FAMED for the ancient military treatise “The Art of War”, it seems China is ramping up its focus on “hybrid warfare”, amid allegations it has compiled a database with information on millions of people worldwide.

Hybrid warfare?

Also sometimes referred to as the “grey zone”, it amounts to the combination of irregular and regular methods of warfare, blending the conventional with the unconventional, with cyber attacks and online manipulation falling under the umbrella in the social media era.

It’s not a new concept?

The term is thought to have first been used to describe Hezbollah’s approach in the 2006 Lebanon War, where it blended battlefield manoeuvres with guerrilla tactics and heavy weaponry.

What’s happening with China?

Technology company, Zhenhua Data Information Technology Co Ltd - linked to the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) - has been accused of setting up a global database of around 2.4 million people based on their online presence. Zhenhua’s chief executive has described the firm as a pioneer in “hybrid warfare”.

How did news emerge of the database?

It was leaked to American academic, Christopher Balding, who previously worked in China. He said the data was “staggering” and “proof that many inside China are concerned about CCP authoritarianism and surveillance”.

“Data integration”?

When asked about reports that the details of 52,000 Americans, 35,000 Australians and around 10,000 Brits - including Boris Johnson and members of the Royal Family - were included in such a database, Zhenhua said: “Our data are all public data on the internet. We do not collect data. This is just a data integration.”

Information is power?

Cybersecurity experts question the intent behind such information gathering. Meanwhile, Zhenhua’s spokeswoman told the Guardian that the Overseas Key Information Database (OKIDB) exists, but “it is not as magical as they say” and simply links people to their social media.

The Art of War?

The Chinese military treatise - dating to the 5th century BC - remains one of the most influential tomes ever written on war. The book is attributed to the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu and is devoted to detailing Chinese military and strategy, weapons, rank and discipline.

Its wisdom includes?

Sun Tzu advised that “the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”; certainly a potential outcome of modern “hybrid warfare” via hacking, online manipulation, cyber attacks, fake news campaigns and espionage.

It comes as?

Just last week, Microsoft said it was "clear that foreign activity groups have stepped up their efforts" targeting the US election, with hackers who meddled in the 2016 American election said to be involved again and said to have links to Russia, China and Iran.

The threat is “real”?

Balding added: “The threat of surveillance and monitoring of foreign individuals by an authoritarian China is very real. Open liberal democratic states can no longer pretend these threats do not exist.”


Information is power, but the Pentagon reported earlier this month that China is set to double its arsenal of nuclear warheads from around 200 to 400 over the next decade as it endeavours to become a "world class" force.