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How is India Responding to China’s ‘Salami’ Diplomacy?

Guest Opinion

The concept of ‘salami tactics’ was pursued by the Soviet Union during the Cold War as a coercive civil-military diplomatic instrument to subvert and seize the territory of its neighbour through wolf warfare, ultimatums, and sanctions. The term, ‘salami tactics’, also now called ‘salami slicing’ or ‘cabbage slicing’, was first coined by Hungarian communist politician Matyas Rakosi during the 1940s to describe his vendetta of subduing the non-communist opposition by slicing them like slices of salami. According to Janusz Bugajski of the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), salami tactics are carried out through a combination of targeted disinformation, diplomatic lawfare, military actions and manipulating international players to legitimize their conquest.

China, which declares itself as a communist regime, has followed a more aggressive rendition of the salami tactics by amalgamating military warfare to achieve their ideal of hegemony through territorial expansion in the South China Sea and the Himalayan region. Diplomats believe that the Doklam standoff followed by the Galwan clash with India was a result of China's salami warfare in the Himalayan frontier. China has been named as the only country expanding its territorial and maritime jurisdiction post-World War II at the expense of its neighbours. The capture of Aksai Chin, the forceful acquisition of Tibet and Xinjiang, the annexation of Paracel island, and the claim over the Senkaku Island (which China calls the Diayou Islands) in the East China Sea, are some glaring examples of its expansionary ‘wolf-warrior’ policy. Foreign policy scholars like Stephen Walt argue that the main aim of China’s expansionary policy is to disrupt the freedom of navigation in Southeast Asia by cropping territory formally and informally leading to a strategic advantage over other economies.

China has also followed its salami warfare with India which was in our case backed by a better logistics and transportation system of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to constantly poke us at our weakness in the Himalayan frontiers. To counter China’s salami slicing strategy the former Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had visited the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet trijunction in 2017 to review the border area disputes and allocate funds for the rapid development of transport infrastructure in the mountainous terrain for facilitating easy movement of the Indian Army, during any confrontation. After her visit, the infrastructure development tender along the 4057 km LAC was approved. However, China is still at an advantage as it has built an extensive transport system in the entire Tibet Autonomous Region to sustain 30 divisions of the PLA.

Recently, China along with its two other victims of debt-trap diplomacy, Nepal and Pakistan, has started to squeeze India from all sides, the reason being the completion of the Daulat Beg Oldi road in Ladakh, which will be a huge strategic and military boost to India in overthrowing the PLA’s attempt in the Himalayan region. The General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping (I refrain from calling Xi Jinping the President of China because he has not been democratically elected by a representative body) hence tried to adopt the wolf warrior tactics to informally intrude in various Indian territory to challenge its sovereignty. Satellite images show that Chinese intruded in Bishing, about 175 km from Chaglagam, in Arunachal Pradesh. It has also been approved by a Member of Parliament in Arunachal Pradesh named Tapir Gao.

After nearly two decades India is facing the biggest national security challenge from China and its stooges. However, the National Democratic Alliance government led by PM Narendra Modi has been very defensive not to upset China’s domestic and geopolitical sensitivities. India stayed away from most of the Chinese controversies, most importantly being Hong Kong’s demand for autonomy. Therefore, such unlikely behaviour of China had confused various observers. According to experts, China has also used the fractures caused in the global order post-Covid to its advantage. 

However, the support which India received diplomatically in this period pushed China into back foot. It started with India conducting a joint statement with the US, reasserting India’s commitment towards freedom of navigation (a veiled criticism of China's claim over the South China Sea). Moreover, India is no more looked down as a non-aligned power. It is inclining heavily towards the West with closer relations with the US. India is now being viewed as a counterweight to China’s supremacy and domination by the Asia-Pacific countries, and the QUAD members.

The Coronavirus has hence totally exposed China’s true face as a hate-mongering pseudo-communist state which thrives on chaos. The world is now looking at India as the next economic and military engine of the Asia-Pacific. India which was earlier defensive towards China has now remodelled its policy by way of establishing good diplomatic relations with China’s neighbours including North Korea. Moreover, the annual Malabar naval joint exercises between India, the US, and Japan are said to be scheduled for later this year, with the possibility of Australia being invited as well. India also signed agreements with Australia in a recent virtual bilateral meet which allows the Indian Army and Air force to use Australian air bases without any undue permission. India has thus surrounded China in a diplomatic string known as a ‘diamond of necklace’ as opposed to China’s ‘string of pearls’.

Now, it is quite clear that China is not an ideological state which intends to export Communism to other countries. Rather, as Pradipta Roy, assistant professor at Scottish Church College mentioned in his article Defeating China in the Psywar is a Precondition, “Part of the strategy behind the expansionism of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in South and South-East Asia is psychological warfare or psy-war which is a fabricated projection of one’s military might. This propaganda is aimed at serving the PLA a psychological edge in any probable war or to deter any possible adversaries.”

Hence, it is not wrong to speculate that China’s psywar for global dominance will indeed be short-lived owing to its diplomatic catastrophe with its neighbours like Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea. Russia also recently suspended the delivery of S400 missiles to China. It will be very soon when China’s alleged influence (if any) over the WHO and other UN agencies will be brought to light, and its role in doing absolutely nothing to save the world from the greatest pandemic that humanity ever witnessed will be exposed.


By Adhrish Chakraborty

Scottish Church College, Calcutta University

Adhrish is a student of Political Economy and International Relations at Scottish Church College, Kolkata. He is primarily focused into various socio-economic developments and it's multi dimensional impact upon the most vulnerable societal clusters of the Indian Economy.