Beijing enjoys invoking history for its own ends, but reality is less simple
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. Frank.email@example.com Twitter: @FrankChing1