China and the United States are locked in head-to-head competition. Xi Jinping coined the slogan the ‘Chinese Dream’ as a play on the American Dream; the US says ‘Pivot to Asia’ but really means ‘Pivot to China.’ But for the US to compete effectively against China, we must lift our heads from this narrow US vs. China mentality. China has a Grand Strategy of Salami Slicing characterized by the gradual accession of economic and military power in the Asia-Pacific. To counter this strategy, the US should not focus on making China’s knife dull, but rather on making the salami hard. By solidifying our economic and military relations with other countries across Asia, the US can age the salami and make it tougher for China to slice.
The US government focuses too much on economic relations with China, at the expense of economic relations with other Asian countries. Just because trade with China is immensely important to the US does not mean that our government should expend an immense amount of energy on trying to enhance trade with China. Frankly, much of the US government’s efforts to catalyze change in Chinese economic policies are futile anyway. China’s economic policies are driven primarily by market forces, not by what the US government has to say. For example, while China’s Anti-Monopoly Law of 2008 has benefitted the US national economy, China enacted the law for the sole purpose of supporting the Chinese economy. In a similar vein, China is (slowly) working to reform patent, copyright, trade secrets, and intellectual property laws and regulations, not in response to complaints from the US government, but in the interest of promoting research and economic development in China. Rather than trying to catalyze change in China’s economic policies, the US government should take a back seat and let the market naturally further our economic relations with China.
The US government should, however, take a front seat in constructing economic agreements with smaller nations in the Asia-Pacific that require policy-based support. Actually, the US might follow after Xi Jinping who is doing just that. Xi is developing a ‘One Belt One Road’ program and an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, for instance, which are aimed to entrench China’s economic influence throughout Asia. To remain competitive with China, the US must follow suit and prioritize multilateral economic institutions such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the East Asia Summit (EAS), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The TPP will be especially valuable; the Peterson Institute estimates that real income benefits of the TPP for the US will be $77 billion per year, and a concluded deal will generate $123 billion in US exports by 2025. The bottom line is that the US should capitalize on these institutions to secure an economic foothold in Asian countries before China beats us to them.
Fortunately, the US seems to have adopted this strategy regarding economic relations in the Asia-Pacific. The FY14 budget provided $26 million for multilateral economic institutions such as the TPP, APEC, EAS, and ASEAN. Our challenge is now to commit to this strategy for the long haul. Aging salami takes time.
In addition to nurturing our economic relations with Asian nations, we can use military means to harden regions of the Asia-Pacific against the slow incursion of China. Currently, the US is tiptoeing around Asia, sights locked on China and guided by an overarching policy of ‘Don’t Make China Mad.’ We often shirk our longstanding friendships in Asia for the shallow purpose of not offending China. The US should focus less on China’s opinion of our military presence in Asia, and more on how our partners such as Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia, Thailand, and the Philippines perceive our military involvement in their region of the world. Friends matter. Indeed, fostering healthy military relations with our Asian allies will indirectly enhance our future security with respect to a potentially aggressive China. Demonstrating support now, even in issues that are not directly linked to our short-term security interests in the Asia-Pacific, will serve our long-term interest of stabilizing our security posture with respect to China. Let’s give our friends the attention they deserve.
It appears that the US government is adopting this approach, as demonstrated by the FY14 budget’s rationing of funds for various military security operations in the Asia-Pacific. Some of the funding is strictly reserved for establishing our defense posture against China. For instance the budget allocates $95 million to relocate units of US Marines from Okinawa to Guam, with the task of building military infrastructure on the island that will enable the US to launch attacks on China if the situation demands. However a sizeable chunk of the FY14 budget supports military engagements that are not tied to our security with respect to China in the short term. For instance, the budget allocates $58 million to domestic counterterrorism operations and legal support in the Philippines.
The US needs to take a fresh look at Asia, including our ‘five strategic allies’ of Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, Thailand, and Philippines, and also our less-strategic friends such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Singapore, and (potentially) Vietnam. Sure we may have some bad blood with these countries, but nothing that cannot be healed. US relations with the Philippines and Taiwan present case studies for how the US can work to solidify relationships in the Asia-Pacific and thereby curb China’s Salami Slicing Strategy.
The Philippines is our longest standing ally in the Asia-Pacific, yet our relationship with the Philippines desperately needs tender loving care. The bruising arguably began 100 years ago, when US imperialists brought Filipinos to circuses on Staten Island, but it did not end there. Just recently in 1992, for example, the US dumped toxic waste in the Philippines and destroyed their local environment to such an extent that the US was altogether expelled from the Philippines for a period of time.
