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[Bookmark] ‘Political Warfare, Strategies for Combating China's Plan to 'Win without Fighting'' by Kerry K. Gershaneck

Penetration of Japan is deeper and higher up than many believe. It is also easier. Chinese are able to blend into the population in Japan and other Asian countries.



~ Let’s hope that if a Biden administration indeed comes into power, that everyone in it will be required to read Gershaneck’s book. In fact, they should start now. ~

The Battle Begins with Ourselves

Kerry K. Gershaneck’s book about Communist China’s efforts over the past seven decades to Political Warfare, Strategies for Combating China's Plan to Win without Fighting   as a whole will go down as a classic on texts about political warfare and how to combat it holistically. 

For readers who do not know what political warfare is, think of it as the use of all forms of pressure—political, economic, diplomatic, cultural, intelligence, military, and paramilitary—that one country exerts on another to do what it wants it to do short of actual prolonged fighting or combat. 

As Gershaneck makes clear, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses political warfare 24 hours a day, seven days a week, against every country, especially Japan and the United States, and even against its own people in order to protect its status domestically and promote by whatever means necessary China’s view of its place in the world internationally.

China has both the financial resources and the manpower to engage in political warfare on a global scale the likes of which some people are just now beginning to appreciate. It also clearly has the will. By some estimates, China could employ over 10 million people in its global propaganda and media influence efforts. This may sound excessive, but it is actually a conservative estimate.

The success of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)‘s political warfare can be seen in its ability now to block criticism in the United Nations of its human rights policies, its aggressive voice in its new Wolf Warrior diplomacy, its expansion of the Belt and Road Initiative, its ability to keep Taiwan out of international organizations, including the World Health Organization, and its cover-up of the origins of the Wuhan virus—all the while promoting to the world its own miraculous “success” in containing the virus and quickly rebuilding its economy.

The most insidious aspect of political warfare is that it is an invisible enemy, co-opting and influencing the opinions, thought, and ultimately the policies and direction of an organization or even a country. 

Of course, it is not a new phenomenon. But its ability to mobilize people, resources, and technologies on the current scale is.

The ideological battle during the Cold War between Communism/Totalitarianism and Freedom/Democracy is the ultimate example of political warfare. Gershaneck, appropriately identifies George Kennan as one of the few American voices warning against the threat presented by the Soviet Union in the early postwar years, and as the main who developed U.S. responses, in particular, the April 1948 report, “The Inauguration of Organized Political Warfare.”


Of course, this was before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, but it was just a matter of time before that would happen, as the Civil War on the Chinese mainland worsened. It was also before the official founding of North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), which happened in September 1948. 

As the first director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, Kennan had just returned from Japan, and was very concerned about the economic situation, radicalization of the labor unions and political climate, and internal security of that defeated and occupied country. He felt that Japan was ours to lose if the United States got its occupation policies wrong. 

Of course, there was an external threat to Japan, but the real one was internal. If Japan (and other countries) were not domestically resilient, they would be vulnerable to Communist infiltration and other forms of political warfare. 

The same is true today. Japan, the United States, and other countries are highly vulnerable to political warfare, especially from a China that is seeking to avoid the same fate that its Communist big brother, the former Soviet Union, met.

Relationships with Lifelong Impact

Before I continue, in the interest of full disclosure (something not practiced in Communist China), I should acknowledge my relationship with both men. Kennan, the great diplomat and historian, whom I came to know toward the remaining years of his life through his help with my doctoral dissertation in the context of his views of and trip to Japan, is also my son’s namesake. 

Professor Gershaneck, on the other hand, is one of my main mentors from my time in government service with the U.S. Marine Corps. I was fortunate to have had quite a few mentors in that agile and intellectually minded organization, most of whom understand the issues Gershaneck addresses, but none as well as he. With his 35 years of government and military experience, most of it spent in Asia, it is not an exaggeration to say that he is the premier American expert on information operations in the region.

