I was a guest on Azam Khan’s program “Talk the Walk” on HKIBC, a Hong Kong business channel.
1. You’ve researched and published extensively on “hybrid warfare” and its deployment for colour revolutions. Can you briefly explain the term hybrid warfare?
Colour revolutions are an example of hybrid warfare that weaponises mass protests. The success of a colour revolution does not depend on whether the majority of the population supports the protests, it is enough for the organizers to gather a critical mass of people whose activities pose a security risk or a direct challenge to the government. When this critical mass provokes a repressive reaction from the authorities, protest organizers try to occupy the moral high-ground: they point out the “authoritarian, violent nature” of the ruling government and present their own violent tactics as “self-defense”.
As a rule, organizers receive help from foreign or foreign-linked entities, set up communication networks and news outlets before the start of a colour revolution because they need to reach as many people as possible and influence them ideologically. They also set up smaller, medium security, online groups to radicalize those they have already influenced. High-security online groups that rely on more sophisticated digital tools are used to coordinate subversive activities. They use all available techniques of propaganda and public relations, all social media platforms, and are invariably cheered on by Western media and governments. A color revolution is a well-designed and planned operation with clear and very focused messages, it’s not spontaneous. Of course, the vast majority of activists are not aware they are being used as a pawn by a foreign entity.
So, to go back to hybrid warfare, it is not something new: unconvential, non-military methods to gain an advantage over an adversary have been used for a long time, even in ancient times. What is new is the capability to synchronize operations on a global scale. In a hybrid conflict any instrument of national power can be used as a weapon. It’s a multi-domain warfare, battles can be fought at a diplomatic and legal level, in the information sphere, we talk about economic and financial wars, sanctions, psychological operations, terrorism, sabotage and cyber attacks, even human rights and foreign aid have been weaponised.
Hybrid warfare is designed to remain below the threshold of a conventional military conflict but it can escalate to include the military, usually a proxy army. Its aim is to achieve war-like objectives without formally declaring war, keeping up the pretense of peace.
In a hybrid conflict countries with the ability to weaponise and synchronize instruments of soft power have a clear advantage and that’s why hybrid warfare is enshrined in US and NATO’s doctrine. NATO has even included cognitive warfare in that doctrine, turning the human mind into a battlefield. The aim is to change not only WHAT people think, but HOW they think and act, the ultimate goal is to paralyze their ability to think logically and rationally: once you are driven by emotions only, you are more likely to act against your self-interest or even self-preservation.
Hybrid warfare blurs the lines between war and peace, military and civilian, domestic and foreign, public and private, physical and digital. The information-industrial complex is supporting the military-industrial complex in both a defensive and an offensive role. That’s why the control of this highly integrated complex is vital for the US.
2. The Hong Kong government and many non-western mainstream voices have highlighted the seeds of color revolution that was attempted in Hong Kong during the protest — was the national security law something that largely focused on helping to weed out agents who disrupt sovereignty?
The US-NED started funding anti-China parties and organizations long before HK was returned to China. When in 2003 the Hong Kong administration wanted to introduce article 23 of the Basic Law they manufactured an opposition movement against this bill. People were led to believe that implementing this article of law would have eroded Hong Kong freedoms and installed a totalitarian regime. Nevermind that all the countries they held as a paragon of freedom and democracy had very similar laws to protect their sovereignty. Failing to pass a national security law 20 years ago exposed HK to the security risks we all know. If article 23 had been introduced foreign forces couldn’t have orchestrated the 2014 Occupy Central protest that paralyzed the city for over 2 months and there would have been no riots, casualties and destruction in 2019–20. Finally the National Security Law was implemented in 2020 and Hong Kong has since closed the door to foreign interference.
3. The use of NGOs have always been at play, anywhere in the world, and its something all countries are aware of from their own perspective — India, US they all have a list of bans on foreign NGO’s they deem a threat — so why then did HK receive specific media scrutiny for its blacklisting on certain NGO’s like the NED?
NGOs have long been weaponised as tools of hybrid warfare in many countries. In the past the Hong Kong administration didn’t effectively regulate their activities because it had no legal framework to do so. Without a national security law it was difficult to prevent these biased NGOs from operating in the territory. Up until 2020 collusion with foreign forces was still legal and Western-funded NGOs could act as a conduit for political and ideological influence. NGOs have been used by foreign powers for smear campaigns that target and undermine the reputation of governments, politicians, and other public figures, last but not least, some of their members are sent to sensitive areas to gather intelligence. The list of countries that have banned weaponised NGOs is growing and more and more governments are realizing the detrimental effect these organizations have on their societies.
4. The Ukraine conflict obviously stems back many years, a longstanding battle between NATO and Russia — but now with China playing a key role in world affairs and trying to mediate — can you talk about the delicate balancing act China has to strike in approaching this?
