Salami-slicing in the South China Sea


Just when the memories of anti-Chinese protests and rioting have started to fade among the Vietnamese, the Chinese are stoking the fires again with another salami-slicing maneuver.

Last Thursday, Beijing announced the redeployment of the deepwater oil rig Haiyang Shiyou-981 to the waters near the disputed Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands. The placement of the rig this time around is in waters south of the Gulf of Tonkin and northwest of the Paracels, according to the website of the Chinese Maritime Safety Administration, and is expected to be operational up until August 20.

The website announcement also requested passing vessels to stay at least 2,000 meters away, perhaps fearing a repeat of last May’s confrontation, where several Vietnamese coast guard boats, fisheries surveillance ships, and fishing boats were rammed by Chinese naval vessels for coming too close to this same Chinese rig deployed offshore but within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone.

This year, however, the Chinese have located the rig outside the exclusive economic zone of Vietnam, in a grey zone currently being negotiated between Vietnam and China. According to a Vietnamese Coast Guard source, should the Chinese oil rig violate Vietnam’s sovereignty, the Coast Guard would “make announcements.”  This small, possibly incremental step by Beijing can be described as “salami-slicing”, or “Salami tactics,” a term first coined by the Hungarian Communist leader Matyas Rakosi in the late 1940s to describe the destruction of the non-Communist parties by “cutting them off like slices of salami.”


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