Military jargon is most often fascinating. 'Salami slicing' is a series of many small actions, often clandestine ones, that as a cumulative whole, produce a much larger result that would be difficult or unlawful to perform or achieve all at once.
The Chinese Communist Party government in Beijing seems to be proficient at this expansionist stratagem. Since World War II, while most sovereign nations have shown respect for international borders, the CCP has been gradually expanding its territories, both on land and at sea. At times undetected and often unchallenged, China has captured, annexed, or claimed vast territories in small increments.
On land, the People's Republic of China annexed the kingdom of Tibet in 1950, claiming that the region was an integral part of the country during ancient times. After the Sino-Indian war in 1962, it captured Aksai Chin, an area about the size of Switzerland.
In the South China Sea, it took control of the Paracel Islands from Vietnam in 1974 and the Johnson Reef in 1988. Most recently, Beijing claimed the Scarborough Shoal in 2012, which had belonged to the Philippines until then.
China is now eyeing Senkaku Island, which belongs to Japan. In the inhospitable terrain of the Himalayas, Beijing is proclaiming rights to large swathes of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh by declaring it "South Tibet."
Beijing is adept at raising claims where none exist. Their persistent propaganda often results in the region being declared "disputed." The Chinese government often claims "historical rights" and resorts to contested documents to bolster their claim.
Shoring Up Claims
Well aware that a territorial claim will hold up in the face of international law only if the territory is peacefully occupied, administered, and effectively controlled over a length of time, Beijing has gone into overdrive populating these illegally claimed regions.
It has built complete settlements and villages on the encroached land. In the Himalayas, the Chinese administration is forcing Tibetan nomadic tribes to settle down on occupied north-east Indian territories under the guise of 'poverty-elimination' programs. An official document suggests that Beijing has plans to build over six hundred such villages in disputed lands. These 'frontier settlements' are meant to act as "guardians of Chinese territory." The artificial 'villages' and forced settlements are administered by resident overseers, predominantly ethnic Han Chinese party members.
In the South China Sea, China has built an entire settlement on Parcel Island and named it Sansha City. It has built numerous military outposts and encouraged Chinese nationals to partner in its elaborate scheme of acquiring rights to the many islands that dot the water body.
No neighbor is spared in China's expansionist design. The Chinese have occupied territories belonging to Pakistan, Nepal, and Bhutan. Unable to stand up to the might of Beijing, these nations have little recourse other than to appeal to the international community.
Stepping Up Aggression
Over the past few years, Beijing's antics point to a regime that is determined to pursue its border conflicts. An emboldened Xi government has been aggressively pursuing its security interests in its peripheral territories.
In recent years, Chinese naval ships have intruded into other nations' exclusive economic zones under the cover of fishing fleets. In the South China Sea, Beijing's para-military maritime militia have crossed into the Philippines' waters. Numerous times in the past couple of years, Chinese aircrafts have conducted sorties over Taiwan. Chinese Coast Guard vessels have trespassed over Japanese territorial waters.
China's ambitions to dominate the region and its shipping routes nearby have led to many skirmishes. Beijing has banked on its neighbor's reluctance to engage with it militarily. But that might be changing.
Many of China's neighbors, near and far, have recently increased their military spending, specifically in response to the threat from Beijing. They include Taiwan, Japan, and Australia. Further, these countries are formulating new alliances and strengthening old associations to take on China collectively. The AUKUS and the QUAD will effectively check Beijing's intrusions in international waters. The U.S. has increased its presence in the Indo-Pacific to counter aggressive Chinese tactics.
Thanks to Chinese dreams of dominance, the Indo-Pacific has become a somewhat tense zone. The possibility of an attack on Taiwan looms large; so do the chances of confrontation on the high seas with any of its neighbors.
China has often declared that it aims to rise peacefully. Its deliberate use of the salami-slicing technique has ensured that 'peace' was maintained even as Beijing acquired new lands that often belonged to its neighbors. The question now is whether the People's Republic of China will pursue its expansionist goals and dominant dreams, even at the cost of peace.
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