Not only was he a mentor, but he was the reason for me to have become involved with the Marine Corps in the first place. We first met exactly 20 years ago at the U.S. Embassy for a meeting I was asked to attend with the then-commanding general of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific. Lieutenant General Frank Libutti was occupied at a meeting at the Japan Defense Agency or Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and instead I sat down with about a dozen Marine officers, including Gershaneck, who had recently retired but was serving as a senior member of the civil service on the staff. 

The exchange was eye-opening. Until then, many of my interactions as an academic and specialist on U.S.-Japan relations with the military and government officials tended to be limited by a repetition of prepared answers or speaking points. Gershaneck was different. He challenged you, your questions, your premises, your arguments, everything.

He has not stopped. 

We went at it, but I came away with a high respect for him and his colleagues and eventually moved twice—once to Hawaii and once to Okinawa—to work with the Marines in a full time capacity. Gershaneck was specifically involved in facilitating the first move and coached me during the second.


With this said, I would write this book review whether I knew him or not. The book is that good. It is also that important. 

Kerry Kershaneck, Author, Win without Fighting
Kerry K. Gershaneck, Author, Win without Fighting

Chinese Influence in Japan

Thirteen years after I met Gershaneck at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, I was escorting a 3-star Marine Corps general as his political adviser to meet with the country team. I asked them about their estimates of Chinese influence in Japan. They denied there was any. 

I felt the same frustration and outrage Gershaneck describes in his book about the inability or unwillingness of those in the United States or working for its government, military, and businesses abroad, to recognize the PRC threat. Indeed, Gershaneck stated that he has “observed firsthand...that many U.S. government officials and bureaucrats cannot recognize political warfare at all” (p. xiii). The above experience was a case in point. But it was not the only one.

Penetration of Japan is deeper and higher up than many believe. It is also easier.

Chinese are able to blend in easier in Japan and other Asian countries. As I was writing this, I was joined at a dinner by a Chinese couple living in Japan who established their own real estate business here. They were with a Japanese acquaintance, and if I had not received their business cards or been addressed by them, I would not have known they were Chinese. The husband even used a Japanese version of his name for business, even though he was only somewhat fluent in the language.

But the activities are sometimes much more open. I was stunned, for example, to observe at an event at a hotel near the Prime Minister’s Office how Chinese embassy officials freely moved around the reception, which included a former and then-current foreign minister, and other Cabinet ministers. There was no one tracking them or their movements. 

Partway through they engaged me (the only Caucasian, if I remember correctly), in conversation and argued with me about the Senkakus, which they insisted belonged to China. It would be one thing if the conversation took place in China, or at the Chinese Embassy, but it took place right in the heart of a function being carried out at an institution closely linked to the Government of Japan, in plain sight of the foreign minister. I later wrote to him to let him know of the conversation and express my outrage but did not hear back from him.

This got me to wonder to myself if he was one of the “honey-trapped” politicians so often quietly spoken of in Japan, which also includes government and association officials, academics, and business leaders? We may never know. 

This tactic, as well as plying politicians and officials with money or putting them in other compromising situations, is something regularly employed by China. A few weeks ago, a well-known Japanese professor and commentator told me of a similar attempt against him when he visited one of China’s academies. One conservative female politician told me earlier this month that more than half of her male colleagues in the Diet had been honey-trapped, resulting in notable changes in their stances vis-à-vis China from hard to soft. (No pun intended.) 

Interestingly, the Director of National Intelligence for the United States, John Ratcliffe, has recently commented that he suspects that the number of such “honey-trapped” politicians and influential leaders in the United States to exceed 1000. I would bet it is more, or those implicated in other ways, and I am sure Gershaneck would likely agree.

This means that politicians are held to lower standards than government and military officials, particularly those with security clearances, who would be expected to self-report with any misbehavior. One individual in particular that we discussed whom she believes to be compromised is currently a minister in the Yoshihide Suga Cabinet, retained from the Shinzō Abe administration. Not only are these politicians involved in making laws, but in some cases seeing to their implementation as minister, vice minister, or parliamentary vice minister in the cabinet. Their appointment implies they have been vetted, but that is certainly not the case.


