China under Xi Jinping has been through rapid economic growth, giving it increased leverage to engage more assertively in questions of its territorial and maritime claims. While a multitude of diplomatic, military and strategic tools have been employed in pursuit of its goals lately, none has been as consistent as the gray-zone tactics it has resorted to over the last decade.
By using military and non-military means of coercion, Beijing has systematically established its presence as a strategic challenge to the status quo and as a threat to multiple actors within the realm of international security. Motivated by its historical claims in regard to the South and East China Sea (ECS) and its “One China” policy, China’s unrelenting use of gray-zone warfare tactics against Taiwan have raised alarm.
Heavily compromised cross-strait relations pose a threat to Japan, whose national security is intrinsically linked with that of Taiwan. As the Taiwan crisis rapidly escalates, how can Japan mitigate Beijing’s gray-zone tactics and ensure its own national security?
Converging Defense Postures
Referring to threats that do not amount to an armed attack, Japan’s 2021 Defense White Paper significantly emphasizes the importance of mitigating gray-zone actions.
Tokyo essentially defines a gray-zone situation as one wherein a country confronts another over territorial, sovereign, maritime interests or other economic interests by forcefully demonstrating its presence. Identified as neither peacetime nor contingency situations, Japan recognizes the activity as “part of inter-state competition,” harboring “the risk of rapidly developing into graver situations without showing clear intentions.” Accordingly, Japan’s white paper calls for increased concern over the disputed Senkaku Islands (referred to as Diaoyu by China), considering China’s growing gray-zone activity to strategically assert its presence in the region.
China’s increasingly threatening approach towards Taiwan has resulted in the need for a rigorously strengthened defense posture for the latter. The second Taiwan Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR 2021) under President Tsai…