Cognitive Domain Operations
The PLA's New Holistic Concept for Influence Operations
Published in: China Brief, Volume 19, Issue 16 (2019)
Posted on RAND.org on May 14, 2021
As information becomes ever more central for Chinese warfighting, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is developing a new concept for psychological warfare in the information era called "cognitive domain operations" (认知域作战, renzhiyuzuozhan). This next-generation evolution of psychological warfare seeks to use information to influence an adversary's cognitive functions, spanning from peacetime public opinion to wartime decision-making. The concept is largely inspired by the U.S. military's emphasis on the cognitive domain's decisive role in modern warfare, and the belief among the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that the U.S. government has already used social media to foment political revolutions against authoritarian governments during events such as the Arab Spring. After several years of concerns over China's vulnerabilities in the cognitive domain, the PLA is now developing offensive strategies and capabilities to influence adversary public opinion—as recently evidenced in its political interference in Taiwan's November 2018 elections, and its summer 2019 disinformation campaign against Hong Kong protesters.