Over the last several years, the relationship with China has become increasingly awkward for both Australia and Japan. Other nations have also been similarly afflicted and sometimes more so. The expression “grey zone” is now used as a generic label for China’s new form of prickly interstate tactics, which can include anything from economic coercion and cyberattacks to militarisation of disputed territory and interference operations.

Australia and Japan are both deeply concerned over grey zone actions, seeing them as an area needing military involvement. The 2020 Australian Defence Strategic Update declared that “Defence must be better prepared to respond to [grey zone] activities.” Japan’s 2021 Defence of Japan White Paper sets out that grey zone response is one of the six principal roles assigned to the Japanese Self Defence Force (JSDF).

China’s use of grey zone techniques in the South and East China Seas provides some useful insights. In these regions, China’s grey zone strategy is incremental, slowly nibbling away at the edges, making use of multiple military and non-military measures, being careful not to escalate into major war, controlled at the highest governmental levels and ongoing. These techniques have developed over time and remain evolving.

Please click here to read the full “Australia–Japan defence cooperation in the grey zone” article published at the Interpreter, written by Griffith Asia Institute Visting Fellow, Dr Peter Layton.