11th Ocean Dialogue: “Hybrid Activities: Helping or Hindering Order at Sea”

The event, held by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam (DAV), the British Embassy in Hanoi and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS)’s Vietnam Office, attracted more than 100 delegates attending in person, including 20 panelists from 14 countries, and over 50 others via videoconference.

Participants discussed the trend of using hybrid activities by many countries in the region and the world, including gray zone activities in the South China Sea, sharing shared viewpoints on hybrid activities and countries’ experience in responding to gray zone activities as well as debating about policy and legal proposals for managing activities to ensure maritime order.

In his opening remarks, Dr. Nguyễn Hùng Sơn, Vice President of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, said that hybrid activities are not a new phenomenon in world history. Many gray zone activities haven’t been fully identified or assessed based on international law. The dialogue aimed to identify the nature of those activities, the lack of goodwill in applying and interpreting international law, or the exploitation of unclear regulations in international law to weaken international law, thereby devising a more effective response to these tactics.

Mr. Florian C. Feyerabend, Resident Representative of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Vietnam, pointed out that in the first-ever National Security Strategy launched a few weeks before, Germany announced that a separate strategy to counter hybrid threats will be developed to enhance Germany’s capability in identifying, analyzing and countering hybrid threats. In his opinion, the Ocean Dialogue is a remarkable conference series at the nexus of foreign policy, international law, science and technology.

Mr. Marcus Winsley, Deputy Head of Mission of the British Embassy in Hanoi, said the Dialogue was an opportunity to discuss with leading experts, as well as a forum to update on new developments in maritime security. He hoped that the Dialogue could help scholars and policymakers understand more about gray zone activities, thereby finding ways to respond.

11th Ocean Dialogue: “Hybrid Activities: Helping or Hindering Order at Sea”

The Dialogue consisted of four sessions: (i) Hybrid Activities from Myths to Realities; (ii) Identifying non-kinetic toolbox of hybrid threats; (iii) High-technology - a key enabler of hybrid threats?; and (iv) Policy and legal recommendations to manage hybrid activities.

Speakers at the Dialogue discussed hybrid and gray zone activities in the region, including the South China Sea. They pointed out some characteristics of hybrid activities: (i) combine traditional and non-traditional, military and non-military measures, often being conducted by non-state entities but supported by countries; (ii) keep the situation below the red line of war; and (iii) often take place in transition zones between different spaces, entities, or rules.

They said gray zone and hybrid activities are posing legal challenges and affecting the existing international order. In particular, the development of technology has been making hybrid and gray zone challenges clearer. Besides, gray zone activities occur not only on the ground but also in other aspects such as economy (sanctions, embargoes, trade restrictions) and information (intentional misinformation).

Suggesting some initiatives for countries in and outside the region to better manage hybrid activities and effectively respond to gray zone activities, the panelists and participants said countries should enhance the coordination of actions among relevant agencies, improve the capacity of identifying gray zone challenges and differentiating hybrid activities with legal purposes from gray zone activities with illegal intentions.

Countries and international organizations should also improve the legal frameworks for hybrid activities. Besides, international cooperation is also the key for countries to coordinate actions to better manage hybrid activities.

In the closing remarks, Dr. Nguyễn Hùng Sơn expressed his hope that the Dialogue could help policymakers less confused about hybrid and gray zone activities, therefore they can respond and set up rules and regulations governing these activities.

South China Sea Studies/VNA