Lt. Gen. Wallace C. "Chip” Gregson Jr. and Joseph A. Bosco: China Territorial Disputes: A Warning in the History of Imperial Japan

Roundup: Media's Take

Lt. Gen. Wallace C. "Chip” Gregson Jr., retired, is senior director of China and the Pacific at the Center for the National Interest. He served as commander US Marine Corps Forces Pacific, and as assistant secretary of defense for Asia-Pacific security affairs from 2009-2011.

Joseph A. Bosco served in the office of the secretary of Defense as China country desk officer and previously taught graduate seminars on China-US relations at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. He is now a national security consultant.

Some China scholars have begun to accuse Beijing of “salami tactics” in seeking to seize gradual control of the South China Sea. The term evokes disturbing echoes of Nazi Germany’s incremental aggression until it was ready for all-out war.

Applying World War II terminology to China’s current behavior may seem overblown, but it is apt. In fact, China’s actions also resemble those of another bad actor of that tragic period: Imperial Japan.

The emerging Japan of the 1920s and ’30s, like today’s China, was steeped in historic resentment of the West’s forcible imposition of commercial and cultural influence. Even as Western interaction hugely benefited Japan’s economy then and China’s now, both countries set about building military capabilities commensurate with their new economic prowess.

Naked military power was seen by Imperial Japan, as it is by the Communist Party in China, as necessary to defend and expand industrial achievements and economic influence against hostile Western nations, most notably the United States....

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