Naval Institute Press: “China’s Maritime Gray-Zone Operations in the East China Sea and Japan’s Response”

My latest analysis … of the rapidly evolving maritime gray-zone competition between China and Japan in the East China Sea … has just come out in print as part of a new edited volume from Naval Institute Press! Amazon link

Suggested citation (and link) below: 


Chapter summary:

Though the operational environment in the waters and airspace surrounding the contested Senkaku (Diaoyu in Chinese) Islands rarely makes global headlines these days, Sino-Japanese competition in the East China Sea is far from static. In particular, maritime gray-zone dynamics have been evolving rapidly.

This chapter examines major drivers behind, trends concerning, and consequences of China’s maritime gray-zone operations in the East China Sea. Because these developments are not unfolding in a vacuum, it also analyzes Japan’s responses to China’s challenge.

Part one examines how China’s maritime gray-zone operations have transformed the operational environment surrounding the Senkakus, especially since September 2012, and discusses their motivating logic. White-hulled China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels now regularly enter waters within 12nm of the contested islands to assert Beijing’s sovereignty claim, without firing (or provoking) a shot. Part two examines the oft-overlooked aspects of Japan’s own response to China’s gray-zone challenge, with a primary focus on Japan’s Coast Guard (JCG). In addition to the direct impact on Sino-Japanese relations, associated capability trends and operational dynamics carry important implications for U.S. policymakers—both within and beyond a U.S.-Japan alliance context.


  • I am grateful to Profs. Andrew Erickson and Ryan Martinson of the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) for including my manuscript in the edited volume, and for an earlier invitation to present my research in Newport as part of the CMSI conference on the same topic.

As always, any and all (constructive) feedback is more than welcome. One caveat: the conference and edited volume’s very targeted focus specifically on “China’s maritime gray-zone operations” required me to limit the scope of my analysis accordingly. It goes without saying that the PLA and JSDF, as well as political and other dynamics, are also hugely significant factors shaping the general political and strategic context in which this Sino-Japanese gray-zone competition unfolds.

Stay tuned for more of my analysis on these issues in the near future…