Updated: Feb 16
“The overt, stated goal of China is to be number one in the world in terms of comprehensive national power … In a relative sense, if you’ve knocked [other countries] down, you’re doing better than they are. So this explains, for example, why from a comprehensive national power perspective, it is beneficial to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to pump fentanyl into middle America,” says Cleo Paskal, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Fentanyl “destroys communities. It destroys families. It’s real entropic warfare, creating this fragmentation, disintegration, [and] chaos within a target country,” says Paskal.
Paskal, a leading expert on China and the Indo-Pacific region, breaks down the CCP’s strategy in the region, from promoting division and civil war to buying off the elite of small island nations.
“They learn from Japanese movements and American counter movements in the Pacific [during World War II]—which islands and locations are strategic, where you have to hold, where the deep water ports are,” Paskal says.
“Xi [Jinping] in particular has staked his reputation on delivering Taiwan. But it doesn’t stop with Taiwan.” The CCP’s goal is to “push the Americans out of the Indo-Pacific … and push American functional operational capabilities back to Hawaii,” she says.
Cleo Paskal, such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Thank you. It’s really good to see you and great to be back on the show.
So, Cleo, you wrote a fascinating article, China Winning Entropic Warfare in the Pacific Islands. When I was reading this, I was thinking to myself, this entropic warfare just doesn’t apply to the Pacific Islands. Let’s start there because this is your real area of expertise. And so, what is going on over there?
First, it’s not warfare in the tropics, so we have to define the term entropic, E-N, tropic, entropic. A state of entropy is when things start to fall apart or fragment and become chaotic. If you look at how the Chinese Communist Party conducts its political warfare and targets countries, part of it is entropic warfare. To get there it helps us to understand the goal of the Chinese Communist Party is foreign policy. A core component of that is, and we see it in the Chinese think tanks, is comprehensive national power.
To explain that term, it’s a term that the Chinese use to rank countries. It’s an empirical metric. Each country has a comprehensive national power numerical value, and the overt stated goal of China is to be number one in the world in terms of comprehensive national power—everything that we think of economically and militarily. But it goes down to if you have a rare earth mineral mine in your country, but it’s a Chinese company that’s mining it, they count that towards their comprehensive national power, not yours, because that is feeding into their systems. They have a completely different way of looking at it. If you have a panda in the zoo, that means that they’ve got a point off of you for soft power on their ledger.
It’s very empirical, and it’s a little bit insane. A lot of things that you see with the Chinese Communist Party is where they think they can break things down into numbers, and they can break humanity down into numbers. But it’s a really important driving force and comprehensive national power. There are two ways of improving your relative ranking. One is the typical American way, which is you work hard and get better. The other is you knock everybody else down. And then, in a relative sense, if you’ve knocked them down, you’re doing better than they are.
This explains why from a comprehensive national power perspective, it is beneficial to the Chinese Communist Party to pump fentanyl into middle America, because it destroys communities, and it destroys families. It’s real entropic warfare creating this fragmentation, disintegration chaos within a target country. In a relative sense, it’s a city in middle America that has been hit by fentanyl drops.
And in a relative sense, China is doing better off. That gives an indication of what they’re willing to do in order to advance comprehensive national power, which is to use unrestricted warfare, which of course, is another Chinese term. It’s the name of a book from 1999 from two PLA Air Force Colonels, where they talked about what they thought were the valid methods of warfare against enemies like the United States.
They listed 24 different types of warfare including drug warfare, but also including sanctions. We know for over 20 years they’ve been thinking of not only defending themselves from sanctions but using sanctions like we’ve seen against Australia, for example, to try to create an environment where their relative comprehensive national power is higher.
So, we’ve got two Chinese terms, comprehensive national power and unrestricted warfare. Those are their terms. They look at a country and if they can do elite capture, they prefer to do that. They just get the country through the elite. If they can’t do that, then they use unrestricted warfare to wage entropic warfare to disintegrate and weaken those societies, so that the resistance to Chinese coercive behavior is lessened.
They tend to identify an authoritarian leader and then back them. In the case of entropy or civil war, an authoritarian leader has an advantage, especially if they’re backed with PRC assets and intel. They also tend to get pushed away from the Western sphere. Americans don’t want to deal with some proto-authoritarian leader. The leader is left with even less choice, and so, they’re even closer to China. The pattern I’m describing now is exactly what happened in the Solomon Islands during a three-year period. In 2019, they switched from Taiwan to China.
I want to jump in and qualify. They switched, meaning previously they recognized Taiwan as being China. And now, for the benefit of our readers, they switched to the PRC. [People’s Republic of China]
And how did that happen?
