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Former Japanese rear admiral cautions against China’s ‘gray zone’ activities! This is an original article from CNA FOCUS TAIWAN!

A Taiwanese naval personnel monitors a Chinese military vessel in this photo released by the Ministry of National Defense on May 24, 2024

Taipei, June 7 (CNA) The international community should be mindful of China’s “gray zone” activities carried out by its maritime militia and coast guard west of the First Island Chain, an area where Beijing seeks to establish full control, a former Japanese Navy rear admiral said on Friday at a maritime security forum in Taipei.

Katsuya Yamamoto, a retired rear admiral in the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, said China has been exploiting freedom of navigation by deploying its maritime militia to international waters in an attempt to escalate its “gray zone” activities.

He was speaking at the 2024 International Conference on Sea Lane Security held by Taiwan’s Ocean Affairs Council and National Sun Yat-sen University.

Gray zone activities refer to actions that fall between traditional notions of war and peace. These activities typically involve ambiguous or non-traditional methods that aim to achieve strategic objectives without overtly crossing the threshold into open conflict.

In terms of activities China carries out that are considered gray zone, its PLA aircraft have been crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait regularly. In recent months, it has also used its coast guard and maritime militia to intimidate Philippine vessels operating near the Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed Spratly Islands by ramming them and deploying military-grade lasers and water cannons against them. China has also been preventing Filipino fishermen from accessing traditional fishing sites within the Philippine exclusive economic zone, negatively impacting local economies, according to foreign media reports.

Criticized for such moves, China, in turn, has repeatedly accused the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan of incrementally pushing for independence, with the moves seen as arising from tensions between the two sides. Beijing has also warned the Philippines against ramming its vessels and insisted that it has the right to legally patrol the disputed waters off the Spratly Islands.

Yamamoto, who now heads the Security Studies Program at Japan-based Sasakawa Peace Foundation, said China’s maritime militia is part of the People’s Liberation Army and has engaged in war — for example, the Sino-Vietnamese War.

Under international humanitarian law, the Chinese maritime militia is defined as a regular part of a country’s armed forces and a combatant, he added.

He said China inculcates the notion in its soldiers and sailors that whatever happens in the waters west of the First Island Chain — a string of islands that run from the Japanese archipelago, through Taiwan, the Philippines and on to Borneo, Indonesia — is a “domestic matter.”

Based on that premise, all hostile elements west of the Chain must be eliminated — a task with which the China Coast Guard is charged, he said.

Yamamoto noted that China’s Coast Guard is different from its foreign counterparts as it functions as a “complete Naval force” that can operate independently even if China decides to escalate its gray zone activities, while the coast guards of Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines would need the support of their Navy in that scenario.

Yamamoto warned that if democratic countries ignore the gray zone situation that China seeks to perpetuate with its maritime militia, before long, the current international order will transform into a “Chinese-style international order” as envisioned by Beijing.

He said it was important that the international community increase the visibility and transparency of what is happening on the sea, share such intelligence, and jointly condemn and push back against challenges to the status quo.

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