Taiwan faces increased “grey zone conflict” threat: scholar

An aerial image of the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning, sailing near Taiwan in April, 2020 / Photo courtesy of the Ministry of National Defense

TAIPEI (CNA) — Taiwan faces increased threats from Beijing through the expanded deployment of “gray zone conflict” tactics, a Taiwanese security analyst has said.

Using this approach, Beijing wants to apply “extreme pressure” on Taiwan through non-peaceful means that are short of a conventional war, said William Chung (鍾志東) of the government-funded Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR).

Beijing is also attempting to unilaterally change the cross-Taiwan Strait status quo as part of its preparations for “reunification,” he argued.

Chung made the observation in a paper titled “The Cross-Strait Grey Zone Conflict and Taiwan’s Security,” published on June 5 in the latest issue of the INDSR’s Defense Situation.

Chinese fishing boats intentionally ramming a Taiwanese Coast Guard vessel in waters near Taiwan’s Kinmen Islands on March 16 and missions by Chinese warships and aircraft near Taiwan’s air space and waters in recent years are instances in which Beijing has used grey-zone conflict against Taiwan, Chung suggested.

The Taiwanese Coast Guard vessel, with hull number CP-1022, which was rammed by Chinese fishing boats in waters near Taiwan’s Kinmen Islands on March 16. CNA file photo.

Other examples include China’s two-and-a-half month military exercise in the Bohai Gulf, which started six days before President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) inauguration on May 20 and China’s reported plan to conduct an amphibious landing exercise near the Taiwan-controlled Dongsha Islands (Pratas Islands) in August, he said.

“China’s grey zone conflict approach has become a new challenge to Taiwan’s national security,” Chung warned.

Such tactics came as Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has shifted Beijing’s approach to dealing with cross-strait issues and international affairs from the low-key strategy of late Chinese communist leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) to a more aggressive posture, according to Chung.

In response, Taiwan needs to build credible “hard power” to deter such threats, devise ways to avoid escalating grey-zone conflicts into military conflicts, and overcome social divisions caused by differences in national identity among Taiwan’s citizens, he said.

At a practical level, Taiwan should focus on drawing a red line and making clear what actions it will take when that line is crossed, Chung suggested.

Taiwan should prioritize non-military responses, establish whole-of-government response mechanisms, seek international cooperation, and gain more support in terms of public opinion, Chung said.

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