In the interest of not being a total Negative Nancy, it should be noted that US-Philippines relations are slowly trending in a positive direction. From a military perspective, the US and Philippines have bonded in the fight against terrorism. The US military’s Operation Enduring Freedom was composed of three key areas of operation – Iraq, Afghanistan, and, unknown to many Americans, the Philippines. US forces were deployed to the Philippines for twelve years, and in fact the US military’s Counter Insurgency (COIN) strategy that guided engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan actually originated in the Philippines. The US military was initially driven to enter the Philippines upon recognizing that the south of the country was a hotbed for terrorism, home to active Al Qaeda affiliates and villains such as Abu Sayyaf, who was in cahoots with Osama Bin Laden, and Umar Patek, the mastermind of the Bali Bombing and the ‘Bin Laden of Southeast Asia.’ The US military supported counterterrorism and security operations in the Philippines, especially in the south, to such a degree that Filipinos actually approve of the US government more than Americans currently do. Following the US military’s deep collaboration with the Filipino Army, recently the Manila Declaration of 2011 reaffirmed the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.
But still, our relationship with the Philippines has stress fractures that need mending. Take the case of the Balangiga Bells, for instance. The US government is still holding the Bells that the US Army took as war booty from a church in Eastern Samar following an atrocity during the Philippine-American War in the early twentieth century. The Balangiga atrocity involved both a massacre of Americans and also a massacre of Filipinos—the incident was a hard blow to both nations. For the past two decades, the Philippine government has been trying to reclaim the Balangiga Bells, so that they may return the Bells to the church as a memorial to their veterans. To be blunt, the Balangiga Bells are arguably more important to Filipinos than to Americas – in 2014, 2,500 Filipinos signed an online petition to President Obama requesting that the Bells be returned. Considering the sentimental value of the Bells to the Filipino people, perhaps the US government should consider returning them to demonstrate friendship and empathy.
The US might also consider taking a firmer stance in supporting the Philippines in their case against China’s Nine-Dash Line in the South China Sea. The line intrudes in islands that are jointly owned by the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam, and that happen to contain a wealth of oil. Both the US government and the Philippine government have responded peacefully to the Nine-Dash Line, arguing that the line violates the Law of the Sea which specifies that maritime counties cannot extend their territory further than 200 nautical miles from the coast. But the US can do more than just passively acknowledge this violation of international law. The US could participate more actively and effectively in defending the Philippines as China slices into the South China Sea.
Mending US relations with the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan, will be equally important. The older generations in Taiwan seem to like Americans—after all, they fought side by side Americans against the communists during World War Two, and the US generously supported Taiwan during the Korean War. However the younger generations in Taiwan are not exactly our biggest fans. President Nixon damaged US-Taiwan relations in 1971 in recognizing the Peoples Republic of China on the mainland as the one legitimate China, thereby neglecting the smaller Taiwan. Since the 1970s, the US has continued to advocate contradictory polices toward Taiwan. The US supports the One China Policy, but at the same time, the US provides Taiwan with weapons to defend herself against possible incursion from the Peoples Republic of China through the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). The US is essentially viewing Taiwan as a pawn, as an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean from which to potentially stage defensive or offensive operations against China. It’s no wonder that the Taiwanese youth are skeptical of our so-called friendship.
The US should quit straddling the isle, advocating the One China Policy yet tacitly recognizing the dangerous tension between the Peoples Republic of China and Taiwan through the TRA. After all, the cultural divide between the mainland and Taiwan is only getting worse. For instance the development of social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, which are severely restricted on the mainland, will continue to exacerbate the divide between Taiwanese culture and the social construct in the People’s Republic of China. It is only a matter of time before straddling the isle will be impossible.
Somebody needs to step out on a limb and recognize Taiwan’s cultural independence from the People’s Republic of China. Why not the US? Let the US lead the international community in gradually recognizing Taiwan’s cultural distinction from the mainland. For instance, we might advocate for Taiwan to field an Olympic Team called ‘Team Taiwan’ instead of ‘Team China Taipei.’ In international organizations such as the World Trade Organization and APEC, we might refer to Taiwan as ‘Taiwan’ instead of as ‘Chinese Taipei.’ We can deeply strengthen our friendship with Taiwan by respecting their unique cultural and social identity.
China will continue trying to Slice the Salami and gradually expand their influence in the Asia-Pacific – to inflict death by one thousand needles. Effectively countering this strategy will require that the US focus less on direct US-China relations and more on long-term economic and military relations with other countries in Asia. Aging the salami in this way will undercut China’s Grand Strategy and secure a foothold for the US in a peaceful and prosperous future in the Asia-Pacific.
United States Military Academy, West Point, New York
United States Military Academy, West Point, New York
Nationality: Chinese (Republic of China, Taiwan)
The views and opinions of the authors expressed herein do not reflect those of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or any agency of the United States (or any other) government.