Saturday, August 31, 2013

South China Sea: Beijing has no historical claim

With the Obama Administration about to engage in more aimless, useless killing in the Middle East (brilliantly satirized by Andy Borowitz in the New Yorker this week), an excellent and timely piece reminds us of the coming wars in Asia as China flexes its expansionist muscles. This piece argues, as so many of us have before, that history is the weak link in China's maritime claims:
History, as is well known, is written by the victors, not the vanquished. China’s present borders largely reflect the frontiers established during the spectacular episode of eighteenth-century Qing (Manchu) expansionism, which over time hardened into fixed national boundaries (except outer Mongolia, largely because of the Soviet Union) following the imposition of the Westphalian nation-state system over Asia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Official Chinese history today often distorts this complex history, however, claiming that Mongols, Tibetans, Manchus, and Hans were all Chinese, when in fact the Great Wall was built by the Chinese dynasties to keep out the troublesome northern Mongol and Manchu tribes that repeatedly overran Han China; the Great Wall actually represented the Han Chinese empire’s outer security perimeter. While most historians see the onslaught of the Mongol hordes led by Genghis Khan in the early 1200s as an apocalyptic event that threatened the very survival of ancient civilizations in China, India, Persia and other nations, the Chinese have consciously promoted the myth that he was actually “Chinese,” and therefore all areas that the Mongols (the Yuan dynasty) had once occupied or conquered (such as Tibet and much of Central and Inner Asia) belong to China by retrospectively superimposing the sixteenth century European notion of sovereignty over the twelfth century Asia. China’s claims on Taiwan and in the South China Sea are also based on the grounds that both were parts of the Manchu empire. (Actually, in the Manchu or Qing dynasty maps, it is Hainan Island, not the Paracel and Spratly Islands, that is depicted as China’s southernmost border.) In this version of history, any territory conquered by “Chinese” in the past remains immutably so, no matter when the conquest may have occurred.
Not many writers on this issue get it so clearly and so broadly. Kudos to him. Read it all, well worth the time spent. Meanwhile Taiwan continues to waste money upgrading facilities on its Spratly Island base, which Beijing will be able to take away from it with very little effort when the time comes:
Taiwan plans to spend more than $100 million to build a dock big enough for warships in the disputed Spratly islands, a legislator said Thursday, as other claimants strengthen their regional military presence.

The plan submitted to parliament Thursday by the coastguard would cost Tw$3.4 billion ($112.4 million). Sources said the spending is expected to be approved.

The dock will be an upgrade on the existing pier at the Taiwan-controlled island of Taiping, the biggest island in the Spratlys. It is scheduled to become operational in 2016.

“National security authorities have decided to expedite the project as the other countries in the region have been increasing their naval and air force deployment in the past few years, further complicating the issue,” legislator Lin Yu-fang said in a statement.
After the dock is completed, the government plans to upgrade the runway. When one thinks what $100 million could do in Taiwan....not to mention the irritant to good relations with its southern neighbors, which Taiwan and its fishing boats needs.
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Readin said...

So... Ma is building a base to be handed over to the Chinese when the anschluss occurs.

This may also explain his change of heart about arms purchases. It's one thing for the DPP to buy high tech weapons to use for defending Taiwan. It is quite another to buy access to high technology for China (which can be given to them either before or after the anschluss).

Now that the Taiwanese have voted twice for anscluss, and have turned their minds to other matters such as tearing down of historic residences, the unification is pretty much unavoidable.

To understand the moves Ma and China are making it is important to keeping mind the upcoming post-anschluss world.

Mike Fagan said...

"Now that the Taiwanese have voted twice for anscluss..."

Annexation may or may not be what eventually happens, but that's not necessarily what the Taiwanese wanted when they cast their votes for the KMT at the last two elections.

In any case, since there's little that can be done about Ma until his term runs out, the actions of the Taiwanese protesters should garner more attention. One view - the undoubtedly prevalent one - is that the strategic aim should be enhanced democratic control of the State-nexus (so higher electoral standards, reform of the referendum act, amendments to the theft act etc...). An alternative view - my own - is that the aim should be to start stripping the State of as many of its legal powers and assumed responsibilities as possible as a non-military deterrent to annexation. At the moment we risk just handing almost everything over to a centralized power that is orders of magnitude worse than the KMT/DPP - police, criminal justice, law, education, healthcare, electricity, water, currency and on and on. It would surely be much more difficult for the Chinese to run Taiwan if they have to start building up State powers and functions from scratch, especially when those functions have been given over to working markets.

The scale of the required change of consciousness is immense, and will take a lot more than merely pleading like good little girls for amendments and milky bars.