Why China’s salami-slicing in South China Sea is bad news


Ahead of the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue that begins on Friday, the writer looks at China’s divide-and-conquer tactics in South-east Asia so far and ponders the prospect of a Sino-US pact on the South China Sea
Earlier this year, a Japanese official came to talk to me about Japan’s bid to secure Australia’s massive A$50 billion (S$50 billion) contract to build submarines. He touted the advantage of Japan’s Soryu class of submarines, and diplomatically sketched out weaknesses in the rival French and German bids.

The French and Germans, he said, were “cheating” in trumping up the capabilities of their subs. He lamented the fact that, compared with the French and Germans, Japan was too strait-laced and lacking in creativity when it came to selling subs to Australia.

The official’s instincts were right. In the end, the French won the contract. But what applies to Japan also applies to South-east Asia and its partners in managing the Chinese challenge in the South China Sea.