Tencent gives its Two Cents on World War III: Deconstructing China’s Video Game Visions of War

PR escalation
Tencent China War Video
The efficacy of the DF-21D against Nimitz carriers and Aegis equipped destroyers almost looks like something from a USN officer's worst nightmare (or a defense contractor pitchbook to sell Aegis BMD). Tencent
Tencent China War Video

Tencent, one of China’s Internet commerce giants, released a chest pumping (but visually accurate) CGI video of a victorious PLA in time for China’s 70th VJ day parade on September 3, 2015. Just like a recent technothriller featuring an unprovoked sneak attack on US soil (ghostfleetbook.com), Tencent’s five minute video begins with a nighttime airstrike on a Chinese air base by a “foreign alliance” (0:11). We then move to morning, where news casts show the Chinese version of Pearl Harbor, where the destroyed “783” Y-20 heavy transport aircraft prototype, amidst smoldering runways, stands in for the USS Arizona (0:39). In a high tech command center, an angry general’s fist slams the table (0:53) before the Chinese counterattack is launched.

Tencent China War Video
Tencent China War Video
Tencent China War Video

Long range retaliation quickly follows, military weapons helpfully labelled by Tencent. The video is a menu of the fruits of China’s recent military buildup. DF-15B short ranged ballistic missiles swarm out of their underground bunkers and tunnels(1:10), joining DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles on the road (1:20), while H-6K bombers roar overhead (1:34). A barrage of ballistic and cruise missiles then rain down fury on the OPFOR base (which bears more than a passing resemblance to the US Air Force’s Kadena Air Base on Okinawa). Taxiing F-22A fighters, aircraft hangars and PAC-3 missile defense launchers are obliterated in the rain of fire (2:04, 2:10).

Tencent China War Video

At sea, a shower of shooting stars appears over the enemy navy, centered around a Nimitz class aircraft carrier (2:20). The shooting stars materialize into DF-21D anti-ship warheads, whose hypersonic reentry speed whiz past the missiles and Gatling cannons defending the carrier and its destroyers, smashing the unfortunate warships into clouds of fire and razorblades (2:40). Underwater, a Virginia class nuclear attack submarine (SSN) is defeated (2:50) by a Type 093 SSN (surprisingly not the newer Type 093B).

Tencent China War Video
Tencent China War Video

China’s attention turns to the enemy island base, as the Liaoning carrier’s J-15 fighters cover an massive amphibious assault (3:12). Giant tank carrying Zubr and Type 726 hovercraft storm the beaches, as Z-8 and Z-10 helicopters blitz inland from Type 071 landing platform docks (3:50).

Tencent China War Video
Tencent China War Video

Up in the air, the KJ-2000 command aircraft (3:57) guides J-10B, J-11B and J-20 fighters (4:10) to swat down enemy F-35 fighters in close range dogfights using flares and heat seeking missiles. The J-10Bs also unleash guided bombs on enemy trenches.

Tencent China War Video
Tencent China War Video
Tencent China War Video

Back on land, a EA-03 box winged drone (4:23) guides airstrikes PHL-03 heavy artillery in bombarding enemy positions. Backed by fire support from PLZ-04 self propelled howitzers (4:55), ZTZ-99A tanks make the coupe de grace, storming onto the burning enemy base. Amidst charred rubble, PLA soldiers raise the Chinese flag over an air control tower (5:20).

Chinese video game

In keeping with longstanding Chinese censorship practices, the OPFOR nation remained “a certain unnamed country” (mirroring uneasiness inside the Beltway about mentioning China in the former Air Sea Battle concept). However, the OPFOR uses a variety of US only equipment, such as F-22 fighters, Nimitz class aircraft carriers and Virginia class submarines. Previous private speech versions of this genre, such as video games, have featured Western adversaries as being private military contractors, in lieu of actually identifying foreign militaries or otherwise.

Tencent China War Video

Two other aspects stand out in the video. Faith in new military technology “superweapons” seems to have become much a staple of Chinese popular culture as it is in America. Also, the Tencent video mirrors the popular superpower self-image of “we won’t hit first, but sucker punch us and we’ll hit you back into the Stone Age.” Hopefully, like the others players in this genre of imagining world war III, these visions will stay in the realm of fiction.