Lt. Mitchell Vines, Royal Australian Navy; review of Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson, eds., China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2019); The Australian Naval Institute, 14 July 2019.
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 7th title 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 Operations offers 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.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON VOLUME:
As with the previous six volumes in our “Studies in Chinese Maritime Development” series, an Amazon Kindle edition will be available.
Eventually, there will also be an authorized Chinese-language translation through Ocean Press, China’s leading maritime publisher.
- Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson, “Introduction: ‘War Without Gun Smoke’—China’s Paranaval Challenge in the Maritime Gray Zone,” 1-11.
- Joshua Hickey, Andrew S. Erickson, and Henry Holst, “China Maritime Law Enforcement Surface Platforms: Order of Battle, Capabilities, and Trends,” 108-132.
- Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson, “Conclusion: Options for the Definitive Use of U.S. Sea Power in the Gray Zone,” 291-301.
China’s maritime “gray zone” operations represent a new challenge for the U.S. Navy and the sea services of our allies, partners, and friends in maritime East Asia. There, Beijing is waging operations conducted to alter the status quo without resorting to war, an approach that some Chinese sources term “War without Gun Smoke” (一场没有硝烟的战争). Already winning in important areas, China could gain far more if left unchecked. One of China’s greatest advantages thus far has been foreign difficulty in understanding the situation, let alone determining an effective response. With contributions from some of the world’s leading subject matter experts, this volume aims to close that gap by explaining the forces and doctrines driving China’s paranaval expansion.
The book therefore covers in-depth China’s major maritime forces beyond core gray-hulled Navy units, with particular focus on China’s second and third sea forces: the “white-hulled” Coast Guard and “blue-hulled” Maritime Militia. Increasingly, these paranaval forces are on the frontlines of China’s seaward expansion, operating in the “gray zone” between war and peace: where the greatest action is. Beijing works constantly in peacetime (and possibly in crises short of major combat operations with the United States) to “win without fighting” and thereby to further its unresolved land feature and maritime claims in the Near Seas (Yellow, East, and South China Seas). There is an urgent need for greater understanding of this vital yet under-explored topic: this book points the way.