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This informative report from March 2019 has been professionally converted for accurate flowing-text e-book format reproduction. In the second decade of the 21st century, the Indo-Pacific region has been witness to increasingly coercive activities by China in the maritime domain. These activities have fundamentally challenged the traditional security architecture, proving to be adverse to the broader interests of nations in the region. However, countering Chinese provocations at sea has proven difficult, as Beijing has effectively manipulated the space between peace and war. That space is commonly referred to as the "gray zone" and is a space in which competitive interactions are managed using state and non-state actors with the ultimate goal of altering the status quo without provoking war. China has demonstrated that gray zone competition in the maritime domain can be a successful strategy with which to achieve its goal: expanding its control of the South China Sea. A critical element in China's gray zone maritime campaign is the operationalization of its fishing fleet into maritime militias. The Chinese maritime militias have played a prominent role in maritime disputes since 2009 and are responsible for some of the most dangerous interactions at sea. Because they are an abundant array of simple tactical units with strategic effect, it is essential that policymakers and security practitioners understand the impact that these units can have on the region's long-term security.
This compilation includes a reproduction of the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community.
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) is the armed forces of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The PLA comprises five branches: Ground Force (PLAGF), Navy (PLAN), Air Force (PLAAF), and the recently added Rocket Force (PLARF) and Strategic Support Force (PLASSF). In addition to those branches, a significant element of China's armed forces includes the mass organization of civilians into militia units. Of particular interest is the recent increase in the use of maritime militias, especially within gray zone conflict, where activities can be both competitive and coercive but fall below the threshold for war. Critical to this thesis will be identifying the principle drivers that have prompted the CCP and PLA to employ a maritime militia force that can potentially influence future warfighting and undermine the United States' competitive advantage within the Pacific Theater. This research should, in turn, answer the question: How does China's maritime militias' participating in gray zone conflict impact international relations? Understanding the PRC's strategic goals and policy decisions informs why Beijing would use maritime militias in combination with its military. It can be argued that almost all nations' military strategies are a reflection of the governing parties' political aims, and, therefore, that military strategy is a nation's strategy to employ force. The interrelationship between policy and strategy is a critical aspect to consider when analyzing any nation. That is to say that while the PLA is the armed forces of China, it is more precisely the armed forces of the Chinese Communist Party. This distinction is important because it may produce insights into the PRC's strategic direction that might otherwise go unobserved. The strategic goals of the PRC include the maintenance of domestic stability, prevention of Taiwanese secession, border defense, the defense of China's maritime claims and economic interests, and the safeguard of Chinese interests and citizens abroad.