Reshaping the Battlefield: The Security Implications of China’s Digital Rise

Reshaping the Battlefield
The Security Implications of China’s Digital Rise

by Greg Levesque
March 1, 2022

This chapter finds that China’s digital ambitions—particularly the use of commercial entities as part of its strategy to achieve those ambitions—present an imposing threat to the market norms, values, and prosperity that undergird the existing global system and its security.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

MAIN ARGUMENT

The threat posed by China’s digital strategy is especially acute because of the nature of technologies catalyzing the fourth industrial revolution, which are enabled by a mutually reinforcing and interactive “digital triad” of information and communications technology infrastructure, big data, and artificial intelligence. By allowing states at the forefront of this revolution to formulate more effective responses through greater access to information and rapid analysis of data, while also influencing the information environment of adversaries, this triad converts data into a competitive battlespace extending across boundaries, domains of state interaction (e.g., military and commercial), and the real and virtual worlds. China aims to be the first country to merge the components of the digital triad to not only drive economic development and commercial value but also enhance the competitiveness of its diplomatic, military, and intelligence operations. Successfully combining and managing these technologies could very well grant China global technological superpower status, accompanied by all the negative externalities of an authoritarian nation-state’s control over the international information system.

POLICY IMPLICATIONS
  • China’s digital strategy has the potential to undermine the ability of the U.S. and its allies to project diplomatic and military power in key regions around the world, as well as to reduce companies’ abilities to operate in those markets.
  • China’s emphasis on leveraging corporate players and competing in commercial domains constitutes a different approach from that seen in past nation-state competition and recasts the corporate domain as a nation-state battlespace. Traditional modes and mechanisms of international competition, like military deployments and actions in institutions of multilateral governance, are insufficient to address Beijing’s challenge, and new tools must be developed.

Greg Levesque is Co-founder and CEO of Strider Technologies. He is a leading expert on economic statecraft, working with Fortune 500 companies and government agencies in North America and Europe to identify, assess, and respond to security risks from nation-state sponsored commercial activity. He has working proficiency in Mandarin Chinese.