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Chinese Views of the Spectrum of Conflict: Theory and Action

  • Published
  • China Aerospace Studies Institue

There is a widespread consensus among Western scholars that Chinese actions have become more aggressive in recent years. Foreign vessels have been rammed in disputed waters, transits of neighboring countries’ Air Defense Identification Zones have increased in number and scale, and border disputes have turned deadly in the Himalayas. Many of these actions generate concern about conflict escalation. For the United States and other countries to avoid accidentally triggering war with China, it is important to understand Chinese perceptions of the spectrum of conflict; that is, the theoretical model that presents a nation's range of actions in the security realm and how they might relate to conflict escalation. However, Chinese theorists rarely use the same vocabulary that features in American discourse. China’s use of information operations and maritime militia, for instance, are described in Western media as “hybrid” or “gray zone” operations but do not appear to be described in the same terms by China. Similarly, in Chinese publications from the AMS, NDU, state media, and academic institutions, the few references to irregular warfare [非常规战争], hybrid warfare [混合战争], or the “gray zone” [灰色地带] appear to be mostly in regard to foreign developments and discourse. At the same time, China places major emphasis on non-kinetic means to achieve its goals, in line with the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) emphasis on the political nature of warfare. This study attempts to provide an overview of authoritative Chinese writings on the spectrum of conflict, gray zone operations, and related topics, and contextualize these theoretical ideas with current events.

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