CHINA’S MARITIME MILITIAS: A GRAY ZONE FORCE
Oliver, Jeremy A.
Jasper, Scott E.
Twomey, Christopher P.
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In the second decade of the 21st century, the Indo-Pacific region has been witness to increasingly coercive activities by China in the maritime domain. These activities have fundamentally challenged the traditional security architecture, proving to be adverse to the broader interests of nations in the region. However, countering Chinese provocations at sea has proven difficult, as Beijing has effectively manipulated the space between peace and war. That space is commonly referred to as the "gray zone" and is a space in which competitive interactions are managed using state and non-state actors with the ultimate goal of altering the status quo without provoking war. China has demonstrated that gray zone competition in the maritime domain can be a successful strategy with which to achieve its goal: expanding its control of the South China Sea. A critical element in China's gray zone maritime campaign is the operationalization of its fishing fleet into maritime militias. The Chinese maritime militias have played a prominent role in maritime disputes since 2009 and are responsible for some of the most dangerous interactions at sea. Because they are an abundant array of simple tactical units with strategic effect, it is essential that policymakers and security practitioners understand the impact that these units can have on the region’s long-term security.
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