The pursuit of maritime resources, especially in disputed maritime zones, has encouraged various States to engage in grey zone conflict to assert control over such areas on the one hand, and to obtain marine resources for economic benefit on the other hand. These operations have posed threats to the neighbouring States as well as challenges to international law on the use of force since the force used is often below the threshold of conventional military operations to which the current international law on the use of force applies. This article introduces the concept of grey zone conflict and analyses tactics common to such conflicts in the context of the South China Sea. Based on these, the author revisits the legal framework for the use of force at sea, including the prohibition thereof under the United Nations Charter (UN Charter) and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), explores its treatment under International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (focusing on maritime law enforcement) to identify key challenges to international law in addressing this phenomena in the South China Sea, and gives relevant recommendations on the subject.
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