Opinion: China runs roughshod over international law to expand its territory and influence without firing a shot


Beijing redraws the map of Asia by unilaterally asserting dominion over disputed territories from Hong Kong and Taiwan to the Himalayas and the South China Sea.

NEW DELHI, India (Project Syndicate)—As the world’s largest, strongest, and longest-surviving dictatorship, contemporary China lacks the rule of law. Yet it is increasingly using its rubber-stamp Parliament to enact domestic legislation asserting territorial claims and rights in international law. In fact, China has become quite adept at waging “lawfare”—the misuse and abuse of law for political and strategic ends.

Under “commander-in-chief” Xi Jinping’s bullying leadership, lawfare has developed into a critical component of China’s broader approach to asymmetrical or hybrid warfare. The blurring of the line between war and peace is enshrined in the regime’s official strategy as the “Three Warfares” (san zhong zhanfa) doctrine. Just as the pen can be mightier than the sword, so, too, can lawfare, psychological warfare, and public-opinion warfare.

Through psychological warfare, propaganda, and a cynical misuse of law, China is advancing its revisionist territorial ambitions without having to fire a shot. The world’s democracies must wake up to the increasingly aggressive hybrid war that President Xi Jinping is waging.

Through these methods, Xi is advancing expansionism without firing a shot. Already, China’s bulletless aggression is proving to be a game changer in Asia. Waging the Three Warfares in conjunction with military operations has yielded China significant territorial gains.

Historical fantasies
Within this larger strategy, lawfare is aimed at rewriting rules to animate historical fantasies and legitimize unlawful actions retroactively. For example, China recently enacted a Land Borders Law to support its territorial revisionism in the Himalayas. And to advance its expansionism in the South and East China Seas, it enacted the Coast Guard Law and the Maritime Traffic Safety Law earlier this year.