Image of China from U.S. Government and Media:
If your knowledge of history is based only on the recent comments and headlines from the U.S. government leaders and media reports about China, the image that you paint of China will be something similar to the following:
- China is engaging in territorial expansions toward many of her neighbors in the East China Sea and South China Sea, and all these are aggressive acts without justifications
- China is engaging in unprecedented and unreciprocated cyber attacks on the U.S.
- China is aggressively increasing her military strength so that she can threaten her neighbors
- China is a great destabilizing force in peace and security in Asia and the world at large
Is that image consistent with facts? Let’s analyze each of these issues.
I. Territorial Expansion:
Recent events involve mostly China and three of her neighbors: Japan, Vietnam, and Philippines.
A. Japan and the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands Dispute:
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in early May 2014 referred to these islands by the Japanese name and said that these islands are covered under the Japan-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty. Several previous articles in this website (see, e.g., “Inconsistent Foreign Policy May Drag U.S. Into Another War” ) have already analyzed this issue and that analysis will not be repeated here, except to say that historically, legally, and geographically the evidence is overwhelming that these islands have been and should be part of China. In spite of such evidence, Japan’s official position is that there is no dispute; these islands are clearly Japanese. So who is the aggressor and expansionist? Also, is the U.S. following her so-called long-stated policy that she doesn’t take a position with respect to the territorial sovereignty of these islands, or has the U.S. always been in complicity with Japan to try to take these islands from China?
B. Vietnam and the Paracel Islands (西沙群岛) and Spratly Islands (南沙群岛) Dispute:
First a little bit of geography. The Paracel Islands are located on the northwest part of South China Sea and close to China’s city of Sanya in Hainan Province and the coast of Vietnam. The Spratly Islands are located on the southeast part of South China Sea and close to the Philippines.
Each one of these is a group of islands (usually coral reef islands) or smaller land structures. For example, the Paracel Islands consist of over two dozen islands. The Spratly Islands consist of more than 750 reefs, islets, atolls, cays, and islands. Besides the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands, there are also two other groups of small islands or underwater land structures called Zhongsha Islands, also known as Macclesfield Bank, (中沙群岛), and Dongsha Islands, also known as Pratas Islands, (东沙群岛), located respectively southeast of the Paracel Islands and on the east part of South China Sea, which sometimes may also be involved in the disputes.
Vietnam’s claims in the South China Sea are usually based on the following:
- In 1816, the Vietnam emperor Gia Long claimed the Paracel Islands for Vietnam.
- In 1933, France who controlled Indochina at that time declared that the Spratly Islands were under France’s sovereignty. Japan, who ruled over Taiwan at that time, and China protested France’s claim.
China’s claims of the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea are based on numerous records and arguments, some of which are mentioned below:
- As early as the 12th century, there were already records of Chinese visiting and establishing jurisdiction over the Paracel Islands; similarly as early as the 13th century, there were records of Chinese also visiting the Spratly Islands.
- The Chinese Cheng Ho Expedition Maps drawn around 1425-1430 already showed the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands. Several later Chinese maps also showed these islands.
- In 1907, a Chinese military ship left a stone plaque on the Paracel Islands with inscription that the Chinese navy had patrolled this island.
- Up to 1930, there were many Chinese activities on both the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands because they were Chinese territories, and no country protested.
- In 1946, after the end of WWII, the Chinese government officially took back from Japan control of the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands.
- In 1956, North Vietnam had also declared that the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands are historically Chinese territory. But after North Vietnam defeated South Vietnam in 1975, Vietnam turned essentially completely toward the U.S.S.R and became hostile to China.
Currently, the Paracel Islands are under Chinese control. Different islands of the Spratly Islands are under the control of Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and China, with Vietnam controlling the largest number.
Vietnam has been drilling oil in the islands they control in the South China Sea for many years, sometimes in collaboration with Western countries or with India. They have already earned a lot of money and oil export is a significant part of their export revenue. Recently China just installed their first oil rig, an exploratory oil rig, in the Paracel Islands, but that triggered protests from Vietnam and the U.S. and accusing China of unjustified territorial expansion.
If you take into account the above history of these islands, one could argue that the ownership of these islands may be in dispute, but how can one conclude that it is China who is taking aggressive territorial expansion actions when the historical evidence is so much in favor of China having sovereignty over these islands? On the contrary, the accusing finger for the dispute should be pointing to Vietnam and the U.S. who is definitely siding with Vietnam. With such twisting of the historical truth by the Vietnamese government, is it any wonder that massive deadly riots occurred recently in Vietnam against Chinese (from Mainland or Taiwan) owned businesses or stores. I wonder the role of the Vietnamese government in these riots.
C. Philippines and the Paracel Islands (西沙群岛) and Spratly Islands (南沙群岛) Dispute:
In Section B, we have already discussed the reasons for China’s claim to these islands. What are the reasons for Philippines’ claim?
- In 1947, Filipino Tomas Cloma claimed to discover a group of unoccupied islands which are part of the Spratly Islands.
- After the Republic of China (ROC) evacuated to Taiwan, the ROC government in 1950 pulled out its garrison on Itu Aba, also called the Taiping Island, the largest island of the Spratly Islands. Then Tomas Cloma uprooted the ROC flag on Itu Aba and laid claim to the Spratly Islands. However, in 1956, the ROC again reestablished its garrison on Itu Aba.
- In 1971, Philippines announced claim to the Spratly Islands which are close to her territory, and renamed the islands as Kalayaan. Then in 1972, Philippines formally incorporated Kalayaan (or Spratly Islands) into her Palawan Province.
