Following up on my brief brief post on China yesterday, here’s an item from Robert Haddick of War on the Rocks you might find interesting. In the post Mr. Haddick outlines China’s recent actions, described as “salami-slicing”:
John Mearsheimer recently argued that China is pursuing in Asia what the United States has in Latin America: regional hegemony. In pursuit of that goal, China keeps trying to take territory, bit by bit, in the East and South China Seas. And the United States doesn’t know what to do about it.
This practice, known as salami-slicing, involves the slow accumulation of small changes, none of which in isolation amounts to a casus belli, but which add up over time to a substantial change in the strategic picture. By using salami-slicing tactics in the East and South China Seas, China does not have to choose between trade with the rest of the world and the achievement of an expanded security perimeter in the Western Pacific at the expense of China’s neighbors. Given enough time, and continued confusion by the United States and its allies on how to respond, China is on course to eventually achieve both.
China’s salami-slicing has accelerated over the past few years. In 2012, China established “Sansha City” on Woody Island, an island in the Paracel chain that China seized by force from South Vietnam in 1974 (Vietnam refuses to recognize China’s seizure). China declared that Sansha City would be the administrative center of all of its claims in the South China Sea, including those in the Spratly Island group. Small Chinese military and paramilitary garrisons on Woody Island reinforce the image of sovereign legitimacy China is trying to establish—an image that neighbors such as Vietnam and the Philippines lack the resources to replicate. Just last month, China permanently based a 5,000-ton paramilitary patrol vessel at Woody Island.
That’s not just provocation as some have suggested. It’s military activity. Mr. Haddick sees these actions as posing a problem for the United States.
As I see it the problem is that, while irredentist Chinese nationalists may believe it’s their salami they’re slicing, it most emphatically is not our salami. It might be Japan’s salami or India’s salami or South Korea’s or Taiwan’s or the Philippines’s but it’s not ours and our interests are not synonymous with theirs.
Now I think the solution to the problem of these East Asian countries is pretty obvious and alluded to by Mr. Haddick:
U.S. officials may have another unspoken reason for their forbearance policy: what might be termed a “rope-a-dope” gambit. China’s assertions are clearly sparking a region-wide security backlash. Security cooperation is rapidly developing, from India through Southeast Asia and Australia, and up to Japan, aimed at balancing China’s military power. Non-Chinese military spending and procurement in the region is similarly expected to leap over the next five years. U.S. officials may conclude that the more such activity occurs, the lighter will be America’s security burden in the region.
There will be a temptation in the United States to infantilize our allies (and prospective allies) in East Asia as has been our policy with respect to Europe in the mistaken view that weak allies somehow make us stronger. The temptation should be resisted.