China’s gray zone activities grind remorseless on but in so doing are creating an opposing pushback. As is customary, the paradoxical nature of war applies in that those impacted by a damaging strategy will over time devise optimized counter-moves.
In general, gray-zone activities involve purposefully pursuing political objectives through carefully designed operations; moving cautiously towards the objectives rather than seeking decisive results quickly; acting to remain below key escalatory thresholds so as to avoid war; and using all instruments of national power, particularly non-military and non-kinetic tools.
These characteristics mean gray zone is not hybrid war. This is, as the name suggests, a type of warfare, that deliberately uses armed violence
to try to conclusively win a campaign, as Russia’s involvements in the Ukraine, Syria and Libya highlight. Some argue that modern Russian hybrid war approach uses all means up to conventional military operations to support an information campaign aiming to gain “control over the fundamental worldview and orientation of a state”, shift its geostrategic alignment, and shape its governance. China’s gray zone actions aim for strategic advantage as is explained below, but today’s Russian hybrid war model much more ambitiously tries for regime change.