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Talk of the Day -- Beijing's salami-slicing strategy in South China Sea

2012/08/06 23:21:25

China is pursuing a salami-slicing strategy in the South China Sea, a development that could confound the United States' military plans, according to media reports.

Under the strategy, China is taking small actions, none of which is a casus belli, but which add up over time to a major strategic change, the reports said.

U.S. policy makers and military strategists should consider what they can do against such a salami-slicing strategy, the reports added.

On Monday, the Philippine government said it is determined to submit its South China Sea territorial dispute with China to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) for peaceful settlement of the row.

No matter whether China agrees to resolve their sovereignty dispute by such means, Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said at a news conference that the Philippines will seek the ITLOS' help in resolving their conflicting claims to some South China Sea islets.

Besides China and the Philippines, four other countries --Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei --also claim full or partial sovereignty over the South China Sea island groups and surrounding waters, which are believed to be rich in oil and gas reserves and are close to one of the world's busiest sea lanes.

Since mid-2011, the Philippines has lodged 12 formal protests to China over their conflicting claims to the Scarborough Shoal -- known as Huangyan Island in China -- and its surrounding waters.

Hernandez said the Philippine government is preparing documents and evidence to be submitted to the ITLOS to back its sovereignty claim.

The following are excerpts from the local media coverage of relevant issues:

United Daily News:

An article published in the Aug. 3 issue of U.S.-based "Foreign Policy" magazine said the South China Sea is heating up as a potential flashpoint. Disputes over territory, fishing rights, and oil leases have accelerated this year.

A recent ASEAN conference in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, aimed at making progress on a code of conduct for the South China Sea, collapsed in acrimony and failed, for the first time in 45 years, to agree on a concluding joint statement.

Vietnam and the Philippines were particularly upset that their Southeast Asian neighbors made no progress on a unified stance against Chinese encroachments in the sea, the article written by Robert Haddick said.

In June, the Chinese government established "Sansha City" on Woody Island in the Paracel island chain in the South China Sea, which China seized from South Vietnam in 1974.

Sansha will be the administrative center for China's claims in the South China Sea, to include the Spratly Islands near Reed Bank and Palawan, and Scarborough Shoal. China also announced plans to send a military garrison to the area.

China's actions look like an attempt to gradually and systematically establish legitimacy for its claims in the region, Haddick analyzed in his article.

"At the end of this road lie two prizes: potentially enough oil under the South China Sea to supply China for 60 years, and the possible neutering of the U.S. military alliance system in the region," Haddick wrote.

He further said both the United States and ASEAN members would prefer a negotiated code of conduct for resolving disputes in the South China Sea.

But should China opt to pursue a salami-slicing strategy instead, policymakers in Washington may conclude that the only politically viable response is to encourage the small countries to more vigorously defend their rights, even if its risks conflict, with the promise of U.S. military backup.

"This would mean a reversal of current U.S. policy, which has declared neutrality over the sea's boundary disputes," Haddick said.

Against this backdrop, he said, U.S. policy makers and Pentagon strategists should ponder what, if anything, they can do against "such a sharp salami-slicer." (Aug. 6, 2012).

Liberty Times:

Japanese media reports said the United States and Japan have recently decided to use Global Hawk unmanned high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft to tighten monitoring of activities in Japan's offshore areas, including Chinese warships' movements in the vicinity of the disputed Taioyutai Islands in the East China Sea.

The reports said the two countries has also agreed to revise their defense cooperation guidelines to facilitate their common efforts to cope with expansion of China's military strength. (Aug. 6, 2012).

(By Sofia Wu)