Observations: Chinese Gray War Spike in SCS Correlated with Hamas Surprise Attack

Observation: Two weeks before October 7, 2023 and ever since Hamas waged its lethal combined arms and terrorist attack on U.S. ally Israel, China ratcheted up the continuity and intensity of its gray warfare against U.S. allies in and surrounding the South China Sea to test the resolve and unity of free nation allies including the United States.

Below, see a timeline of Chinese gray warfare incidents and reports of military activities leading up to and following October 7, 2023:

Sept. 22, 2023: Floating Barrier incident: China installs a floating barrier spotted on Sept. 22 near Bajo de Masinloc, a.k.a. the Chinese occupied and legally disputed Scarborough Shoal.

Sept. 23, 2023: Philippines Coast Guard reports unsafe maneuvers by China’s maritime militia toward coast guard vessels near Second Thomas Shoal echoing August water cannon and swarming harassment by maritime militia and Chinese Coast Guard vessels akin to an earlier test run of such tactics on or about August 6, 2023.

Sept. 25, 2023: Philippines Coast Guard personnel remove the floating Chinese barrier. China protested.

Sept. 27, 2023: Phillipines encourages its fishermen to keep up presence at Scarborough Shoal.

October 1, 2023: Lethal Ramming incident: A Chinese vessel rams a Philippines fishing boat, killing three fishermen.

October 3, 2023: U.S., Philippines, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, the United Kingdom and Malaysia initiate 2-weeks military drills off of the Philippines coast.

October 5, 2023: Phillipines resupply vessels breach a swarm of blocking Chinese vessels. A Chinese vessel nearly misses a Philippines patrol boat, coming within one meter.

October 7, 2023 in Context: 1. Hamas mounts unprecedented combined arms, terror, guerrilla, infantry, and weapons systems assault on Israel’s sovereign territory against Israeli civilians, military, and government targets. 2. Iranian-backed militias and terrorist groups joined in the aggression against both Israel and the U.S. from inside Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen. Iran supports Hamas and Iran’s other proxy militias with weapons, money, training, and materiel. 3. Russia, Iran, and North Korea have mutually supported each other’s direct and sponsored aggressive warfare and war crimes. 4. China and Russia have increased their mutual arms trade, defense ties, and mutually reinforcing disinformation, misinformation, and war propaganda campaigns supporting Russia’s and Iran’s terroristic wars of aggression. 5. China knowingly continues to support Iran and Russia in their militant aggressions (directly and indirectly) against Ukraine, Israel, and the United States Armed Forces in Iraq and Syria with deeper economic support propping up Russian and Iranian buying-power. 6. China and Russia have traded in dual-use technologies, navy vessel engines, aircraft engines, anti-aircraft technology, and technological partnerships. 

2nd Week in October 2023: Philippines reports Chinese navy vessel harassed and cut-across bow of Philippine resupply vessel near Philippine-occupied Thitu Island, reported October 16th.

October 22, 2023: Another incident near Second Thomas Shoal, Philippines reports that a Chinese militia vessel bumped a Philippine coast guard vessel, with China accusing Philippines of “stirring up trouble.”

October 23, 2023: “The United States renews a warning that it would defend the Philippines in case of an armed attack after Chinese ships blocked and collided with two Filipino vessels in the South China Sea,” per ABC News.

October 24, 2023: A Chinese fighter jet makes a high-risk nighttime intercept coming within 10-feet of a U.S. B-52 bomber flying over international waters above the South China Sea. See U.S. INDO-PACOM, video of intercept.

October 27, 2023: See USNI’s excellent report on this date of multiple PLAAF, PLAN, USN, Japanese, and Canadian military activities in the South China Sea and Western Pacific, documenting China’s higher-risk, unsafe, too-close intercepts of both U.S. and Canadian aircraft over international waters.

November 9-10th, 2023: The Star Tribune posts a contributors’ overhead drone video of “Chinese Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats harass, through unsafe/unprofessional maneuvers, the Philippines’ Motor Launch Kalayaan on a rotation and reprovisioning (RORE) mission to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal at around 7:30 this morning. | via Gigie Arcilla / contributed video.” Philippines also reported that Chinese coast guard vessels fired water cannon at another Thomas Shoal resupply boat later that day, per TIME.

November 13, 2023: China’s unpredictable activities in international waters and airspace over the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea increases risk of conflict, per Washington Post.

November 15, 2023: ASEAN defense ministers’ meeting sets South China Sea brinksmanship as top priority.

November 17, 2023: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. met with Chinese President Xi Jinping to “reduce tensions in the South China Sea” and advocate for Filipino fishermen’s rights to long traditional fishing areas.

November 18, 2023: Australian navy divers were injured when China reportedly blasted them with sonar waves during a sanctions-verification mission related to North Korea’s behaviors.

Preliminary Takeaway: Free nation allies need new solutions for handling China’s, Russia’s, Iran’s, North Korea’s, and their respective proxy groups’ gray warfare activities across the world. Such solutions will create more, not fewer options for free nations alliances and powers to deter, defuse, and check adversaries’ gray warfare.

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