Bei­jing en­joys in­vok­ing history for its own ends, but re­al­ity is less sim­ple

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

De­spite strong op­po­si­tion from China, the South China Sea is­sue was vig­or­ously dis­cussed by ASEAN for­eign min­is­ters at their an­nual meet­ing in Kuala Lumpur last week, as well as by for­eign min­is­ters of the United States, Ja­pan and other coun­tries. The Chi­nese for­eign min­is­ter, Wang Yi, an­nounced that China has fin­ished is­land recla­ma­tion in dis­puted wa­ters. How­ever, what this means is that China will now move to the next stage of build­ing in­fra­struc­ture on these ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands, in­clud­ing mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties.

Lit­tle won­der, then, that the Chi­nese of­fi­cial re­jected an Amer­i­can pro­posal first made last year to stop recla­ma­tion, stop con­struc­tion of fa­cil­i­ties and stop mil­i­ta­riza­tion.

In­stead, Min­is­ter Wang pro­posed three ini­tia­tives of his own. The pro­pos­als if ac­cepted would ef­fec­tively iso­late the Philip­pines within ASEAN and keep the United States out of South China Sea is­sues.

First, he said, coun­tries in South­east Asia should pledge to im­ple­ment a non­bind­ing agree­ment reached in 2002 re­gard­ing con­duct in the South China Sea. Since China has charged that the Philip­pines vi­o­lated the agree­ment by bring­ing a case against it in the Per­ma­nent Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion in The Hague, this ini­tia­tive was ev­i­dently aimed at least in part at Manila.

Sec­ond, the for­eign min­is­ter said that “coun­tries out­side the re­gion” should pledge not to take ac­tions that may cause ten­sion and com­plex­ity in the re­gion, a move ap­par­ently aimed at the United States and also Ja­pan.

The third ini­tia­tive was that coun­tries pledge to ex­er­cise and safe­guard free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion in ac­cor­dance with in­ter­na­tional law. Since China’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of in­ter­na­tional law is markedly dif­fer­ent from that of other coun­tries, this ini­tia­tive is un­likely to be fruit­ful.

In any event, China not only failed to head off dis­cus­sion of the South China Sea but also was cha­grined when ASEAN for­eign min­is­ters is­sued a joint com­mu­nique that re­peated the sub­stance of a chair­man’s state­ment in April in which ASEAN’s 10 heads of state, with­out nam­ing China, in­di­cated that the coun­try had “eroded trust and con­fi­dence” as a re­sult of its land recla­ma­tion and “may un­der­mine peace, se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity.”

The for­eign min­is­ters’ com­mu­nique used al­most iden­ti­cal lan­guage, adding that land recla­ma­tions had “in­creased ten­sions” as well.

This flies in the face of the Chi­nese posi-


tion, which is that South China Sea ten­sions are be­ing “hyped” by the United States in an at­tempt to con­tain China. China’s sticks-and­car­rots pol­icy to­ward ASEAN is clearly not work­ing.

At the root of the prob­lem is a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent ap­proach to in­ter­na­tional law. All par­ties cite in­ter­na­tional law, in­clud­ing the Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea, which came into force in 1994, but China alone in­sists on “re­spect for his­tor­i­cal facts” when in­ter­na­tional law does not sup­port its po­si­tion.

But China’s recita­tion of his­tor­i­cal facts is of­ten se­lec­tive. Thus, Xin­hua News Agency quoted For­eign Min­is­ter Wang last week as re­fer­ring to the United States as “our ally” when speak­ing of events in the 1940s, be­fore the Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of China ex­isted.

While meet­ing with U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry, Mr. Wang also as­serted that “the in­ter­na­tional or­der and sys­tem with the United Na­tions as the core was es­tab­lished with the joint ef­forts of China, the United States and other coun­tries.”

It is ironic that the Com­mu­nists should claim credit for help­ing to es­tab­lish the United Na­tions. In fact, the Chi­nese Gov­ern­ment that helped to es­tab­lish the United Na­tions was that of Na­tion­al­ist leader Chi­ang Kai- shek, which the Com­mu­nists dubbed a “feu­dal, com­prador, fas­cist dic­ta­tor­ship.”

Sim­i­larly, Bei­jing is cel­e­brat­ing the 70th an­niver­sary of the de­feat of Ja­pan, again con­ve­niently ig­nor­ing the fact that it was the Na­tion­al­ist Gov­ern­ment that won the war with Ja­pan, not the Com­mu­nists.

The Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of China was not pro­claimed by the Com­mu­nist Party un­til 1949 and, the fol­low­ing year, it sup­ported North Korea in its in­va­sion of South Korea and sent troops to fight Amer­i­can and other forces fight­ing un­der the United Na­tions flag in Korea. In fact, Bei­jing was ef­fec­tively at war with the United Na­tions from 1950 un­til 1953, when a truce was signed.

To this day, the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party calls the Korean War the “War to Re­sist U.S. Ag­gres­sion and Aid Korea,” paint­ing the United States, which was im­ple­ment­ing a United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion, as the ag­gres­sor and North Korea as the vic­tim.

Even though Bei­jing now has diplo­matic re­la­tions with Seoul, the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment has never apol­o­gized for as­sist­ing and par­tic­i­pat­ing in the North Korean in­va­sion of the South, with Chi­nese troops cap­tur­ing Seoul, the South Korean cap­i­tal.

If Bei­jing now wants to dis­cuss history, there is in­deed much to talk about. Twit­ter: @FrankChing1

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