ADRi Event: “Countering Gray Zone Operations in the Maritime Indo-Pacific”

The Indo-Pacific has become the new arena for strategic competition. Major powers in the region have started to shift their focus and recalibrate their strategies in order to become key economic and political actors. As the region grows in importance, it faces new challenges, particularly the looming threat of gray zone operations in its maritime domain.

Gray zone operations have continued to elevate risks in the region due to its ambiguity and ability to circumvent international law. It blurs the line between military, economic, and criminal means of aggression by operating in an ambiguous environment to achieve strategic objectives. As a result, states are faced with the challenge of determining appropriate counteroffensives that do not result in open warfare or armed conflict.

The West Philippine Sea (WPS) remains to be the focal point for maritime gray zone operations. China has continued to intimidate civilian fishing vessels, provoke rival territorial claims, and assert its authority in key areas in the WPS by using irregular maritime militias comprised of civilian craft and personnel. Furthermore, actions of the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) such as the recent use of military grade lasers against the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in the Ayungin Shoal, and the forceful retrieval of large metal debris from the Philippine Navy in Pag-asa island have challenged diplomatic relations between the Philippines and China. These activities, kept below the threshold of conflict, have allowed China to assert its dominance and undermine Philippine sovereignty and international law. As these gray zone operations add another layer of threat to the security and stability of the Philippines and the greater Indo-Pacific, the country is presented with the challenge of launching counter mechanisms by asserting the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal Award and fostering stronger partnerships with other like-minded states.

In line with this, the Stratbase ADR Institute believes it is critical to discuss and analyze the threat of gray zone operations and their implications for the current regional security landscape, as well as potential countermeasures. The Institute, in partnership with Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) Philippines, organized a hybrid town hall discussion entitled, “Countering Gray Zone Operations in the Maritime Indo-Pacific”, on 8 March 2023, Wednesday, from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM (PHT).

The event sought to bring together government officials, the diplomatic community, scholars, and policy experts in an in-person discussion to engage in dialogue and share recommendations on the threats and uncertainty of gray zone operations to Philippine national security.


Introduction and Opening Remarks
Dr. Daniel Schmücking
Representative to Cambodia and the Philippines, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS)

Keynote Address
H.E. Anke Reiffenstuel
Ambassador, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in the Philippines

The Role of the Philippine Coast Guard in Addressing Gray Zone Operations in the West Philippine Sea
CG Commo Jay Tarriela
Adviser of the Commandant for Maritime Security, Philippine Coast Guard

Harnessing Technology to Deter Gray Zone Operations
Col. Raymond Powell, U.S. Air Force (Ret.) 
Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation (Project Myoushu), Stanford University, California, USA 

Responding to Gray Zone Operations in the Indo-Pacific: Alliances and Strategic Partnerships
Dr. Renato de Castro
Trustee and Program Convenor, Stratbase ADR Institute

Implementing a Responsive National Security Strategy Against Gray Zone Operations
Dr. Charmaine Willoughby  
Associate Professor, De La Salle University – Manila

Gray Zone Operations in the West Philippine Sea: Civil and Military Interoperability and Deterrence Strategies
RADM Rommel Jude Ong (Ret)
Professor of Praxis, Ateneo School of Government;
Trustee, Foundation for National Interest

Leveraging on the Rule of Law to Achieve Maritime Security in the West Philippine Sea
Dr. Jay Batongbacal
Associate Professor, University of the Philippine College of Law

Closing Remarks
Prof. Victor Andres “Dindo” Manhit
President, Stratbase ADR Institute

Host & Moderator:
Ms. Mary Joyce Ilas 
Communications and Advocacy Lead, Stratbase ADR Institute

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