What is hybrid balancing?
Ryuta Ito explains why hybrid balancing is important for understanding China’s Indo-Pacific strategy
What new theories are being developed in international relations, and why do they matter? In this blogpost Ryuta Ito outlines a key concept he’s developed as part of his research and the impact of these concept on how we understand contemporary policy issues. He explains hybrid balancing and its implications for our understanding Chinese policy in the Indo-Pacific.
What is hybrid balancing?
Hybrid balancing is balancing against adversaries by non-military means, which takes place in three often interconnected ways. Political balancing means using political influence to compel an adversary. Economic balancing is the strategy of offering economic benefits to influence target states. Information balancing is the purposeful transmission of erroneous information to target states.
How does hybrid balancing differ from hybrid warfare?
Hybrid warfare is a kind of military strategy employing several non-military tools such as geoeconomics, misinformation, political warfare, and foreign electoral intervention. Although hybrid warfare has recently attracted scholarly attention it remains underdeveloped. Specifically, it sometimes falls into the trap of ‘simplistic hypothesis testing’, and focuses on narrowly defined military factors while downplaying the fundamentals of international politics. Hybrid balancing fills this gap by combining hybrid warfare and classical realism, proposing new balancing concepts (political, economic, and informational balancing) that extend the analytical scope from the purely military to more diverse domains. This is worthwhile because an important feature of hybrid warfare lies in great powers’ use of various non-military methods to achieve their strategic aims. In other words, hybrid balancing reframes hybrid warfare by explicitly extending its scope and ability to account for political, economic and informational factors as part of a connected strategy.
How does hybrid balancing work in practice?
A good example is China’s use of hybrid balancing to counter the liberal democratic coalition advancing the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy of the US and its allies in the region. First, China both asserts its jurisdiction over much of the South China Sea and East China Sea, and has coordinated with criminal actors to undermine the Taiwanese democratic movement as forms of political balancing to put pressure on regional powers aligned with the US. Second, by extending its economic influence in the Indo-Pacific via the Belt and Road Initiative and providing an alternative vision of regional economic cooperation, China is pursuing economic balancing to counter the US-led FOIP coalition without military confrontation. Third, pursuing information balancing, China has led a massive information control campaign by weakening foreign media through mergers, partnership agreements and acquisitions.
What are the policy implications?
While the term ‘hybrid warfare’ has recently attracted scholarly attention, studies have predominantly focused on Russian behaviour in Crimea and Ukraine, while overlooking the rise of hybrid warfare in the Indo-Pacific. Knowing the logic of hybrid balancing will help policy-makers understand that the hybrid warlike policies in which China is engaging are not discrete tactics but rather parts of non-military balancing strategies toward the U.S.-led FOIP coalition in the Indo-Pacific.
Read more on hybrid balancing here.
Ryuta Ito is Assistant Professor at Graduate School of Human and Social Sciences of Hiroshima University.
His article ‘Hybrid balancing as classical realist statecraft: China’s balancing behaviour in the Indo-Pacific’ was published in the November 2022 issue of International Affairs.
This blogpost was comissioned by Jo Hills, Digital Content Editor at International Affairs.
All views expressed are individual not institutional.