Usually bribery, the usual elite capture. With the Solomon Islands, and this is another thing to understand, we’ve forgotten how important the Pacific Islands are strategically. The Solomon Islands are the home of the battle of Guadalcanal which was just over 80 years ago this past summer. This was a highly strategic location that the Japanese needed to control if they were to control Australian access into the region. And the Americans needed to control it if they were going to push back the Japanese ability to interdict Western behavior.
That movement was very closely studied by the Chinese. They learn a lot from history. They’ve learned from the Soviet Union how not to collapse. They learn from Japanese movements and American counter-movements in the Pacific, which islands and locations are strategic, where you have to hold, and where are the deep-water ports.
They’re trying to do with political warfare in those Japanese and American locations, what was bought in blood by the Americans during the liberation of the region. These locations, Guadalcanal, and some of the other countries as well, are soaked in the blood that was necessary to liberate them the last time around.
This time, China got them just by buying off the right people at that 80th commemoration of the battle of Guadalcanal. The America sent the daughter of John F. Kennedy. John F. Kennedy had his boat sunk, was torpedoed during the battle, and his life was saved by two Solomon Islanders. His daughter, who’s now ambassador to Australia, came up for the commemoration.
The prime minister of the Solomon Islands wasn’t even there. All of these high-level people came in for this commemoration. There were Japanese representatives. The Prime Minister just didn’t show up, because he’s so deep in China’s pocket that he didn’t want to give any importance to this liberation from the last authoritarian imperialist power. That’s how deep it is.
They have switched, and that’s how fast it happened. They switched in 2019 from Taiwan to China. In the intervening time, there were riots, then they signed a security agreement between the Solomons and the PRC that allows the deployment of Chinese military personnel to protect Chinese citizens and assets in the Solomon Islands at the request of the Solomon’s government.
The key thing is, they bought off 39 of the 50 members of Parliament, which was enough to change the Constitution to delay elections. This is what happens. A pro-PRC authoritarian leader is setting the groundwork to delay elections, and if there’s a civil war because of it, that’s fine with him. because his Chinese backers will come in with a military that will keep him in power, and he’ll never have another election again. That’s entropic warfare.
Fascinating. Previously on the show, we also covered what happened to one person that stood up against this approach if you could remind us.
Yes. This is really important. As China was coming into the Solomons, there was one province in Solomons, Malaita province, that is led by Daniel Suidani, the elected premiere. He said, “No, I don’t like this.” He saw what was coming, and they issued the Auki Communiqué. Auki is the capital of Malaita province.
The Auki Communiqué, which was signed by his government and the traditional chiefs of the region says, “We don’t want any CCP-linked companies operating in Malaita.” And that’s what the Chinese come in with, right? “Oh, we’re going to come in with economic development, we’re going to have those companies, and we’re going to come in with money. And he said, “We don’t want it.”
There were some reasons for it, but the main reason for it was, and it’s in the communiqué, “We believe in freedom of religion. In this case, we are Christians.” There was a freedom of religion issue. “We don’t want to deal with a systemically atheist country.
They knew about the relationships in the Chinese Communist Party. They could see what communism was in the context of religion, much more clearly than many of the people here who get caught up in all these other different things. As people of faith, they wanted to have nothing to do with these guys. And then, Premier Suidani got sick, and he needed an MRI.
The central government led by this pro-PRC prime minister, refused to give him the funding to get the MRI outside the country, which would’ve been standard operating procedure for the premier of a province, unless he took the investment from the Chinese, which is an exportation of the Chinese social credit system, “Accept the Chinese into your heart, or you die. Accept the Communist Party in your province or you get no treatment.” And he said, “No.”
If you want to see people who are willing to die, rather than take Chinese Communist Party money, go look in the Pacific, they are there. They are actually all over, and there tend to be people who believe in something bigger than themselves—people of faith, people who believe in their community, people who care about their family, which can give you an indication of how to fight back.
But that is also the exact definition of the people that Chinese Communist Party tries to destroy inside of China. They know that they are a threat to them. They know faith, family, community, and freedom are kryptonite to the Chinese Communist Party.
Daniel Suidani said, “No, I’m not going to take the money.” People who believe in the same things as he does, which is faith, family, and freedom, heard about it. One of them in India said, “We can’t let you die.” And he happened to know President Tsai in Taiwan and called President Tsai. President Tsai said, “Come to Taiwan, we’ll bring you to Taiwan for the medical treatment you need.”
