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Mastering the Gray Zone: Understanding a Changing Era of Conflict

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Technical Report

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U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute Carlisle

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In the remote reaches of the South China Sea in the Spratly Island chain, China is creating land. In order to bolster its claims to the waters of the region, Beijing is pouring millions of metric tons of sand and concrete onto submerged reefs, creating artificial islands.1 Island-building is merely one of the most obvious of many actions, ranging from propaganda to economic coercion and swarming fleets of fishing vessels, that China has been taking to solidify its assertion of territorial and resource rights throughout the region.2 Step by forceful step, China is laying the groundwork for a new order in the region that recognizes Beijings unquestioned primacy, and for an international system whose norms and institutions reflect Chinas interests and preferences.3 China is biding its time, one report recently concluded, slowly eroding American credibility in the region, changing facts on the ground where it believes it can and carefully calibrating the coercion of its rivals in the South China Sea.4

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  • Government and Political Science

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