The so-called ‘grey zone’ tactics conducted by the American navy have significantly increased the chance of military conflict between the two powers, a Chinese observer has said. Chen Yong, an assistant research fellow at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, stated in an academic paper: “As China’s military might increases, so the US will turn to ever more dangerous grey zone operations.” Chen added that as the rivalry between China and the US in the security arena had grown, so Washington had employed the “full spectrum of grey zone activities to suppress Beijing”.
Grey zone is a term given to the state of being between war and peace, and in which a nation seeks to make political or territorial gains against another without resorting to actual combat.
He also concluded that the promises Washington makes to other nations in the region could lead to a confrontation with Beijing.
Chen spoke of China’s deep suspicion that the US navy’s ‘grey zone’ tactics are part of a strategy to gain the international narrative on how the region is governed.
He said: “All of these are designed to undermine China’s grey zone advantages and force it to accept the US version of the international maritime order.”
South China Sea
He added: “The security promises it makes to South China Sea countries are too high,” and that could lead the US and China “into unwanted conflicts.”
Professor Hu Bo, director of the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative, a think tank under Peking University’s Institute of Ocean Research, said that for China to counter the US’s actions it needed to hit back hard.
He said: “In this game an effective response is to escalate the level of confrontation and raise the stakes.”
On any given day, at least three US naval vessels can be found in the South China Sea, the Chinese researcher said.
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US aircraft carrier
While Beijing claims sovereignty over about 90 per cent of the waterway, based on its “nine-dash line”, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan hold competing claims, while the US says it has significant political, military and economic interests in the region.
According to military officials and observers in the US, Beijing’s grey zone tactics in the South China Sea include building artificial islands and militarising them, deploying its coastguard to patrol disputed reefs, and recruiting fishing vessels to work as an ad hoc maritime militia.
China began restructuring its coastguard in 2013 and since last year it has been under the administration of the People’s Armed Police, which in turn falls under the Central Military Commission chaired by President Xi Jinping.
The grey zone activities adopted by the US included a narrative war to label China a “revisionist” nation, increased coastguard patrols, freedom of navigation operations and naval exercises in the South China Sea, he said.
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President Xi Jinping and China’s navy
China’s militarised islands
This news comes amid China’s secret deal with the Solomon Islands to develop the small island of Tulagi as tensions in the South China Sea erupt.
China has secured the rights to develop Tulagi commercially, leaving residents shocked and concerned about future use of the island.
An agreement between a Chinese company and the Solomon Islands government has been reported to have been reached secretly by the New York Times.
The company in question The China Sam Enterprise Group, is a state-owned enterprise with strong ties to the ruling Communist Party.
The nine dash line
The company is said to have secured a renewable 75-year lease with a focus on commercial development.
However, the move has raised fears among residents that the company’s foothold will leave the island open to blatant Chinese political interests.
With many fearing the door is also now laid open to possible military use of the island.
The island boasts a protected deepwater harbour and has long been regarded as a strategic outpost.
China’s militarised island
The one time capital of the British Soloman Island’s Protectorate, has been in the past occupied by the Japanese during WWII.
The Island then changed hands to the US, captured after a fierce battle.
Recently China has extended its own influence over the region, in its attempts to further increase its presence in the Indo-Pacific area.