And he got the treatment that he needed, and eventually, he came back. Now, what’s missing from this story? What were the Australians doing? Because the Australians are the five eyes partner that is supposed to be leading the Western engagement, especially in that part of the Pacific. They didn’t offer him any help, and he had to transit through Australia to and from Taiwan, and none of them ever went to talk to him.
No debriefing, no courtesy visits, nothing, which is a bit of a different issue. But it’s telling that countries that we may not be identifying as frontline fighters in the fighting against the Chinese Communist Party like India will act in way. There’s an individual in India, but it’s consistent. In fact, Prime Minister Modi is going to be going to Papua New Guinea, which is a neighboring Pacific Island country in the beginning of the year. It’s the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Papua New Guinea, because they’re worried. They’re worried that China is coming in and the Western Five Eyes’ construct is failing.
Let’s talk for a moment about Papua Guinea because it’s generally, not a country you think about very often. I think of cargo cults, things that I’ve read from the past. But this is actually, a pretty sizable country in its own right and pretty significant in the region.
It has a larger population and a larger land mass than New Zealand. It has gold and copper and all sorts of stuff. If we weren’t still looking at it through colonial lens, we would be paying a lot more attention to Papua New Guinea than we would to New Zealand. The relationship with New Zealand is historical, and there are installations and it’s part of infrastructure.
If you’re India and you’re not part of that Western construct to begin with, Papua New Guinea potentially offers you a lot more in terms of potential for engagement. It’s very strategically located, and also a very complex country. It has scores of languages, if not more. It needs help in everything in the education sector and healthcare sector.
But the reason you’re going to hear about Papua New Guinea is there’s one section of it called Bougainville, which had a civil war. There was a civil war between Papua New Guinea and Bougainville over a big mine that was in Bougainville. And it was a very bloody, horrible civil war. And very recently Papua Guinea was an outright colony of Australia until 1975.
As part of that decolonization, the Australians wanted to keep control of some of the mining assets, including this mine, and it contributed to the civil war. The civil war ended with a peace treaty 20 years ago, which hasn’t been fully enacted. But in the peace treaty, there is a provision for an independence referendum. They had the independence referendum, and 97 per cent voted for independence. And now, it has to go through the parliamentary process.
This is another clue as to how China will look for fragmentation. If Bougainville doesn’t get independence, it’s very likely the civil war will reignite. If it does, and the West isn’t part of both sides of the discussion, the Chinese will come into whichever side the West isn’t on and they will be very happy to have a civil war where it’s backing a side that becomes more alienated from the West.
If we accept that Bougainville is going to go independent because that’s what its people want, and that’s what was in the part of the process for the peace treaty, then instead of having just one country that’s friendly to the West, we can have two countries that are friendly to the West.
We can see that as an opportunity, but we need to build from the ground up. Again, this is what the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t like. It doesn’t like stable, peaceful communities. Instead of doing what the Chinese did in the case of the Solomons, where the Chinese gave weapons to Sogavare, this corrupt, pro-PRC Prime Minister, the Australians said, “We’ll give you more weapons.” They can say, “The Chinese are going to give you weapons? We’re going to work with you on a peace treaty. We’re going to help bring real security and stability to the population, not weapons. We’re going to fight your warfare with peace.”
What I’m thinking to myself right now, and maybe there’s some other viewers that are thinking this as well, this entropic warfare, as you’re describing it, it seems like the U.S. may have engaged in similar type practices in some parts of the world that didn’t work out very well. This isn’t an issue of whataboutism, it’s more just like how is what the PRC is doing different from what the U.S. was trying to do at one point?
I would equate it more to what the British were trying to do in the 19th century—divide and conquer to set up a colonial government. That is more of the model, because that’s very much the end game that Beijing wants to set up. You can see it in a place like the Solomons. It is sort of self-governing like a British colony, but the resources are being extracted. The foreign policy is controlled essentially out of Beijing. The locals are suppressing the other locals, that kind of thing. It’s very much just a colonial model. And it’s an open deference to China. There were a lot of American covert activities, but there weren’t necessarily publicized.
You didn’t necessarily want the American ambassador going through the center of town on a carpet of rose petals or something like that. But the Chinese do, they want to be acknowledged as being the center of all under heaven. The U.S. didn’t do a lot of great stuff. But if you’re trying to look to history to understand what this model is, so that you can figure out how to fight it, it’s the colonial model, the classic European colonial model, especially the British model, which from a Chinese perspective was successful for a very long time, and is more relevant.
Very interesting. So, there is this whole idea of wanting to establish the rest of the world as a vassal states to the CCP, ultimately. Is that how you see it?