The conflict in Ukraine is a US proxy war, the evolution of a long-running hybrid war that featured two colour revolutions that led to regime change and civil war. The main goal was to separate Ukraine from Russia, its largest economic partner and tear it away from the Russian world. Ukraine’s history is very much entertwined with Russian history, a shared history that pre-dates the USSR. The US and its vassals in the EU tried to erase memory and traces of that common history in order to pull Ukraine into the West’s sphere of influence. The aim was to turn it into a springboard for hostile operations against Russia. Ukraine’s history was rewritten, neoliberal prescriptions destroyed its economic and social fabric and led to a neocolonial form of governance. As far as the US is concerned, Russia should have followed the same fate.
NATO expansion undermined the security architecture that had been established after WW2 and had guaranteed a semblance of peace in Europe up until the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Ukraine isn’t really a sovereign state, its leaders were handpicked by the US, all important decisions are made in Washington. Remember when a Chinese company bought a majority stake in the engine maker Motor Sich, but these shares were frozen in 2017? Washington wanted the deal scrapped and to do so froze a multi-million dollar military aid programme for Ukraine and threatened to impose sanctions against Motor Sich. Ukraine obeyed and scrapped the deal. It is clear that Ukraine had lost its sovereignty long before Russian troops crossed its borders. It has long been held hostage to US interests. But Western media wouldn’t acknowledge the US capture of Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries because the US achieved this geopolitical objective using instruments of hybrid warfare. There are many ways to invade and occupy a country while maintaining plausible deniability.
China with its 12-point peace plan for Ukraine is playing a constructive role, all genuine efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict must be encouraged.
I am sure China knows very well who instigated this conflict because it is also being targeted by US provocations and hybrid warfare. For months before the break out of military hostilities in February 2022 Russia had demanded security guarantees, such as Ukraine’s neutrality, the promise not to expand NATO, the cessation of attacks against the population of Donbass, the protection of the rights of the Russophone population in a country that had banned Russian-language media and the teaching of Russian in its schools, autonomy for the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. It is obvious that the US and NATO had long been prepping Ukraine to fight this proxy war.
Wars in somebody else’s backyard are good for the US military-industrial complex and its “divide and rule” strategy, but they are extremely damaging for China, a country whose economic strength was built on global trade and global investments. So, understandably China works to build peace and its initiative is supported by all countries that have retained a modicum of sovereignty and strategic autonomy from the US.
5. China is also fresh off making a major headway in brokering initial peace between Iran and Saudi Arabia — something many would’ve thought unimaginable — can you talk about the importance of China’s growing economic and diplomatic bond with the Gulf and how that adds to China’s diplomatic weight?
West Asia, also known as the Middle East, sits as the cross-roads of Europe, Asia and Africa. For thousands of years it has been vital to trade routes and transport. Today, it sits at the heart of the global economy. Millions of people and billions of tons of freight move through this region. It’s a key node of global trade and also one of the main oil and gas producing regions. The US tried to grab its natural resources through the age old “divide and rule” strategy, the result was decades of wars, regime change and chaos in the region. Peaceful relations among the two main regional powers will be a driver of future development and have a direct, positive impact on the livelihoods of millions of people. The resumption of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia is also a prerequisite for the cessation of hostilities in Yemen. Syria too is going to benefit as Saudi Arabia plans to invite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the Arab League summit in Riyadh on May 19.
Both Iran and Saudi Arabia will soon become members of the expanded BRICS bloc and join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) the political and security union of Eurasian states. What is happening in West Asia is really a game changer because it sets a very positive example for other nations. China rejects zero sum games and encourages peaceful relations between countries because it’s confident that mutual respect, dialogue and cooperation lead to economic, social and cultural progress. And ultimately everybody benefits from it. Everybody, minus weapon manufacturers.
6. By driving a wedge between Russia and EU, the US has seen an acceleration of other regional blocs consolidating, particularly among the global south — BRICS and SCO to name a few — and a multipolar world is something President Xi has emphasized a lot — can you talk about how you see the world moving more toward a multipolar world?
The US isn’t happy about Beijing’s diplomatic success. China won friends in the region by building bridges rather than destroying them. The bridge is a fitting metaphor for connectivity and mutual understanding. The US has sown chaos and division, inspired and funded Islamic terrorists in order to have an excuse to invade countries under the guise of waging a War on Terror, it imposed sanctions to bring countries to their knees and plunged millions of people into poverty, it keeps ramming its liberal ideology down everyone’s throat and has shown little respect for local cultures.
The growing influence of the BRICS+ bloc has shaken the White House, US diplomats have been touring the world on a campaign to bully countries from Africa, Asia and Latin America to support Western-led sanctions on Russia. But the reaction has been mixed, as many countries have been subjected to US bullying before and are understandably tired of it. Many countries also fear that the same sanctions regimes may be used against them in the future and want to hedge their bets.
The BRICS+ countries are working on a common currency to replace the US dollar in their trade, and the dollar is already being gradually phased out in favour of trade in national currencies such as the yuan, ruble, rupee and real.
The BRICS+ bloc and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization offer a counterweight to Western hegemony and that’s why the list of countries that want to join is growing so rapidly. What we are witnessing is the birth of a multipolar order and the decline of the unipolar disorder. Whether the inevitable transition will be peaceful or not…well, that depends on the US.
7. With the EU chief von Leyer recently in China along with Macron, can you talk about how the relationship between China and the EU will play the balancing act of its relationship with the US/NATO, but also build its relationship with China?
