In the Grey Zone with China

  • by:
  • Source: UncoverDC
  • 09/19/2023

China actively employs Grey Zone activities to advance and consummate its 100-year marathon—otherwise known as its plan to replace the U.S. as a global superpower. China knows America is ill-equipped, both temperamentally and strategically, to address China's strategic, long-term manipulations with agility. China's strategy is political warfare on steroids.

Where China is the paced marathoner, the U.S. sprints off the block. Where China is poised and cunning, the U.S. is direct and often guileless. While the U.S. follows the rules, China adeptly turns them against us to further its interests. The U.S. is much more conventional in its warfare. China is deceitfully unconventional. The U.S. is historically oriented. China tests the political winds. The cultural and political chasm is so wide that it is almost impossible for the unworldly Western mind to grasp.

China is the proverbial snake in the grass, waiting, silent, and predatory. Snakes detect prey with their forked tongue, probing for scent. Some snakes strike, grab and constrict their prey, monitoring its heartbeat until it dies. Others, like the small-banded kukri snakes, tear their prey's viscera to shreds while eating them alive. Both are examples of the patience and brutality of the Communist Chinese in dealing with their enemies. Anyone familiar with the Ancient game of Go also understands that it is a game of "encirclement and capture"—so emblematic of how the Chinese operate on the world stage.

Letter from President Panuelo of the FSM

In March, after its elections, the President of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), David W. Panuelo, wrote a weighty letter to the transitioning administration about the impact on FSM of China's geopolitical strategies. It was his third letter to FSM leaders on the subject of China. The first two, written in 2022, are here and here.

Geographically speaking, FSM is an island country in Oceania in the western Pacific. It comprises four groups of island States in geographic sequence from west to east: Yap State, Chuuk State, Pohnpei State, and Kosrae State, with 607 islands to its name—and about 271 square miles. FSM is of great strategic interest to both China and the U.S.


In this third letter, Panuelo wisely refers to China's use of political warfare and Grey Zone tactics. With two months left in his administration, he urges leaders in the new administration to focus on Taiwan as a strategic ally because of the threats he sees from the PRC (People's Republic of China). The letter speaks from experience and is about the most concise and clear-sighted description of Chinese Grey Zone political warfare. He cites many examples of China's corrupt influence and Grey Zone incursions on FSM and warns of the gravity of China's imminent designs on Taiwan. To understand Panuelo's letter is to understand how China operates geopolitically on the world stage.


Importantly, Panuelo discusses China's many overt and covert activities that operate "below the threshold for a nation to respond with force and are otherwise difficult to handle by 'normal' means." The U.S. is particularly vulnerable in this context because China knows we are reluctant to poke them, fearing all-out kinetic war. China also knows we like rules and is more than happy to break rules that allow them to achieve their strategic objectives.

As Panuelo writes, these are "carefully designed operations: measured, possibly prolonged...and are key escalatory thresholds" that allow China to avoid war until the timing is right. China uses every possible strategic and cultural pressure to achieve its end goals. China also knows if it too obviously pushes the U.S., it may weaken its position.

Col. Newsham, an expert on China Grey Zone warfare, describes how China threads the needle with its wish to "incorporate" Taiwan in his April 8 interview on American Thought Leaders. His description of the Chinese mindset with the U.S. very much parallels Panuelo's thoughts:

Col Newsham/American Thought Leaders/April 8, 2023

Newsham's interview is well worth the watch. He examines some of the cunning key Grey Zone strategies China employs to eventually achieve its objectives. He explains that China has mastered the leveraging of U.S. reluctance to directly call out or confront what China is always doing—not only in Taiwan but here in the U.S. as a part of its 100-year marathon. According to Newsham, China aims to take Taiwan "without a fight" but will enter a kinetic war if pushed.

Taiwan's Capture Breaches the Castle Wall

It is foolish for the U.S. to ignore China's plans to replace the U.S. as the world's superpower. Whatever China might say to U.S. leaders, it is not America's friend. They view us as their most important enemy. Volumes have been written on Taiwan and its strategic importance to China. Note that Taiwan is a crown jewel in China's march toward America. If China were to capture or entice Taiwan to reincorporate, it would punch a hole in the "castle walls," leaving a strategic path to the U.S.

Taiwan's population is 23 million. U.S. leaders often talk about Taiwan's importance in the context of the high-end chip market. It is, at best, a myopic point of view. If Taiwan comes under Chinese control, it will isolate other nations—Japan to the north and Australia to the south, "cutting it off from the U.S. and the rest of Asia." Taiwan is the first in a series of island chains that would make "operations farther east into the Pacific much easier to accomplish," says Newsham. Even as we speak, China is installing infrastructure and exerting political influence in Latin America, about as close to our borders as possible.

