For months, Reuters reports, Chinese dredgers have entered the waters surrounding Taiwan’s Matsu Islands, forcing the country’s severely strained coast guard to mobilize its own ships in response. The Taiwanese chased out about 4,000 such vessels last year, according to the report:
The dredging is a “gray-zone strategy with Chinese characteristics,” said Su Tzu-yun, an associate research fellow at Taiwan’s top military think tank, the Institute for National Defense and Security Research. “You dredge for sand on the one hand, but if you can also put pressure on Taiwan, then that’s great, too.”
Sand is just part of the gray-zone campaign. China, which claims democratically-governed Taiwan as its own territory, has been using other irregular tactics to wear down the island of 23 million. The most dramatic: In recent months, the People’s Liberation Army, China’s military, has been dispatching warplanes in menacing forays toward the island. Taiwan has been scrambling military aircraft on an almost daily basis to head off the threat, placing an onerous burden on its air force.
Taiwanese military officials and Western analysts say China’s gray-zone tactics are meant to drain the resources and erode the will of the island’s armed forces — and make such harassment so routine that the world grows inured to it. China’s sand dredging, said one Taiwanese security official investigating the matter, is “part of their psychological warfare against Taiwan, similar to what they are doing in Taiwan’s southwestern airspace,” where the Chinese jets are intruding.
These irregular tactics, which go hand in hand with the People’s Liberation Army incursions into Taiwan’s air-defense identification zone, won’t provoke the same international action that an outright assault might, but in the long term they could prove just as dangerous to the survival of the world’s sole Chinese democracy.