Nov 2, 2010

Chinese Aggression


In the debate among China scholars in the West, the central issue is whether China has historically been a peaceful or expansionist power. The reading of Chinese history will show a pattern of martial rivalries between ethnic Han Chinese kingdoms, as well as with neighboring kingdoms and tribes of other nationalities. In the October 21, 2010 edition of Foreign Policy, scholar Daniel Blumnethal takes a historical view of a rising China’s modern political behavior. -- Al Santoli

How can we make sense of a People's Republic of China that is supposed to be, in the words of Deng Xiaoping, "biding its time and hiding its capabilities," but in fact is picking fights with most of its neighbors, including the United States? The Chinese were supposed to be using their deep reservoirs of "soft power" and practicing a highly skilled diplomacy aimed at assuring all that China is rising peacefully. But over the past year, Beijing has been rather clumsier than the caricature of Chinese cleverness might suggest. China has in effect declared the entire South China Sea -- a body of water that is of critical importance for its abundance of natural resources and for its position as the maritime connection between the Indian and Pacific Oceans -- to be its territorial water…..

A recent book helps explain how PRC leaders think about the world and what may lead China to engage in the behavior we and our allies find offensive. In The Mind of Empire China's History and Foreign Relations, Christopher Ford makes a persuasive case for hardwired cultural conditioning as an explanation for China's imperious behavior. China possesses, well, the mind of an empire. According to Ford, Chinese history has no precedent for stable coexistence among sovereign equals. Moreover, struggle over primacy within China and later with other states is a fairly continuous characteristic of Chinese history.,, According to Ford, China has an enduring sense of global order. Beijing assumes that the "natural order" of the political world is hierarchical and the idea of truly separate and independent states is illegitimate.

The answer may lie in Chinese strategists' cultural conditioning: Many Chinese strategic elites analogize this period in international politics to the Warring States Period. According to Jacqueline Newmyer, the Warring States Period was "a militarized age when roughly seven small kingdoms vied for ascendancy over the territory now considered China's Han core, before the state of Qin emerged victorious, unified China, and launched the dynastic era that lasted into the twentieth century."

During this period of Chinese history, roughly coequal sovereigns competed for primacy until, as Ford says, "a just and moral unitary Confucian state" dominated for two millennia and established the correct pattern of hierarchical relations with China's neighbors.

The strong counter-reaction[ to he South China Sea claims [and aggression toward Japanese-claimed islands in the East Sea]m not to mention China’s academic claims over northern Korea on=under the pretext of who ruled the ancient Koryeo kingdom 935 to 1392 A.D.], by U.S. Secretaries Clinton and Gates took the Chinese by surprise and left Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi stunned and furious. But precisely in his moment of fury, Foreign Minister Yang had much to reveal about how the Chinese elite think. In Yang's view, Secretary Clinton was "attacking China." And as Yang said, "China is a big country and other countries are small countries and that is just a fact." First, Beijing sees itself as in an intensive competition for primacy that parallels the Warring States Period. U.S. attempts to stand up for its interests and allies are not taken at face value, they are "attacks" on China. Second, the natural order of things is that the "small countries" must accept China's superior position.