South China Sea: Beijing’s ‘Salami Slicing’ Strategy – Analysis


The South China Sea is seeing increasing tension amongst the claimants. The Second Thomas Shoal is the latest addition to Beijing’s ‘Salami Slicing’ strategy of slowly acquiring small reefs and islands to consolidate its contested claim.

By Darshana M. Baruah

THE MOST recent tension in the South China Sea over the Second Thomas Shoal indicates a rising Chinese assertiveness in its maritime claims as well as inviting Washington’s criticism of Beijing’s behaviour in the disputed waters.

On 9 March 2014, China’s coast guard vessels stopped two Philippine boats carrying supplies to their troops stationed in the shoal since 1999, claiming that Manila was trying to build structures on the reef in an attempt to fortify its claim.

The Second Thomas Shoal

The shoal known as the Ayungin Shoal in Philippines, Ren’ai Reef in China and the Second Thomas Shoal in the west, is home to the BRP Sierra Madre – a former US tank landing vessel which ran aground on the shoal as a Philippine navy ship 15 years ago. Manila has stationed a handful of its marines aboard the rusting ship which is believed to be part of its strategy in the larger geopolitics of the South China Sea. The reef, which is within the disputed Spratly Islands, lies inside Manila’s 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone, but is contested by China in its entirety.

China claims most of the South China Sea as marked by its nine-dash line which is contested by five other claimants: Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan. Beijing’s move to block the boats has led to protests from Manila which is being supported by Washington.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs released a statement that “Ayungin Shoal is part of the continental shelf of the Philippines and therefore, the Philippines is entitled to exercise sovereignty rights and jurisdiction in the area without the permission of other States”. Furthermore, it said the civilian vessels contracted by the Philippine Navy were only conducting rotation of personnel and resupply operations.

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