ATL/Newsham/Map/Epoch Times

As with almost everything China does, its capture of Taiwan is both political and psychological. If Beijing were to take Taiwan, it is not only a military win; it would give China a psychological advantage. Col. Newsham explains:

"It's that the U.S. military could not prevent the Americans from keeping 23 million Taiwanese free. U.S. economic and financial power couldn't do it, and U.S. nuclear weapons couldn't do it either. In short order, you're going to find Asia turning red as most countries there realize that an American promise is not what it used to be, and you're going to see that worldwide as well."

China is busy building its military forces and arms and making good progress on all. They have the determination, the funding, and the manpower to become our equals in short order. They are now capable of sending Naval flotillas to the U.S. They have a military force to be reckoned with now and in the future.

They also employ unconventional fleets in the form of fishing vessels that "double as a maritime militia with its swarming tactics" and have been used "very successfully in the South China Sea." Their long-term presence has convinced other fishermen and opponents to stay out of their way, giving the Chinese a strategic advantage without firing a shot. These powerful and armed fishing vessels will sink other vessels if necessary.

Col. Newsham/ATL/April 8, 2023

These fleets are Grey Zone warfare at its finest—a complete charade. China knows the frailties of its opponents, especially the U.S. Americans, will "play by the rules" following conventional rules of engagement. America will fail to call them for what they really are—military vessels. Newsham explains the dynamic well:

Col Newsham/ATL/April 8, 2023

CCP's Unconventional Warfare with the U.S.

China's influence operations and unconventional warfare in the U.S. should not be underestimated. Almost every single sector of our country has been infiltrated by the CCP. There are too many examples to explore here fully. However, it is essential to begin to understand some of them if you are to know their tactics.


Fentanyl kills upwards of 70,000 people a year and flows through our southern border, compliments of the CCP. According to Newsham, China provides "about 99 percent of Fentanyl precursors. The raw materials go to Mexico and are then turned into pills and moved to the U.S." 12 years of the Viet Nam War killed only 55,000 Americans. China caused the same havoc with the Opium Wars.

Drug trade causes socio-economic ruin, addiction, death, and strain on healthcare systems. What better way to take out large swaths of fighting-age men and women? What better way to kill U.S. factory workers? As we speak, there are growing numbers of young Chinese also migrating from countries on our southern border, poised to fight or work for a low wage for American companies—all Grey Zone warfare. And we do nothing.

WTO and China

Twenty years ago, China's entry into the rules-based World Trade Organization impacted the U.S. industry profoundly. China was allowed to enter and then proceeded to break the rules repeatedly. Politico reports, "Neither the WTO nor the U.S. government was equipped for China's combination of relentless exploitation of WTO loopholes with a willful disregard of WTO rules that has put China within possible reach of displacing the U.S. as the world's largest economy as soon as 2028." Whole industries moved their operations offshore because of the cheap labor market and access to China's economy. To this day, China steals U.S. technology and talent, and the U.S. does little to stop it—Grey Zone warfare.

China's Land and Resources Grab

Find a block in New York City, and the Chinese own real estate there. You name it; the Chinese have been busily acquiring agricultural land worldwide. Some land will be used to compete with American industry, and other purchases may be used for espionage. The National Review reported, "By the beginning of 2020, Chinese companies possessed $1.9 billion in American agricultural land, amounting to approximately 192,000 acres of the almost 900 million acres of farmland in the U.S."

China controls much of the world's rare earth minerals and has invested a great deal of money and time in acquiring resources from other countries. Most of the lithium for electric vehicles comes from China. If Green Energy is your thing, then China is the ultimate hypocrite. As the U.S. guilts Americans into upgrading its green energy compliance, destroying industry and jobs, China is unapologetically the world's biggest polluter.

China's Infiltration of U.S. Institutions

China has infiltrated almost every important American governmental, political, and educational institution. It steals intellectual property with its 1000 Talents program. Confucious Institutes continue to infiltrate campuses and operate on American soil.

The CCP infiltrates universities with talented scientists who are controlled and helps the Chinese steal our intellectual property. The Chinese have infiltrated the networks of politicians, corporations, and lobbyists at all levels of influence. China co-opts intelligence officers. It sends its CCP-controlled students here to study, who then return to work in multiple industries, sharing our secrets and trades. And when we try to shut them down, China uses our culture against us, accusing us of racism or unfair practices when we dare accuse them of spying. The Biden administration asked its DOJ to shut down its program focused on countering espionage in early 2022—Grey Zone warfare.

