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IFANS PERSPECTIVES China’s Playbook for “Three Warfare (三战)” with South Korea in the Gray Zone PYO Nari Upload Date 2023-07-06 Hits 648
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Ⅰ. Introduction
II. How the Concept of Gray Zone Has Evolved in China in the Post-Cold War Era
III. Regional Applications and Implications: Friction between Seoul and Beijing over THAAD Deployment
IV. Navigating the Gray Zone: Considerations for the Targets of Operations 
Ⅴ. Conclusion 


Ⅰ. Introduction

The “gray zone” conflict is the most common mode of ambiguous and hybrid warfare among modern states that seek to avoid war. A multitude of the provocations contrived and carried out by a country in a disadvantageous position to offset its relative weaknesses can be categorized as the gray zone conflict. The so-called revisionist countries such as Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea have been attracted to gray zone tactics to shake up the U.S.-led international order. In particular, China’s high-growth era and rise to a global economic power after reform and opening-up marked its turn outward in expanding international influence, and maximizing its national security interests by challenging U.S. hegemony or altering the status quo. However, China has yet to develop military capabilities to directly challenge American hegemony despite its remarkable rise on the global stage over the past decades. And this is presumably why China is pursuing the gray zone strategy engineered to alter the status quo in its favor without triggering direct backlash or militarized responses through indirect intervention.
China initially formulated its gray zone strategy to leverage nonmilitary means against Taiwan, but Beijing now employs gray zone tactics across a wider range of domains: political, economic, and diplomatic. The gray zone strategy stems from the “Three Warfare,” the guiding conceptual framework created as the political maneuvering within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). To conceptually differentiate China’s gray zone strategy from its “Three Warfare,” the latter encompasses confrontation and conflict in peacetime whereas the former focuses on how to seize the advantage in political and military confrontations. However, seen from a broad perspective, the two concepts aim to alter the existing order and power dynamics and share a desire to act below the threshold of a militarized response. 
With this perception in mind, this paper primarily aims to derive future-oriented implications and offer clear-eyed ways for Korea through a bird’s-eye view of China’s Gray Zone strategy based on the “Three Warfare,” by examining China’s assertive behaviors and strategies played out in Korea.  

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