Yes. There is the imperial vassal state, and you pay your tribute. As I see it getting set up in a place like the Solomons, the advantage of looking at the Pacific Islands is that they are very small. The Solomons are 350,000, 400,000 people, something like that. You can see the mechanisms a lot more clearly. The layers are a lot thinner. You can see who China is targeting, and what they’re going after. You can see they go after democracy and the judiciary and the media.
There’s more to the Daniel Suidani story. They tried to do a vote of no confidence. In fact, they’re trying to do another one. I was doing an interview with somebody from that team and they were saying, “We’ll go to the court.” My experience on this is, by the time you’re saying, “We’ll go to the courts,” the Chinese have the courts.
Before a big action is taken, they will have tried to block off all of the escape routes. So, the judiciary will have been compromised, the media will have been bought off, as well as definitely social media, before a big move is made. Just to give you an idea of how far down the road the the Solomons are, they are the headquarters of one of the major fisheries, and the regional fisheries organizations are there.
The U.S. was doing a patrol with Coast Guard cutter in the region. It was a Coast Guard cutter, an anti-illegal fishing patrol, which all the countries in the regions say they want. It was supposed to come into the Solomons to refuel, and it was refused entry. Currently, no foreign military ships are allowed entry into the Solomon’s. But they’re letting the Australians and the New Zealanders in, which tells you something.
But American ships can’t go in, British ships can’t go in, and Indian ships can’t go in. I’m sure the Chinese can go in if they want. But they have closed their ports to the country that died on their beaches to liberate them the last time. And this isn’t what the people of this Solomon’s want. Effectively, it is elite capture.
It’s very interesting to me. I’ve been thinking a lot about what we’ve been learning about in the Twitter files. I’m going to make a bit of a leap here. You mentioned how important the capture of the media and social media is, and that these institutions have a real power to shape public opinion.
You say that in the Solomons that people’s opinion isn’t there. But my guess would be if these institutions are captured somehow or very aligned in the CCP direction that is changing. With this Twitter files release, we see how public opinion has been shaped. We’ll be seeing a lot more of that, for example, around President Trump. We’re probably going to learn more about what happened with respect to COVID policy. We’ve seen all sorts of dumps of emails showing this interaction between different institutions to shape opinion. My point is, it’s very powerful. My question is, how does what we see happening there relate to what we see happening there? Is there any comparison in your mind?
Yes, there’s a lot of comparison. The goal would be to take over easily. We talked about unrestricted warfare, and the 24 warfares, there are all these different warfares. There are three warfares that we hear about the most, which is psychological warfare, media warfare and lawfare.
They would prefer to create a CCP-friendly domestic environment through positive media portrayal, that kind of thing. But they’re also happy to create division in this society, so that you get this entropic effect, and the citizens are fighting each other rather than looking at what’s happening from the outside, coming at them from the outside.
If you’re fighting over whether to defund the police or not, because there are people who are hooked on fentanyl, who are creating havoc within your society, and your focus is on that, “Do we defund the police? Do we have money on top? How do we do that domestically?” You’re not asking who’s pumping in the fentanyl, right? What you’re doing is teaching people to hate each other.
In the U.S. especially about two years ago, you started to hear a lot of language comparing this period to the civil war, when Americans are fighting Americans. I would argue that a better comparison would be the war of independence, where you’re trying to free the country from outside influence and control, in this case from China.
If you’re focused on a civil war and not a war of independence, it’s obviously beneficial for the outside power, because it’s easier for them to walk right in, and find the factions that are more likely to support it. How do they do that? They do it through social media.
And COVID was great for them. We were all stuck inside looking at our computers. It helped them gather metadata and put together profiles to feed into the AI systems, to do mass customized manipulation, and to get into our heads. We were sitting there in front of a machine that had the capability to get right into our brains and create an environment that is conducive to the things that China wants to get out of the United States. But this is global.
In the case of the Pacific Islands, the main entry point is Facebook. It’s not the nightly news, it’s not the New York Times, it’s Facebook. They have enough fake profiles, and they also focus a lot on languages. The people at the local Chinese embassy will speak the like the locals. If they’re in Tongan, they’ll speak Tongan. If they’re in Samoa, they’ll speak Samoan. That means they can get onto Facebook, and they can start to affect the debate at various levels.
There was a case recently in the Marshall Islands, which was very important case, and we can get to it. They almost brought down the government, and the the amount of bribes was only $7,000 and $22,000. The amount of money needed, if you can find the right person through this profiling and affect the society to get it ready for these things, is very, very small.
Fascinating. Very briefly, what happened in the Marshall Islands?
If somebody asks you which countries are the best friends of the United States, so what would you say?
Canada, I’d like to think.
So, would I.
Right. We’re both Canadian.
What were you going to say?