China remembers its former greatness. Magnificent civil engineering projects: the Dujiangyan Water Project still functioning after 2400 years; the Great Wall. Confucius, paper, literacy and calligraphy, silk, gunpowder, compass, the elegant society that so impressed Marco Polo. In the 1400s, under the Ming Dynasty, Admiral Zheng sailed fleets as large as 300 ships and 30,000 sailors as far as the coasts of Africa and South America, and even by speculative account, the eastern coast of North America. They achieved total economic and military domination of the Asian Pacific region.
And it remembers its “century of humiliation”. The dismemberment and eventual disintegration of the Chinese empire began when the British pried open the first five “treaty ports” at the end of the First Opium War (1842). Within a decade, European colonialist powers had seized concessions in 15 ports, claiming damaging trade concessions and foreign areas within these cities. Muslim uprisings took place in southern and western China. Russia seized the northern provinces. France took IndoChina and Britain took Burma. Dismemberment.
As the Meiji Restoration was taking shape, Japan began to emulate the European nations it was copying. Japan wrested Manchuria and Taiwan from the rotting corpse of China. After defeating the Russian navy, Japan consolidated its gains in Manchuria and annexed Korea (1910). In 1915, while Europe was distracted, Japan issued it’s 21 demands with the intention of making China into a Japanese protectorate – an attempt temporarily thwarted by the US. Following defeat of Germany in WW1, Japan took the German holdings in China and the Pacific, and in 1931, they invaded Manchuria, moving south to “rape” Nanjing and west to the mountains – achieving the protectorate plan.
The brutal occupation resulted in as many as 20 million civilian deaths and only ended with Japan’s defeat in 1945.
This then is the context in which China establishes its National Objectives:
- Achieve former greatness. Economic domination, technological superiority, territorial integrity.
- Dominance in Asia. Neighbour states must understand that if Chinese wishes are contravened, there will be a price to pay. Look at the map. China’s eastern seaboard is ringfenced by South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and Malaysia. Access to the Pacific Ocean is controlled at narrow straits and by American defense agreements. A long term intolerable situation.
- Japan, because of historical atrocities, must be held in a permanently subordinate condition.
- Social stability. Provide secure employment opportunities. A prosperous and growing middle class will permit and probably welcome the authoritarian revival. Need to curb pollution and corruption.
- Security of Resource supplies. Water and energy are worth going to war over. The rivers Brahmaputra, Indus, Mekong which rise in the Tibetan Himalayas, will inevitably be continuing sources of conflict as waters are dammed and diverted. The “String of Pearls” [military/commercial ports extending as far as North Sudan and Kenya] will provide military security to the flow of oil from Persian Gulf – roughly 80% of China’s crude oil imports.
- Bernstein, Munro. The Coming Conflict with China. 1998. “It is Japan’s weakness that threatens peace and stability by creating a power vacuum that the United States alone can no longer fill.”
- Lucian W. Pye. Asian Power and Politics: The Cultural Dimensions of Authority. 1985. An outdated view, but with currently relevant insights. “The Chinese ideal that all power should emanate . . . from a single supreme leader.” “The basic rhythm of Chinese politics is an alteration between the tightening of authority and the relaxing of controls.”
- Samuel P. Huntington. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. 1996. “The economic development of Asia and the growing self-confidence of Asian societies are disrupting international politics . . . expand their military capabilities . . . increases the intensity of conflicts with the United States . . . increases the likelihood of China reasserting its traditional hegemony.” Other than the weak ASEAN, “no other major multilateral institutions bring together the principal Asian powers.”
- Robert D. Kaplan. Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific. 2014. The littoral states surrounding the South China Sea are “dependent on the United States for diplomatic and military backing.”
- Kristof, WuDunn. China Wakes: The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power. 1995. “The most likely scenario . . . pressures for economic and political liberalization . . . a long and unstable road . . . eventually some form of greater democracy.”