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China Cranks Up ‘Gray Zone’ Incursions, Taiwan Warns

TAIPEI — China is cranking up “gray zone” harassment and incursions to challenge Taiwanese sovereignty, Taiwan’s new defense report warns.

According to the Ministry of Defense’s report released on Tuesday, China has become even more aggressive by seeking to establish a “new normal” and is conducting gray zone activities — those harmful to another state but below the threshold of war.

The report noted that China has “increased the scale, frequency, and intensity of drills and exercises against Taiwan to strengthen its operational preparation to invade Taiwan.” To that end, China sent warships and aircraft across the median line of the Taiwan Strait and over its air defense identification zone, conducted exercises in nearby waters, moved assets close to areas adjacent to 24 nautical miles off Taiwan, and launched cyberattacks against key government agencies and infrastructure.

Beijing has also been dispatching civil aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and weather balloons to fly close to Taiwan and its offshore islands, using marine survey vessels and hydrographic survey ships as “cover” for its military, the report said.

These moves seek to “unilaterally change the status quo across the Taiwan Strait and escalate regional tensions” and represent “a grave challenge to our national defense and has impacted the security situation in the Indo-Pacific,” it added.

Alessio Patalano, professor of war and strategy in East Asia at King’s College London, said countries with a stake in maritime and air stability should push back against China’s actions “through consistent practices and a consistent naming and shaming of the use of force to pursue political objectives.”

He also said, “The new report suggests that approaching the challenge of growing Chinese coercive action as a matter of campaigning is critical to preventing ever higher levels of force to ‘normalize.'” 

Communist China has never ruled Taiwan — an island democracy of 24 million people — but claims it as its own. Beijing has refused to rule out the use of force to take over its neighbor.

The aggression against Taiwan forms part of China’s expansionist behavior in the region, where Beijing has doubled down on its sweeping “nine-dash line” claim to almost all of the contested South China Sea.

“PRC’s enhanced military shock and awe against Taiwan and partnership with Russia, as well as its gray zone activities in the waters off the South China Sea, are major factors destabilizing the security situation in the region,” the report said.

Defense Minister Chiu Ko-cheng said in the report: “Over the past two years, the PRC has been altering the status quo of the Taiwan Strait through gray zone tactics into a so-called ‘new normal’ in the form of military intimidation and intrusions from across the Strait.”

In response, the Taiwanese military has beefed up defense capabilities by strengthening all-out defense, reforming reservists and initiating a special budget for enhancing naval and air combat power, Chiu said. “We have been using an innovative and asymmetric mindset to build up an overall credible combat power to exploit the vulnerability of potential PRC’s military invasion.”

Specifically against gray zone aggression, the Taiwanese armed forces have enhanced joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance efforts and adapted standing operational procedures to “counter the enemy’s ‘new normal’ coercion and ensure our national security,” the report said.

The Taiwanese navy is planning to acquire light frigates to strengthen its capabilities for joint sea control and counter gray zone harassment, it added.

“Anti-coercion campaigns of responsible practice and consistent political signaling are one core form of support” to meet the growing pressure on Taiwan, Patalano of King’s College said. “The report’s choice to retain conventional capabilities like frigates to meet the China daily challenge shows Taiwan’s determination to follow this path, too.” 

Facing China’s threats, President Tsai Ing-wen’s government has been gradually stepping up Taiwan’s defense capabilities in recent years. Over the last five years, Taiwan’s overall defense budget has steadily risen from 381.5 billion New Taiwan dollars ($11.9 billion) to NT$580.3 billion, and as a share of the economy — 2% to 2.5% of gross domestic product.

Source : nikkei