China’s Grey-Zone activities in the South-China Sea region, especially in Taiwan

The People’s Republic of China from the time of its creation didn’t involve itself in military warfare with other countries, at least not so many times as The USA, The UK, the Soviet Union (Russia) etc. Powerful countries have been doing it. The Chinese spokesman on Foreign Affairs from time to time reminds the world that China usually doesn’t go to war with others and it is a peace-loving country. However, China takes some interesting and distinctive approaches to its adversaries. To tackle its adversaries, China involves itself in Grey-zone activities. Before going into China’s Grey-zone activities, we first have to know what “Grey-Zone” is. Grey-zone is a space or situation that lies in between war and peace time. Using traditional military use of force doesn’t come under Grey-zone activities. Grey-zone activities contain all the non-traditional warfare tactics. Those activities can be the threat of using military force or provocation, Spreading disinformation, cyber-attacks, economic coercion ( Economic sanction, barriers, trade war), interference in Internal matters of other countries etc. Grey-Zone activities are not something new ; this is not a project which is discovered by China. Though The USA first developed,practised  and introduced this concept, China right now is the leading country to practise it.

China has been practising all the above activities in countering its adversaries.  Taiwan is in the frontline of Chinese Grey-zone activities. Rejection of China’s One-China policy and South-china sea claims are one of the major red-lines for China. To establish and to implement those claims, It has been actively practicing Grey-zone activities in the South-China region. To pressurize, to thwart, to dissuade, to dominate, to mitigate its opposing parties , they have been increasing activities in the region. China has rejected the median line and the claim of “Taiwan strait” as international waters. Moreover, China never accepted Taiwan as a sovereign country. According to their stance on One-China policy, mainland China wants reunification with Taiwan, and they don’t reject using military force in doing so. Taiwan is an industrially developed country, and it is noteworthy that it contributes around 20% of the global semiconductor industry. Merging Taiwan with China will bring nothing but benefit to China. That’s why it has become so desperate to take Taiwan. Besides, China wants its share in the South-China sea according to the U-shaped Nine-dash-line that contains approximately 90% of the sea area. In these two policies of China, Taiwan is directly involved. Taiwan is under a heavy Chinese threat. Now, they are facing new types of attacks from Mainland China which necessarily don’t contain military attacks. They are called Grey-zone activities.

Currently, China is considered to be one of the greatest military powers in the world. Since the 1990s, China has been strengthening military might, especially naval power in the region. Regularly they have been conducting military drills containing air and naval powers in the South-China sea. Chinese Warships and Fighter jets have been violating Taiwan’s sea territory. Constant warnings from Taiwan and its allies have been ignored by China. A group of islands called “Matsuki” island which has been controlled by Taiwan for a long time. China has been sending large vessels for dredging near Matsuki islands provoking Taiwan.These types of provocations have alerted Taiwan and its allies. Following the USA and other western countries’ attempt to collaborate and to strengthen Taiwan in its fighting against China, Taiwan has been receiving more arms and military Technology, conducting joint military drills, receiving endorsements and visits from western officials. It has already received arms including F-16 fighter jets, M1A2T tanks, Harpoon and Sidewinder missiles, and the Surveillance Radar Program (SRP) etc. Since then many US officials have been visiting Taiwan, most recently US speaker Nancy Pelocy has visited the island nation. Taiwan under president Tsai Ing-wen has signed MOUs with the USA to establish coast guard working groups and other joint activities in the South-China Sea. Taiwan has been increasing its defense budget. All these developments have triggered China to increase the threats of using military might. This type of intimidation or fear tactic also falls under Grey-zone activities.

China has been long accused of interfering in other countries’ election processes. The USA has alleged China that Chinese-backed hackers tried to meddle in their election by manipulating voters. During the 1995–96 Taiwan Strait Crisis, China demonstrated its military power aimed at interfering in Taiwan’s first presidential election. In 2018, China allegedly tried to interfere in Taiwan’s elections. The same happened in 2020. They tried to make the current President  lose the election due to her hard stance on aggressive China. China never liked her cross-strait policy and pro -US attitude. It has done spreading disinformation in Taiwan to create division, to disrupt social unity for political gains. President Tsai Ing-wen has called out this tactic against Taiwan as “Cognitive warfare tactic” . According to the latest survey conducted by Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council in October 2022, less than 10% of Taiwanese citizens think that Taiwan should reunite with mainland China. This shows that China has  little public support in Taiwan. That is why China has been doing a fierce misinformation and disinformation campaign in Taiwan to shape the mindset of Taiwanese people. Besides that, During the visit of Speaker Nancy Pelocy, China-linked hackers hacked Taiwanese government websites, media like Televisions and displayed things like  “warmonger Pelocy, get out of Taiwan! ”. Cyberattacks, interference and disinformation are also major Grey-zone activities that China uses to counter other states.

In the modern world, economically powerful countries have the greatest influence on other countries and their activities. China is the second largest economy in the world. Almost all the countries have trade and economic interaction with China. The second largest exporter and Importer of goods and services, China, has the ability to conduct economic coercion, economic sanctions, trade wars etc. In recent times, Australia has suffered Chinese sanctions in exporting goods. China has banned imports from Australia which was crucial to the Australian economy. During the Trump administration, to counter the US policy, China sanctioned some specific  imported products from the USA. Following Speaker Nancy Pelocy’s visit, China has sanctioned many Taiwan-based companies banning imports. We have to keep in mind, 40% of all Taiwanese commercial goods are exported to China every year. If Taiwan doesn’t mitigate its export dependency on China and doesn’t find other markets, then China will take advantage and put economic pressure on the Island Country.

To counter Grey-zone activities, a country including (all the state and non-state actors along with the citizens) must know what is Grey-zone and how to tackle it. To counter Chinese Grey-zone activities, The USA along with its allies must help out Taiwan. Western powers must help Taiwan to launch their own Grey-zone activities to tackle China. All the means and activities of Grey-zone must be used by the allied power to counter China in every way possible.

Salman Munshi
Salman Munshi
International Relations, Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka,Bangladesh.