Xi Jinping, at the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on October 16, fixed that more rapidly raising the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to a world-class army is a strategic requirement for building a modern socialist country in all respects. At the 19th Party Congress five years ago, Xi insisted that China would build a world-class army by the middle of this century; this time he did not mention a definite deadline but made it clear that he would achieve the goal more quickly.
How is Xi trying to speed up building a world-class military? The PLA seeks to capitalize on the introduction of advanced technology, with a particular focus on the use of unmanned weapons and artificial intelligence. In this report, Xi Jinping mentioned the word “intelligent” (智能化) three times. The concept of “smart”, which refers to the use of weapon systems based on artificial intelligence, has rapidly gained attention since the release of the 2019 National Defense White Paper.
Xi said at this year’s congress that China will adhere to the PLA’s integrated development through mechanization, computerization and intelligence. These words indicate that the intelligence concept, which has developed rapidly since 2019, has been accepted into China’s national defense policy and the national leadership has expressed willingness to promote it. At the 19th Party Congress in 2017, Xi said that by 2020, the PLA will basically achieve mechanization, make great progress in informatization, and greatly improve strategic capabilities. At this year’s congress, intelligence was added to this list. In addition, the PLA has been actively discussing the relationship between mechanization, informatization, and intelligence recently, and has established the concept of “three izations” (三化) in which they should not be achieved in stages, but rather be carried out. carried out simultaneously and in parallel.
During the Mao Zedong era, China invested a lot of money in building nuclear forces, and the development of conventional forces was greatly delayed. Deng Xiaoping changed this and began to build a modern army equipped with conventional weapons. During the Jiang Zemin era, the PLA, shocked by the fighting style of the US military, which made full use of precision-guided weapons in the Gulf War, promoted “high-tech” military development. “. Under Hu Jintao, the PLA, impressed by the way the US military fought the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, moved forward with “informatization.” In Xi Jinping’s first and second terms, the PLA also promoted computerization.
The fact that China is simultaneously advancing mechanization, computerization, and intelligence suggests that despite these decades of reform, parts of China’s massive military are still not mechanized. However, in past military history, the presence of outdated forces in an innovative development process is not necessarily an obstacle. In 1940, Germany defeated France in just 42 days in blitzkrieg, using tanks. At the time, only a small percentage of the German Army was mechanized, and the majority of the German Army was still an old-fashioned force that relied on horse and foot soldiers. This goes to show that even when only a small percentage of an army has the most advanced equipment of its time, it can still be innovative in the fight.
For this reason, the greatest attention should be paid to the progress of the intelligentization of the PLA. This includes the introduction of artificial intelligence in the PLA and the development of new strategies that make use of it.
Xi said the PLA will study and well understand the characteristics of computerized and intelligent warfare and the laws governing it, provide new military strategic guidance, and develop strategies and tactics for people’s war. To achieve these goals, Xi said: “We will establish a strong system of strategic deterrence, increase the proportion of forces from new domains with new combat capabilities, accelerate the development of unmanned intelligent combat capabilities, and promote the coordinated development and application of the network information system.”
The strategy and tactics of people’s war, which Xi referred to, means fighting not just with the military but with the full power of the nation. This implies that computerization and intelligentization will not only be achieved by the military, but will mobilize all of China’s assets and scientific and technological development. Furthermore, people’s war is the traditional idea of asymmetric warfare since Mao Zedong’s time. However, China’s future asymmetric warfare will not be the guerrilla warfare of the past, but will use artificial intelligence.
The documents that have been released so far by senior PLA officials and strategists show that the PLA is trying to use artificial intelligence in four main areas. One is the autonomy of unmanned weapons, including the development of swarms of numerous drones. China aims to conduct highly autonomous integrated operations with a variety of unmanned systems and unmanned weapons.
The second is the processing of large amounts of information through machine learning. For example, the PLA is building a network of unmanned weapons and underwater sensors in the waters surrounding China and is attempting to process the information obtained from this network using artificial intelligence. Also, the PLA is considering a new form of electronic warfare that uses artificial intelligence to analyze received radio waves and optimize jamming.
The third is the use of artificial intelligence to speed up military decision making. In the United States, studies point that the use of artificial intelligence for decision making, such as those related to nuclear strategy, has increased the risk of “blitzkrieg wars”, in which conflicts escalate instantly. In China there are also debate on the extent to which decision-making should be entrusted to artificial intelligence in light of these dangers. For now, therefore, instead of delegating complex decision-making to AI, China is likely to use AI for simple tasks like information processing and autonomous weapons.
These three are common arguments in favor of new ways of fighting using artificial intelligence in the United States, such as “mosaic war” Y “decision-focused warfare.” The only argument in China is the idea of using artificial intelligence in cognitive warfare.
Cognitive warfare influences the cognition of the human brain and the will of the opponent to create a strategically favorable environment or subdue the opponent without fighting. In China, there is an active debate about cognitive warfare. For example, Qi Jianguo, a former PLA deputy chief of staff, has fixed that those who gain the upper hand in the development of next-generation artificial intelligence technologies will be able to control the underpinning of national security: human cognition.
The PLA has not stated how it intends to use artificial intelligence to control human cognition. One medium would be deepfakes, which are videos, images, and audio that have been altered or generated using artificial intelligence. There are concern that China could use artificial intelligence, such as language generation, to create social media content that could be used to manipulate public opinion in Taiwan or to try to discredit the US attempt to support Taiwan.
Building a world-class military implies a military that is comparable to the US military. Of the three aspects of mechanization, computerization, and intelligence, the PLA lags behind the US forces in mechanization and computerization at the moment. However, if the PLA acquires intelligence, even on a small portion of the PLA, as the German Army demonstrated in 1940, the PLA can catch up with the US Army.
Therefore, China is trying to find a way to capitalize on cutting-edge technology. In this sense, the extensive US restrictions on semiconductors will deal a heavy blow to the development of artificial intelligence and the intelligentization of the PLA in China. If technological development suffers, building a world-class army may fail.