China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea are prompting a soul-searching query from Hanoi to Washington: At what point does a sliced-up salami cease being a salami at all?
In a short space of time, China’s unilateral and incremental efforts to carve out a greater presence in the South China Sea — by, for example, turning empty coral atolls into artificial airstrips — have prompted concern that Beijing is not-so-stealthily creating a new strategic reality in one of the world’s most important and potentially volatile flash points. That so-called “salami-slicing” strategy, in which countries undertake a series of seemingly inconsequential steps that add up to a fundamental change, is pushing many Southeast Asian countries closer together and is breathing fresh life into the decades-old U.S.-Japan defense alliance, all with an eye on a common, if often unnamed, adversary.
On Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe celebrated deeper defense ties between the two allies, meant in part to respond to a shifting security environment in the Asia-Pacific region. “For the first time in nearly two decades, we’ve updated the guidelines for our defense cooperation,” Obama said at a joint news conference in Washington.