How China is Using “Grey Zone War” Tactics Against Taiwan

Article by Shantanu K. Bansal

The concept of indirect warfare is not new, it has been practiced since ages. Masters of strategic thoughts like Chanakya and Sun Tzu had widely wrote about indirect form of warfare in their principle works. The Art of War book written by Master Sun in 5th century BC provides a famous adage that the “supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” China’s strategic thoughts have been highly influenced by the likes of Sun Tzu.

Read at IADN: Difference Between Conventional Warfare, Sub-Conventional Warfare and Hybrid Warfare

In the latest report released on Tuesday (Nov. 9), Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence (MND) outlined that China is practicing “grey zone” warfare against Taiwan with the aim of degrading and exhausting the island’s ability to defend itself.  In this irregular type of conflict, which stops short of an actual shooting war, the aim is to subdue the foe through exhaustion.

The ROC National Defence Report 2021 which for the first time was released in Chinese and English simultaneously. In its chapter on security threats, all 12 pages were almost entirely dedicated to the numerous threats China poses to Taiwan, including military, grey zone, and non-conventional security threats. Taiwan accused China of using cyberwarfare, propaganda and international isolation to eventually force reunification without a direct military confrontation. It also took note of China’s growing conventional military capabilities in terms of ISR capabilities, blockading/ area denials capabilities, missile capabilities, strategic support Etc.

Continued Cyber Operations

Before this report came, cyber security department director Chien Hung-wei said Taiwan’s government network faces “five million attacks and scans a day.” Around half of these attacks are believed to have originated from China.

The ministry report warned that China has been “vigorously enhancing” its cyber warfare capabilities as part of the strategy to bring the island to heel.

In July, Taiwan’s police launched an investigation after the Line messaging app reported abnormal account activities to the authorities. Local media said the hacked accounts belonged to “high ranking officials” in various government branches.

Last year, Taiwanese authorities said Chinese hackers infiltrated at least 10 Taiwan government agencies and gained access to around 6,000 email accounts in an attempt to steal data. 

Coercion by Force

The report said China carried out 554 intrusions by flying warplanes into the island’s southwestern theatre of air defence identification zone between September of last year and the end of August. In October alone there were 148 intrusions, Taiwan said.

“Its intimidating does not only consume our combat power and shake our faith and morale but also attempts to alter or challenge the status quo in the Taiwan Strait to ultimately achieve its goal of ‘seizing Taiwan without a fight’,” the ministry said.

Propaganda Operations

Taiwan since last few years have been continuesly been targeted by China’s public opinion warfare. Besides targeting local media and print industry China’s influence operations also target cultural institutions, business, academic, and policy communities.

The recent report by US Department of Defence also notes that PLA has emphasized the development of its “Three Warfares” concept— comprised of psychological warfare, public opinion warfare, and legal warfare—in its operational planning sinc e at least 2003. The PLA will likely continue to develop its digital influence capabilities by incorporating advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the quality and deniability of its messaging.

Read at IADN: China Wants to Outpace U.S. By 2049 Says U.S. Department of Defence

The PLA usually illustrates its is bolstering amphibious and airborne assault capabilities through its media reports and official handles across social media. It has made an obligation for to have any sort of diplomatic relation, the country must accept its One China policy.


The COVID 19 has not deterred China from undertaking grey zone operations. The overall China’s defence policies has remained active as it was during pre-covid era, if not more now. China had been actively undertaking influence operations when it got into recent disputes with India over Galwan valley and other areas (2020-21).

Elsewhere in south-east Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam continue to be targets, facing persistent cyber-espionage, infringements of their airspace, Covid-19 disinformation and electoral interference. It is well documented that how China had used its civil militia using civilian boats to deter Philippines claims on its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a classic example of grey zone coercion, also to count on China’s wolf warrior diplomacy, it’s salami slicing tactics at borders with India. All shows increased focus of China in this domain.

It seems that Taiwan will remain as a testbed for China for trying its capabilities in this domain. China also seems to be really influenced by Russian interventions in Crimea and the Donbas (2017-present) in which Russia extensively utilised grey zone tactics, including the use of signals and EW operations almost defining the operational know-how of such operations in the real world scenario.

China seems to have been increasingly using these capabilities especially post formation of the PLA Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) in 2015. Ahead lies many lessons for India and other democracies to learn.


  • Shantanu K. Bansal

    Founder of IADN. He has more than 10 years of experience in research and analysis. An award winning researcher, he writes for the leading defence and security journals, think-tanks and in-service publications. He is a senior consultant at the Indian Army Training Command (ARTRAC), Shimla. Contact him at:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *