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Taming the Dragon: Countering China’s Asymmetric Warfare

By Jason English

In our previous post, we laid out why the United States is facing an emerging and powerful dragon, a dragon that seeks to become the most powerful global force in politics, economics, and warfare.  

China under Xi Jinping is that dragon.

The U.S., if it wishes to maintain its position as the preeminent example of democracy and prosperity in the world, must not only face the dragon but also counter its attacks.  

Taming the Dragon

In our webinar on facing the growing threat from China, Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute summarized the most fundamental change in China in the last twenty years:  

“Look, the most important thing to understand here is that China is moving back toward a one-man authoritarian dictatorship.”  

Combine that insight with China’s expanding economy, growing military strength, and asymmetric warfare against the United States and you realize that the U.S. is now facing a formidable dragon.  

What can the U.S. do to tame the dragon?

Before answering that question, let’s first understand how China, in its quest to become the world’s dominant power, obliquely undermines the United States.

How China Undermines the United States

Asymmetric Warfare

China does not use its military to challenge the U.S. directly. Rather, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) uses a diverse set of non-military methods to weaken the U.S., including intellectual property theft, technology transfer, corporate espionage, and currency manipulation. [1]  

Other examples of asymmetric warfare practiced by China are using TikTok to influence U.S. elections and sending hundreds of thousands of Chinese students to U.S. universities knowing that, under Chinese law, those students can be compelled to spy for the PRC. [2] [3]

Coordinated Campaigns

To achieve its goal of becoming the Middle Kingdom once again, China employs a whole-government approach.  

What does that mean?

China’s goal is to get other countries to do what it wants them to do. To accomplish this goal, China uses diplomatic persuasion, military intimidation, economic advantage, propaganda disguised as information, and disinformation slyly spread.  

In adopting this whole-government approach, China has a decision advantage over the U.S.: decision-making in a dictatorship does not require consent. China can simply pull the levers of totalitarian power to coordinate a single campaign, which may last years or even decades, across all entities of Chinese society: government, business, education, and the people themselves.  

An example of this type of coordinated campaign is China’s insistence that Taiwan is part of China. This disputed claim is an example of what Frederick Kagan calls a “cognitive warfare campaign,” an effort “to create, in our minds, a perception of the world and of our interest in the world, such that we will naturally come to the conclusions that favor the Chinese, and disadvantage ourselves all the while thinking that we're actually advancing our own interests.” [4]

Using Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) to Tame a Dragon

Jason Gambill suggests that the U.S., in facing and taming the dragon that China has become, should employ the same type of coordinated campaigns that China covertly uses to subvert the United States. [5]

Chief Warrant Officer Gambill puts it this way:

“Without a comprehensive interagency effort, the United States will fall short in meeting the challenge China poses. … Clearly, synchronicity across the U.S. government and coordination with private industry is required.

The fundamental difference between a coordinated campaign undertaken by China and one launched by the U.S. will arise from two different forms of government: a totalitarian dictatorship versus an open democracy. China’s campaigns will be covert and disguised; those of the United States will be overt and proclaimed as public policy.  

A key strategy within a coordinated campaign to defeat China’s consistent attacks on the U.S. will be to use open-source intelligence to gain decision advantage. As we discussed in a recent Babel Street webinar on meeting the challenge from China, smart use of OSINT is the critical advantage we need to address the threats facing us.

What Is Decision Advantage?

From the perspective of information security, a decision-maker holds “decision advantage” when he or she:

  • Has intelligence that is accurate, timely, and relevant and  
  • Has the expertise to take action on that intelligence [6]

In simpler terms, decision advantage means getting the right information to the right person at the right time. In the context of the U.S. intelligence community, the goal is to provide an unambiguous warning at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels.  

However, putting that right information in front of the right person at the right time is difficult for two reasons:

  • China’s use of asymmetric warfare generates vast and diverse amounts of data that are difficult to identify and track.
  • Each day the amount of new data created worldwide is 329 million terabytes.

Together these two factors raise the noise level for the intelligence community, making it harder to detect a genuine signal.

Gaining Decision Advantage

In its quest to tame the dragon, the U.S. can gain decision advantage by using open-source intelligence. While not the “exquisite intelligence” gained through traditional intelligence tradecraft, OSINT nonetheless provides facts, context, and verification that yield insight and confirmation.  

Let’s say, for example, that a front-page news story — with an accompanying photo — of a deposed leader’s arrival in a foreign capital confirms his location. In a precarious moment, that published article could give the U.S. decision advantage.  

That’s the power of OSINT.  

OSINT consists of publicly available information (PAI) [7], which is information available for public consumption. An airline’s web page that lists its flights contains PAI.  

Commercially available information, or CAI, is information that is sold, leased, or licensed to the public, although CAI can include information procured by the government for exclusive use. A custom data set that contains information on an airline’s flights, routes, fleet valuations, and emissions would be classified as CAI.  

OSINT uses both PAI and CAI. In essence, OSINT is CAI and PAI that have been obtained, vetted, analyzed, and sent to a decision-maker for review and action. [8]  

Babel Street provides OSINT crafted and distilled using AI-enabled searches and made available in over 200 languages. Our OSINT yields insights that decision-makers can use to gain decision advantage — decisions that will strengthen our coordinated campaigns to counter the threatening dragon.  

We believe that through a united effort, a coordinated campaign that combines the forces of public institutions and private corporations, we can ensure that our economy flourishes and our democracy endures.

Triangulating Your Voice

During our webinar on facing the emboldened dragon, Rear Admiral Paul Becker (Ret.) commented that on a recent trip to Shanghai, a city with a population of 30 million, he heard no blaring car horns. In fact, he heard no horns at all in the streets, only silence.

When Paul asked his tour guide why there were no car horns, the guide explained that there is a network of sensors in the traffic signals and light posts that will triangulate a car’s horn to a license plate. The offender then has his “social credit score” debited. A poor social credit score makes it harder to be admitted to a good university, travel, and even get a better job. [9]  

China seeks to export not only its finished products to other countries but also its form of government. The dragon wants to hear no blaring horns, nor any contrary voices. No ideas except those promulgated by the CCP are allowed.

Perhaps a cacophony of horns better suits those who love freedom, democracy, and the sound of one’s untriangulated voice.

End notes

1. Babel Street, February 2024,

2. Mallory Culhane, March 11, 2021,  “The Chinese government is using TikTok to meddle in elections, ODNI says”,

3. Chief Warrant Officer-3 Jason Gambill, November 2021, “China and Russia Are Waging Irregular Warfare Against the United States: It is Time for a U.S. Global Response, Led by Special Operations Command”,

4. Op. Cit. [1]

5. Op. Cit. [3]

6. Josh Lefkowitz, April 9, 2018, “A Deep Dive Into Decision Advantage”,

7. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, January 2022, “The Intelligence Community Data Management Lexicon”, “

8. OSINT Foundation, Inc., “Questions About Open Source Intelligence”,

9. Velocity Global, “The Chinese Social Credit System: What To Know as a Business Owner”, October 6, 2023,

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