Exploring Chinese Thinking on Deterrence in the Not-So-New Space and Cyber Domains
Published in: Modernizing Deterrence: How China Coerces, Compels, and Deters, Chapter 5, pages 98–119 (2023)
Posted on RAND.org on February 21, 2023
Besides nuclear deterrence, the space and cyber domains are viewed by China as its main means of strategic deterrence. A key commonality between these two domains is the nearly universal Chinese perception that the U.S. dominates and seeks to further entrench its hegemony. Combined with the broader perception of U.S. hostility, this reinforces a notion that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is weak, vulnerable, and at risk of coercion by the U.S., requiring a strong Chinese deterrence response. Chinese thinking on space and cyber deterrence is evolving. For space, China's deterrence requirements are likely increasing. Early strategy was likely focused solely on the U.S., but current policy must also account for an India with anti-satellite capabilities. For the cyber domain, recent updates to Chinese military teaching materials suggest that the PLA has come to believe that deterrence requires demonstrating not only an ability to penetrate networks but also an ability to generate real effects. The space and cyber domains are thus key parts of "integrated strategic deterrence"—China's conceptualization of the highest level of deterrence that draws on comprehensive national power.
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