As competition with China deepens, the nation’s use of gray zone techniques is becoming of increasing importance and interest. China has been using this approach for many years in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, and the India/China border, to name some prominent examples. Understanding the history behind these is important, but equally so is where China’s gray zone stratagems may be heading. In this, we live in the future, not the past. Understanding the direction towards which Chinese gray zone activities may evolve could give early warning about China’s likely next steps. Suitable responses could then be considered and implemented in a measured manner, without the time pressures induced by a sudden, unexpected crisis.

This article discusses three forward-leaning aspects: long-term trends, wild cards, and the shape of China’s future gray zone actions. Considered together, these outline future Chinese gray zone possibilities at the strategic and tactical levels, helping avoid potentially nasty surprises. Gray zone as used here builds on Michael Mazarr’s seminal work. Crucially, gray zone techniques are distinct from hybrid warfare. Gray zone techniques do not involve deliberate armed violence; hybrid warfare does, as defined in Frank Hoffman’s influential examinations. In recent years, China has doubled down on gray zone activities while Russia remains attracted to hybrid warfare. Neither the activities nor the countries should be conflated.

Please click here to read the full “Storm warning: Chinese grey zone futures inbound” article published at the Center for International Maritime Security, written by Griffith Asia Institute Visiting Fellow, Dr Peter Layton.