Gray zone

The tactic, in this case, is to incessantly undermine and challenge the country’s administrative control of Pag-asa Island.

The tactic, in this case, is to incessantly undermine and challenge the country’s administrative control of Pag-asa Island.

“Gray zone” isn’t as punchy as “friend zone” when describing a relationship trope.

If you aren’t Gen Z, “friend zone” is the state of being friends with someone when you prefer a romantic or sexual relationship with them. Surely, an ambivalent “gray zone” can’t cut it against “friend zone’s” unrequited romantic or sexual desire.

But in the geopolitics involving the West Philippine Sea, “gray zone” is trendier, and far more lethal, than “friend zone” ever will be.

To put it colorfully, since we have practically “friend-zoned” China in recent times, her unrequited desire for dominating our seas has turned toxic with unwarranted political and military “gray zone” tactics.

Chinese “gray zone” tactics are as serious as they can get, forcing us it to be overly familiar with them.

“Gray zone” tactics are generally understood as coercive activities which do not reach the threshold of conventional military warfare, enabling the perpetrator to avoid risks associated with escalation.

In geopolitics, the “gray zone” concept arose as a response to such political developments as Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea in Ukraine, the proxy warfare in the Middle East, and China’s pursuit of territorial claims in the South China Sea.

But why has “gray zone” been a part of our political vocabulary?

Well, it’s because, as one WPS security analyst put it the other week, “an engaged public is key to deterring gray zone actors and building national resilience.”

Keeping ourselves abreast and calling out Chinese ships prowling or “loitering” in the WPS and its surrounding waters puts China on edge, in short.

Not only that. Filipino WPS expert Jay Batongbacal says, “There should be no gray area anymore. We need to begin erasing the gray zone. We need to begin acting and standing up for our lawful maritime rights.”

Similarly, Philippine Coast Guard Commodore Jay Tarriola says their most important role in recent weeks in the West Philippine Sea is removing shades of gray and turning what China is doing into black and white.

“The Philippine Coast Guard’s persistent presence in patrolling the contested waters while at the same time documenting China’s activities allowed the international community to criticize their (China’s) actions that violate international law and violate international rules-based order,” Tarriola says.

Merely scrolling, therefore, through recent reports our Coast Guard spotted a Chinese Navy ship and dozens of Chinese maritime militia vessels milling around Pag-Asa Island won’t do us any good.
Such illegal Chinese excursions exactly describe an often-used “gray zone” tactic.

The tactic, in this case, is to incessantly undermine and challenge the country’s administrative control of Pag-asa Island.

It’s a tactic similar to China’s salami tactics in her dispute with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea.

Maritime security experts also strongly suspect such squeeze plays don’t just happen out of the blue.

Those incriminating incursions, as one Australian security brief says, is China implementing a well-orchestrated campaign, approved, and controlled by the highest levels of the Chinese government.

“Gray zone actions are not those of tactical commanders freelancing. These are purposefully constructed to side-step military escalation — crafted as a form of carefully scripted brinkmanship,” the security brief says.

A brinkmanship was made possible with China commissioning newer and larger coast guard patrol boats, some of which at 10,000 tons, are the size of navy cruisers.

In 2018, the China Coast Guard was placed under military command, and the CCG Law enacted in 2021 permits its cutters — now equipped with larger guns — to open fire on public law enforcement vessels of another country in maritime areas which it claims as “the waters… and the airspace above the waters under the jurisdiction of China.”

Amid all those abusive moves, we civilians just can’t suffer in ignorant silence. We must do our part and we need, as one security analyst puts it, “to light up the maritime gray zone.” Let’s do it.

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