Framework for a Deeper Look

Gershaneck’s book does not discuss Japan, instead focusing on China’s political warfare against Thailand and Taiwan, both U.S. allies and important to Japan too. I hope Gershaneck eventually expands the study into looking at other countries, such as Japan (especially Okinawa), the Philippines, the Pacific Islands nations, Australia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, etc. 

Unfortunately, there are many countries to consider. His book provides the framework, and the model. It is up to like minded scholars and officials to follow-up, with the same detail to citations that Gershaneck provides.

Not only could the book become the first in a series, but it could also form the basis of a new journal, perhaps called the “Journal of Current Chinese Political Warfare.” Such a quarterly or twice-yearly journal for practitioners and academics alike, would allow everyone to share information and/or network to consider and combat the problem. 

Political Warfare is comprised of 9 detailed and painstakingly researched chapters as well as a foreword, preface, and appendix, providing the curriculum for a basic five-day counter-PRC Political Warfare Course. As this is a highly complex subject, I would anticipate the need and ultimate development of an entire curriculum of courses and programs in the future.

Chapter 1 provides an Introduction to PRC Political Warfare. Chapter 2 discusses Terms and Definitions, Chapter 3 a Brief History of PRC Political Warfare, Chapter 4 covers PRC Political Warfare Goals, ways, means, and wartime support, Chapters 5-6, An Overview and Contemporary Analysis of PRC Political Warfare against Thailand, Chapter 7-8, a similar discussion in the context of Taiwan, and Chapter 9 the Conclusions and Recommendations. 

It is heavy reading, but is well written, and easy to understand if the reader is willing to open his or her eyes to what is going on, even if as the book notes, someーsuch as then-Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan A. Thornton as late as 2018ーdeny seeing “any evidence” (p. xiv) of overt PRC influence operations in the United States. 

Some of these denials are based on ignorance, while others on hubris. Some are more nefarious, including careerism: “Savvy young foreign service officers take their cues from senior diplomats on how to succeed in the State Department’s corporate culture. Those who learn quickly to withhold concerns about the PRC are generally promoted to more senior positions” (p. xvi). 

But, as Gershaneck acknowledges, this sort of mentality is found across the board in all walks of life, in the United States and other countries.

Repeated Lies the West Yearned to Hear

This concern was echoed by one Chinese-born Japanese scholar recently when he told an audience (in which I was in attendance) that the PRC has told two major lies throughout the past decades to the United States and Japan. 

To Americans, the PRC has said, “We just need to get wealthier, with a strong middle class, and then we can become democratic.” To Japanese, the PRC says it seeks “Sino-Japanese friendship” and that “with such friendship, any difficult situation can be overcome.” 


Both Americans and Japanese are beginning to wake up to this, thanks largely to President Donald J. Trump’s nonstop efforts to expose the CCP’s behavior. One fears that if a Joe Biden administration comes into office, he will turn back the clock as someone with close ties to China’s leader Xi Jinping, including suspect ones.

Let’s hope that if a Biden administration indeed comes into power, that everyone in it will be required to read Gershaneck’s book. In fact, they should start now.

Being aware of the problem and not acting on it is worse than not being aware of something in the first place. But it is very important to become aware of it in order to be able to expose it and fight it. A more awoken American public will allow it to be able to exercise more pressure on its elected representatives.

Gershaneck has done the United States and its friends and allies a huge favor. It is up to the leadership of the respective institutions of those countries to act on the problem and the recommendations within this book.


Title: Political Warfare, Strategies for Combating China's Plan to Win without Fighting 

Author: Professor Kerry K. Gershaneck

Publisher: Marine Corps University Press

How to Find: A PDF version of this book is available at no cost on the publisher’s website.

Review by: Dr. Robert Eldridge


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