Well, earlier German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez had managed to visit Beijing without Ursula Von der Leyen in tow. Macron wasn’t as lucky. She tagged along, some say to spoil the party, lest Macron became too friendly to China. Whatever the truth is, her ideological stance was at odds with Macron’s approach, which was more business-oriented and pragmatic. If Von der Leyen intended to present the EU as a united front, she achieved the opposite result. Europe’s schizophrenia vis-a-vis China was in full display. Western European countries, especially export-oriented manufacturing countries such as Germany, Italy and France need to maintain and strengthen mutually beneficial relations with China, but on the other hand, the EU leadership is taking its cue from Washington and adopts a very ideological and confrontational approach to business matters. One often gets the impression that the EU Commission is nothing more than the political arm of NATO.
Macron is calling for Europe to pursue “strategic autonomy” from the US lest it gets dragged into crises that are of no benefit to Europe. But it’s a bit too late: European countries have already been dragged into a major crisis in their continent, a crisis that was manufactured by the US.
Many European leaders fuelled the Ukrainian crisis rather than seek a diplomatic solution before the start of Russia’s military operations in February 2022. Europe imposed sanctions on Russia that have largely boomeranged and damaged its economy, supply chains have been disrupted. Higher energy costs and inflation have weakened Europe’s manufacturing sector, now Europe is reduced to buying Russian gas through third parties and at higher prices, as well as the absurdly expensive American LNG. Europe’s industrial powerhouses, Germany, France and Italy, depend on affordable and stable energy supplies. Though France is in a better position because it can rely on its nuclear power plants, it has finally dawned on Macron that following the US confrontational stance and calls for decoupling from China could lead to an even worse disaster for the European economy. Let’s not forget that in 2020 China surpassed the US as the EU’s biggest trading partner. By driving a wedge between Europe and Russia, the US hoped it would also be easier to drive a wedge between Europe and China and thus undermine Eurasian integration. If you take a look at the map, you soon realize that without Russia there can be no Eurasian integration, so the US provoked Russia first. Russia is at the heart of Eurasia, so no wonder it was in the US crosshairs. One could say that the US aimed at Russia in order to kill the Eurasian project.
So far very few European countries have been able to resist US pressure to sever their economic ties with Russia and support Ukraine indefinitely. But the prospect of damaging relations with China after damaging relations with Russia is even less appealing, the consequences would be catastrophic for the European economy.
Unfortunately the US and its most loyal supporters in Europe are escalating their aggressive rhetoric not only against Russia but also against China. We see a concerted effort to paint China as a threat. I fear that this is just the beginning. The US controls mainstream media and most social media platforms in Europe, so it could ramp up an anti-China propaganda campaign and stir up anti-China sentiments at will. Exactly as it did with regards to Russia.
8. Does France hold a unique regard for China, especially since it’s not part of the five alliance, or AUKUS, or QUAD — and France are wary of US — involved world conflict more so than some other major western powers?
I remember that in 2021 high-ranking French officials said France had been stabbed in the back when Australia pulled out of an existing multi-billion dollar defense deal and signed a new deal with the US and UK to obtain nuclear-powered submarines.
The US-UK effort to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines is a very hostile move as far as China is concerned, as it is AUKUS, the partnership among Australia, the UK and the US.
US-France relations have always ebbed and flowed, in 2003 there was a dispute between Paris and Washington over the recourse to war in Iraq. Many of the root causes of the disagreement between the US and France have not been fully addressed. The dispute over the US war in Iraq was only a symptom of deeper problems and divergences over the role they want to play in the international system. Last week China made a historic LNG sale to France in yuan, which in my opinion is very significative.
I believe that the business community in France is even more interested in strategic autonomy from the US than Macron himself. Business leaders are rather pragmatic, they understand that the world order is rapidly changing, the centre of economic gravity has shifted to Asia, and as US hegemony declines and the dollar loses its dominance in the global economy, business leaders are eager to jump on the Chinese high-speed train.
Macron said Europe should not become a “vassal” and must avoid being drawn into any conflict between the US and China over Taiwan. He also emphasised the risks to Europe posed by the US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a green subsidy plan that provides an unfair advantage to US companies, and mentioned the risk of an overdependence on the US dollar. What he said reflects the dominant opinion in Europe.
As much as i would like to see European countries distance themselves from the US and its confrontational stance, I am also aware that the EU is hostage to the US. Not only because Europe is dotted with so many US and NATO military bases, but also because many European leaders serve US interests rather than the interests of their citizens.
As expected, Anglo-American media criticized Macron’s intention to defend the strategic autonomy of France and not follow the US in the Taiwan standoff.
Behind Macron stands the French business community which has realized that if the US ramps up tensions with China, Europe will again become collateral damage. Decoupling from China would deal a mortal blow to the French economy. The question is, can Macron deliver on his promise to stay out of the US confrontation with China, that is the current trade war? In Macron’s case we are talking about a president whose popularity at home is in freefall. Protests and strikes are shaking France. Will the US allow Macron to hold on to power if he seeks autonomy?