China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations

China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations. Edited by Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson. Naval Institute Press.

Reviewed by Lieutenant Mitchell Vines, RAN

The latest combined effort by Erickson and Martinson, China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations, arrives on the heels of the Naval War College’s 2017 China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) Conference themed the same as the book title. In the 7thtitle of the series, 19 contributions unite in this joint publication (CMSI and Naval Institute Press) to discuss gray zone operations in the South China Sea through the lens of the US-China relationship.    

Erickson and Martinson have further etched themselves into the community of heavy-weight strategists, working with an assortment of outstanding authors and building on their reputation as staunch intellectuals who keenly grasp the nuances of Chinese maritime strategy, particularly gray zone operations.

In the contemporary atmosphere, strategists are hard pressed to eschew the issue of the South China Sea in conversation. Articles encompassing the South China Sea are published faster than one is able to examine and interpret the writing, yet Erickson and Martinson have brought together a significant publication that illuminates a critically dim section in an area broadly considered as over-done. China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations provides the reader with a comprehensive exploration of the evolving nature of Chinese behaviour in the South China Sea and notably, the chance to do so from 22 different perspectives.

Split into 5 parts, the publication charts a fluid, logical advance from conceptualization to components, to scenarios and finishing with policy considerations. Despite focus being primarily linked to the US, the discussion set down remains pertinent to readers around the world. Partitioning the publication results in the added advantage of granting the author the capacity to stay on topic, whilst the reader can break step and realign themselves to the message (or point) in each of the 5 parts. The reviewer was left with an enduring impression of: the clarity with which the foundation of the topic is described in Part 1; the conciseness and transparency of the often misunderstood aspects of the China Coast Guard (CCG) in Part 2; the accurate identification and description of the ‘gray area’ of China’s Maritime Militia in Part 3; the specificity and application of poignant events in Part 4; and, well-considered, robust policy considerations in Part 5.

China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operationsoffers the reader a brilliant opportunity to traverse contemporary considerations of the South China Sea’s gray zone mechanism. Prior reading is not required to comprehend the information in the publication however that is not to call it a shallow read – this speaks to the skill of each author to explain key information to a general audience. Better yet, the reader can use the publication as a jumping-off point to dive into the lesser told but indeed rich history of gray zone operations exercised elsewhere around the world. Highly recommended reading.

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