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How to stop China winning without war

A review of 'Political Warfare: Strategies for Combating China’s Plan to 'Win Without Fighting'' by Kerry K. Gershaneck

How to stop China winning without war

Many of the strongest American voices warning about the threats the People’s Republic of China (PRC) pose to the world are current and former U.S. military officers.

They have also been among the most stalwart supporters of Taiwan. Many years of military exposure to the very real dangers Taiwan, the United States, and other countries face from the PRC’s increasingly aggressive behavior sharpens minds and instills strong concerns.

A prime example is Kerry K. Gershaneck, a former Marine officer who has worked for the past three years as a visiting professor (Taiwan Fellow) at National Chengchi University. Gershaneck is a friend of mine and has written an important book, "Political Warfare: Strategies for Combating China’s Plan to 'Win Without Fighting.'" It is published by the Marine Corps University Press.

"Political Warfare" offers a carefully researched assessment of the PRC threat to win without war and the political strategies and tactics to do so. The book is based not only on open sources and interviews but also on Gershaneck’s 35 years of experience, in the military and as an academic, working on national intelligence, counterintelligence, and international relations, both in the U.S. and many countries overseas.

Recognize the threat

Perhaps the greatest challenge of PRC political warfare is that too few people recognize it for what it is. Gershaneck’s “Preface” relates his telling encounters with U.S. government officials and diplomats, both in the State and Defense Departments and in embassies abroad.

They failed to perceive any PRC threat, had no understanding of PRC political warfare, or regarded the PRC as a benign and friendly partner. In the 181 pages that follow, Gershaneck describes in detail PRC political warfare, its history, goals, and operations, as well as how “contemporary totalitarian Sino-fascism” threatens democracies insensitive to the danger.

Gershaneck explains how two years after U.S. diplomat George F. Kennan conceived his famous “containment” strategy in 1946 against the Soviet Union, he wrote another memorandum on “The Inauguration of Organized Political Warfare,” which would also prove prophetic.

Kennan wrote that the U.S. was handicapped “by a popular attachment to the concept of a basic difference between peace and war, by a tendency to view war as a sort of sporting context outside of all political context … and by a reluctance to recognize the realities of international relations — the perpetual rhythm of (struggle, in and out of war).”

Kennan defined political warfare as “the employment of all the means at a nation’s command, short of war, to achieve its national objectives. Such operations are both overt and covert.

"They range from such overt actions as political alliances, economic measures … and ‘white’ propaganda to such covert operations as clandestine support of ‘friendly’ foreign elements, ‘black’ psychological warfare, and even encouragement of underground resistance in hostile states.”

Gershaneck compiled some 28 terms currently in use such as “influence operations,” “soft power,” and “information warfare,” and found that all fall short of the term needed to describe the “all-encompassing, unrestricted warfare” that serves as a “critical component of PRC security strategy and foreign policy.”

Thailand and Taiwan

In chapters 5 through 8, Gershanek affords two chapters each to Thailand and Taiwan as prime examples of PRC political warfare. As someone who not only spent the past three years at National Chengchi University but also taught in Thailand for more than six years at Thammasat University, the Royal Thai Military Academy, and the Royal Thai Naval Academy, and served at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Professor Gershaneck clearly speaks with authority.

Gershaneck offers the best explanation I have ever seen for how the PRC worked to undermine the U.S. alliance with Thailand and make the American military presence there irrelevant.

Intimidation, detention, expulsion, and kidnapping of PRC critics; bribery, blackmail, and extortion; high-level visits, conferences, and spies; cyber-infiltration of social media and censorship; co-opting, manipulating, and owning the media, leading to the “Sinicization” of the news; as well as propaganda and psychological warfare in educational and cultural programs are among the elements of PRC political warfare Gershaneck identifies in Thailand.

Chapters 7 and 8 will be of the greatest interest to those of us who are Taiwanese or supporters of Taiwan. In Chapter 7, Gershaneck is especially good at retelling the salient aspects of Taiwan’s modern development, including the fact too little repeated: that Mao Zedong (毛泽东) “initially considered Taiwan a separate, occupied nation and supported the idea that Taiwan should be independent” after the war ended in 1945.

In Chapter 8 Gershaneck details the tools, tactics, techniques, and procedures the PRC employs to ensure Taiwan is finally absorbed into the PRC. United Front operations, diplomatic strangulation, economic warfare, the use of criminal gangs, support for new political parties, and military intimidation are familiar to most of us.

Nonetheless, as a professor also working in Taiwan, I was especially interested in Gershaneck’s assessment of “pan-red academics and university infiltration.” He writes, “Based on this author’s personal experiences with academic institutions in Taiwan and discussions with security officials and selected Taiwan-based academics, it is clear that Taiwan’s key universities have been co-opted to alarming degrees by academics who have effectively joined the PRC’s United Front.”

The book concludes with Gershaneck’s recommendations for combating the existential threat PRC political warfare represents for the U.S. and its allies and friends. Most important, we first need to recognize that the PRC is conducting political warfare against us, and we need national strategies and concrete measures to counter it.

Gershaneck has written an important book on a vital subject. Moreover, it is well-written and easy to read. I highly recommend it.

You may download the book for free in PDF format at Warfare_web.pdf or write to Marine Corps University Press Director Angela Anderso for the PDF file at

National Yang Ming University appointed William A. Stanton as vice president on Aug. 16, 2019. He previously served from August 2017 to July 2019 as a professor at the Center for General Education at National Taiwan University. Dr. Stanton previously worked for four years as the George K.C. Yeh Distinguished Chair Professor and founding director of the Center for Asia Policy at National Tsing Hua University (NTHU). From October 2014 through January 2016, he was also NTHU’s Senior Vice President for Global Affairs. Dr. Stanton previously served for 34 years as a U.S. diplomat. His final posting was as director of the American Institute in Taiwan (2009-2012).

Updated : 2022-01-29 22:37 GMT+08:00