The Hill summarizes Chinese influence in America:

"It is a holistic campaign of malign influence designed to disarm our democracy's protective antibodies and weaken our republic. It is about corrupting people and institutions to ensure that they self-censor, avoid sensitive topics and promote Beijing's talking points. It is about threatening American businesses with boycotts, as happened with the NBA, to ensure that the companies don't support Taiwan or Hong Kong, and certainly don't discuss the imprisonment of millions of Uyghurs. It is about classic intelligence operations that seek to undermine American intelligence and security operations overseas. It is about peddling Chinese propaganda masked as legitimate journalism, such as the China Daily inserts you may have seen in your local papers." 

The Pandemic

There is no better example of Grey Zone warfare than the pandemic. Whether purposeful or not, China leveraged every aspect of the COVID-19 virus to its advantage. During the summer of 2019, China began to scoop up and manufacture PPE. China sold it to third-world countries, leaving other countries short of supplies—almost as if it knew what was ahead. And China continued to conceal the severity of the virus to hoard PPE. China showed photos and videos of people in China keeling over on the streets, creating panic and fear worldwide. When other countries shut down travel, China imposed draconian internal lockdowns but continued to allow outgoing international travel.

We now know that the virus came out of China's military labs with the help of the U.S. But what better way to eliminate millions of able Americans than to produce a virus that incapacitated more than it killed? The PRC managed to unleash unrestricted warfare in the form of a biological weapon that removed soldiers from the battlefield, doctors and nurses from hospitals, and workers from their jobs—a cunning way to disable large swaths of our able adults without raising the kind of alarm that a more immediately deadly bioweapon would have. To this day, the U.S. struggles to apply sanctions or request reparations for what the CCP unleashed.

Cultural Revolutions and Information Warfare

Probably most insidious is China's well-hidden funding of U.S.-based groups, which are now growing in their political and cultural influence. These organizations, many of which appear organic in nature, cause tremendous tumult in America.

Trevor Loudin is one of the most important voices on China's influence here in America. He highlights the work of ultra-progressive Maoist and Socialist organizations like Liberation Road, We Make the Future,  the Working Families Party, BLM, and Antifa. These cultural and social justice campaigns are probably some of the most insidiously dangerous examples of the PRC's Grey Zone Warfare. These groups destabilize communities economically and psychologically. They influence our children with apps like TikTok. The Chinese, directly and indirectly, influence our schools, elections, local politics, and just about everything in between.

Read through Liberation Road's strategic orientation for 2022-2025. You will find everything you need to know about how the Chinese will patiently reconstruct every aspect of American life from the ground up without firing a single bullet.

Finally, China is very sensitive about its human rights record and hides it from the world. And when the U.S. calls China out on its human rights abuses, China flips the script by claiming American human rights abuses are only getting worse. The U.S. would do well to call a spade a spade so that China feels the heat. China knows it won't.


The U.S. is losing miserably in the Grey Zone war. And kinetic warfare is looming with China's shifting partnerships with its BRICS partners and its alliances with Russia, Iran, North Korea, and others. China has a footprint in every region of the globe. And it knows how to capitalize on U.S. failures to expand its influence. Rest assured; China will leverage the Ukraine war to its benefit. When the U.S. evacuated Afghanistan, China became emboldened.

Col. Newsham's approach to solving the China problem is perceptive and imperative. Newsham says we should take a few pages out of their book. Chinese still need American dollars, the convertible currency they are dependent on. U.S. investors in China are often not able to pull out. We should answer by applying pressure wherever it hurts. Newsham states America should cut off Chinese financial institutions "from the U.S. dollar network. Start with the People's Bank of China, and revoke its license to operate in the U.S. for six months. That would get some attention."

Chinese elites have massive assets overseas because of their "lack of confidence in their own system and its future." Seize their bank accounts, cancel their residence permits, and "publicize it to high heaven." Newsham continues:

Col. Newsham/ATL/April 2023

On Tuesday, the DOJ announced it was "charging 44 defendants with various crimes related to efforts by the national police of the People's Republic of China (PRC)—the Ministry of Public Security (MPS)—to harass Chinese nationals residing in the New York metropolitan area and elsewhere in the United States," activities that are likely much more embedded in the U.S. than Americans realize.

This column barely scrapes the surface of China's Grey Zone political warfare strategy and our reluctance to address it. It is time the U.S. begins to take China seriously. As Col. Newsham states, we must "not just pass law[s] and sanction a few unlucky officials. [We]have to go up to the highest levels and make them feel the heat. You do have to understand the system, realize how pressure and power are applied, then go to the top."

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