Xinjiang as “East Turkestan.”
Epoch Times Photo
Thousands of participants take part in a memorial vigil to honor the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Victoria Park in Hong Kong, China, on June 4, 2020. (Sung Pi-lung/The Epoch Times)

What new list of forbidden terms related to Taiwan and the South China Sea will the CCP announce as part of its Three Warfares MOOTW campaign?

Use of Lethal Force

The new MOOTW regulations guide the PLA, police, and other security forces on using lethal force. The CCP has political officers in every PLA echelon. PLA squads and platoons (Party Small Group Leaders), companies (Political Instructors), battalions (Political Directors), brigades (Political Commissars), bases (Political Commissars), and above are co-commanded by CCP political officers.

These political officers will ensure the faithful execution of new MOOTW instructions. During kinetic operations (war) against Taiwan’s military, the political commissars will ensure that the CCP’s political objectives are implemented.

Taiwan and South China Sea Implications

Many Taiwan observers compared Xi’s use of “military operation” to Putin’s “special military operation.” They warned that the MOOTW guidelines apply to Taiwan and how the PLA would operate. These comparisons are accurate, but there is more to the story.

The phrase in the reported new rules (legal warfare) safeguarding “China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests” relates to Taiwan and its associated islands. It also applies to all regions the PLA has conquered or may conquer. More specifically, the South China Sea (SCS) is being conquered, and these new MOOTW rules will apply to foreign citizens and soldiers captured on the islands and in the SCS sea. The MOOTW rules will set procedures for military prisoners and the use of detention with Chinese communist characteristics.

According to the U.S. Army’s analysis of the PLA’s legal warfare (lawfare), the following summarizes how the PLA uses lawfare in the context of its operations:

“Legal Warfare refers to setting the legal conditions for victory—both domestically and internationally. … Legal Warfare seeks to unbalance potential opponents by using international or domestic laws to undermine their military operations, to seek legal validity for PLA operations worldwide, and to support Chinese interests through a valid legal framework. Legal Warfare has emerged with a particularly prominent role via the various Chinese political maneuverings in the Western Pacific, particularly those areas surrounding international waterways, disputed land masses, and economic rights of way. … It guides how the PLA trains to treat prisoners of war, detainees, and civilians, and how it abides by international legal conventions, codes, and laws.” (Chinese Tactics, Army Techniques Publication, 7-100.3, Aug. 9, 2021.)

Epoch Times Photo
A J-15 fighter jet lands on China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier during a drill at sea on April 24, 2018. (AFP via Getty Images)

The new MOOTW regulations will not follow the long legal tradition of the Geneva Conventions that protect military personnel captured during wartime by using the excuse that Chinese forces are conducting MOOTW and liberating their own territory. This stance enables the CCP to use legal warfare to enhance its operational capabilities while restricting its adversaries’ freedom of movement.

The CCP will not follow the international humanitarian laws of war and the treatment of prisoners of war (POWs) when dealing with Taiwan and the SCS because the CCP will claim that it is involved in a non-international armed conflict, where captured enemy fighters are not given POW status and can be subject to “prosecution of captured rebel fighters for the mere fact of having taken up arms,” according to the Third Geneva Convention.

Taiwanese citizens and military personnel will be categorized differently than citizens and military personnel of the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia since the CCP does not recognize Taiwanese citizenship.

Another area of interest is the treatment of property rights of people who live on the captured islands, as well as their rights at sea. Will civilian property in Taiwan be respected or appropriated, as the CCP has done to China’s wealthy and political elite? Will the CCP return civilian ships to their owners, or will the ships be expropriated based on the new MOOTW regulations?

The CCP and the PLA intend to ignore the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as they did in 2016 in response to The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that the CCP had no right or claim to the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone or any other part of the CCP’s SCS sovereignty claim, including the so-called nine-dash line.

China and the Philippines both signed and ratified UNCLOS. Yet the CCP chose to ignore and deny the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s authority. The MOOTW rules will reinforce this position, whether it refers to Taiwan or the SCS. The CCP’s nine-dash line claim includes Taiwan, which was another reason for the CCP to ignore the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision.

Conclusion

In addition to affecting Taiwan, the South China Sea, and the Senkaku Islands, the CCP’s new MOOTW regulations apply to territories taken by the CCP, such as Tibet, East Turkestan (Xinjiang), Hong Kong, and Macau. The MOOTW regulations also apply to internal actions in support of security operations, such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and COVID-19 demonstrations when PLA personnel were deployed to cities to enforce lockdowns.

Every effort should be taken to expose the MOOTW regulations so that the people affected, especially the Taiwanese and the SCS countries’ populations, understand how they will be treated. Those countries that oppose totalitarian states expanding their borders and their oppression should also be prepared to counter the CCP’s use of psychological, media, and legal warfares.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


Follow

Guermantes Lailari is a retired USAF Foreign Area Officer specializing in the Middle East and Europe as well as counterterrorism, irregular warfare, and missile defense. He has studied, worked, and served in the Middle East and North Africa for over 14 years and similarly in Europe for six years. He was a U.S. Air Force Attaché in the Middle East, served in Iraq and holds advanced degrees in International Relations and Strategic Intelligence. He researches authoritarian and totalitarian regimes that threaten democracies. He will be a Taiwan Fellow in Taipei during 2022.