Competition in the Gray Zone: A Cross-analysis of Taiwan and the South China Sea

In recent years, the concept of ‘gray zone’ has become a significant area of concern in international relations, particularly within the context of maritime disputes. The gray zone encompasses a spectrum of tactics and strategies employed below the threshold of overt conflict, creating an ambiguous interplay that challenges both regional security and international law. Key examples include the use of maritime militias in the South China Sea, construction of artificial islands, extensive military exercises within contested territories, and the implementation of economic coercion.

Defined as the ambiguous space between peace and war, the gray zone provides a conducive environment for both state and non-state actors to pursue strategic objectives through activities that can be plausibly denied or obfuscated. This allows actors to exert influence, assert dominance, and advance their interests without escalating to a full-blown confrontation. In the context of Taiwan, the gray zone is particularly pronounced. Tactics such as diplomatic isolation, economic pressure, and increased military drills pose significant challenges to regional stability and the established international order. Navigating the complexities of the gray zone requires a nuanced understanding of the underlying dynamics and a concerted effort to develop effective responses that uphold the principles of international order and stability.

Ms Diren Doğan currently works as a Lecturer at Alanya Alaaddin Keykubat University and has been an Academic Visitor at the Oxford School of Global Area Studies (OSGA) since April 2024.