Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) are routine for the U.S. Navy and increasingly necessary to blunt China’s threatening presence in the South China Sea. Such operations in that area have served two purposes: first, to secure all vessels’ transit rights in global waterways; second, to prompt China to expose its low-intensity-warfare designs in the region.
According to Reuters, “China says U.S. undermining stability after U.S. warship sails through the Taiwan Strait a day earlier,” reporting that the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater Command harangued the United States for “undermining regional peace and stability” during a “routine Taiwan Strait transit.” The vessel that piqued Communist China’s ire was the USS Curtis Wilbur, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer.
Typically, China accuses the United States of the very behavior China exhibits. In the field of psychology, this is known as “projection.” For geopolitical-intimidation purposes, such false allegations, disinformation, and fabricated narratives fall into the category of “gray-zone warfare.” In other wars, these were referred to as propaganda campaigns. But today, gray-zone warfare is far more sophisticated. Liberty Nation has warned that China has become bolder in weaponizing information, explaining:
“China’s information operations do not depend on soldiers in the field but on feeding false narratives laced with half-truths to the target audience. Take one from among its many false narratives as an example. When it became clear that China was the culprit in not sounding the alarm that a world-threatening illness was developing in Wuhan, the regime put out a story that the U.S. military was the real perpetrator.”
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) routinely act aggressively toward Taiwan, using tactics just short of military engagement. However, this behavior is increasing in frequency and intensity. In the Taiwan News, staff writer Kelvin Chen warned, “Shu Hsiao-huang, a scholar at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), said on Thursday (Feb. 25) that China’s gray-zone warfare tactics toward Taiwan have reached the highest level.” Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense photos show China’s military-intelligence-gathering aircraft flying in Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone without providing the required identification. The Taiwan News article went on to describe Shu’s dire assessment:
“Shu pointed out that gray-zone warfare can be divided into three levels: low, medium, and high. He said that the ‘high’ level includes nuclear posturing, military threats, large-scale clandestine operations that ‘create fait accompli situations,’ the use of special forces to deny mobilization of the target country’s military, and support of large-scale proxy wars. According to Shu, the CCP’s actions have reached this highest level of gray-zone warfare.”
Taiwan is not the only recipient of the CCP’s attention. The Philippine online daily Inquire.net, in an article by Frances Mangosing, explained that the Chinese have included the Philippines in the target set. In an interview with Emmanuel Bautista, former chief of the armed forces of the Philippines, he cautioned strongly that “China is now employing gray-zone tactics to establish a foothold in Philippine territory that can be used to fully control the disputed waters.”
Bautista continued to describe what China is doing:
“China’s deployment of maritime militia around Philippine-claimed features in the West Philippine Sea and the rest of the South China Sea is an example. But Bautista, who is also former executive director of National Task Force West Philippine Sea, said gray zone tactics involved other means. ‘Even as we speak, war is being fought in the gray zone. In information and propaganda realm, economic and other areas,’ he said.”
The CCP does not take a day off in its relentless gray-zone attacks, just as the PLA perpetually hunts for extremist Uighurs among its ranks.
The United States must consider what the Chinese are doing in the South Pacific and elsewhere as a loud call to action. The U.S. Department of Defense must continue FONOPs in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Straits and recognize them as gray-zone warfare. The CCP media assaults on the United States are projections of China’s own belligerent behaviors.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
Read more from Dave Patterson.