Just like the discussion in Section B about the dispute over these islands between China and Vietnam, one could argue that the ownership of these islands may be in dispute between China and Philippines, but how can one conclude that it is China who is taking aggressive territorial expansion actions when the historical evidence is so much in favor of China having sovereignty over these islands? On the contrary, the accusing finger for this dispute should be pointing to Philippines and the U.S. who is definitely siding with Philippines.
In conclusion on this issue of territorial expansion, if one adopts an unbiased analysis of the historical events involving these islands, one should conclude that the evidence is very much in favor of China having sovereignty over these islands. If one wants to point an accusing finger at a country that is taking aggressive territorial expansion actions, that finger should be pointing to Japan and the U.S. in the case of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, and to Vietnam, Philippines, and the U.S. in the case of the Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. References - provide additional information about these islands in the South China Sea.
II. Cyber Attacks:
In the last few weeks, top U.S. government leaders such as Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have accused China of engaging in cyber spying for both military and business intelligence, with the recent accusation focusing on spying for business intelligence. Does the U.S. have a valid point?
Throughout history, spying on other countries, both friends and foes, but especially the latter, has always been part of a country’s strategy to survive or to succeed. The techniques used in spying could change with time. For example, code breaking became an important part of the spying repertoire during and since WWII. With the proliferation of the Internet and the information age, cyber spying has definitely been added to the spying repertoire. The question we should ask: “Is China the only country doing cyber spying?” Or “is China doing more cyber spying than other countries?” Or “is China engaging in a kind of cyber spying that is illegal as compared to cyber spying of other countries?”
With the information disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden almost exactly a year ago, it is quite clear that the U.S. has been the world’s number one cyber spying government, collecting phone, computer, and other personal and private information from both friends and foes, including top government leaders of U.S.’s closest allies. It is really hypocrisy at the highest level for the U.S. to be making these accusations.
But wait a minute. The U.S. is arguing that there is an important distinction between the kind of cyber spying that China does and the kind that we do. We don’t do cyber spying to gain commercial knowledge and then share that knowledge with our corporations. Do we? What about when NSA invaded the computers of Petrobras, Brazil’s huge national oil company? Was it to gain commercial knowledge for the benefits of American oil companies? What about when NSA spied on Joaquin Almunia, the antitrust commissioner of the European Commission? Was it to gain knowledge for the benefits of American companies that might be antitrust targets of the European Commission? What about the following quote from Robert Hormats, an undersecretary of state under Hilary Clinton when she was the U.S.’s Secretary of State: “We wanted to demonstrate (to top leaders of U.S. companies) that when there was a CEO or other business leader who had a problem, we wanted them to come to the State Department. We would use the whole apparatus.”
It seems that the U.S. is using a double standard on what is legal and what is illegal in cyber spying, again hypocrisy at the highest level.
III. Increasing Military Strength to Threaten her Neighbors:
In the last few years, in absolute terms China has increased her military budget, but as a percentage of the GNP it actually has been fairly flat. But what is so surprising about China increasing her military budget when the U.S. has consistently adopted an antagonistic policy of containing, surrounding, and weakening China, and with military bases all around China, e.g., in Okinawa and other parts of Japan, in South Korea, in Guam, in the Philippines. The U.S. also has military troops in many other parts of Asia. The U.S.’s huge 7th Fleet is patrolling the waters all around China, with 60 to 70 ships and submarines, 200 to 300 aircrafts, and approximately 40,000 sailors and marines, and participated in 80 maritime exercises and conducted 192 port visits throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region just in 2013. In terms of technology, most likely the Chinese navy is behind that of Japan.
Furthermore, if China were stronger, including its military, during the whole 19th and 20th centuries, including the first 30 years of the existence of the People’s Republic of China, then most, if not all, of these territorial disputes would not exist today. It was because China was weak, that other countries took advantage and seized or stole territories that historically had belonged to China.
When a nation that has been exploited for a long time finally stands up and strengthens herself so that she can defend herself, instead of accusing her of being aggressive and expansion minded, perhaps it is more proper to say “it is about time.” Furthermore, one should really ask: Who is threatening whom?
IV. Destabilizing Force:
With several countries accusing China of aggressive expansionistic actions, it could easily lead people to believe that China is a destabilizing force in Asia and the world in general. Otherwise, why would several countries all have territorial disputes with China?
To understand this and as difficult it is for Americans (including myself) to swallow, we need to recognize that there is a common thread, a thread with an orchestrator behind the scenes. The orchestrator is none other than the U.S. Ever since the Chinese Communists won the civil war over the Chinese Nationalists in 1949, the U.S. has adopted an antagonistic policy of containing, surrounding, and weakening China.
- That was why the U.S. still has not pressed Japan to acknowledge and apologize for the massive atrocities that the Japanese military committed in China and other parts of Asia during WWII.
- That was why the U.S. did not recognize until 1979 the People’s Republic of China as the legitimate government of China, and has kept China unifying her country since 1949.
- That was why the U.S. did not invite China (either the Republic of China or the People’s Republic of China) to the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty that was supposed to settle the Asia Pacific War of WWII, a war in which the country that incurred the largest casualty and suffered the most was China. Yet the U.S. invited over 50 other countries to that conference.
- That was why on Christmas day 1953, the U.S. unilaterally included the Diaoyu Islands within the jurisdiction map of the Ryukyu Islands  whose administrative rights were transferred to Japan in 1972.
- That is why the CIA provided training, arms, and airlift support to the rebels in Tibet in 1959 and arranged for the safe escape of the Dalai Lama from China to India in 1959 
- That was why the U.S. is still keeping the massive 7th Fleet in the Pacific region around China.
- That was why even though she claims that she doesn’t take a position with respect to the territorial sovereignty of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, the U.S. has adopted the inconsistent and dangerous policy that these islands are under the Japan-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty.
- That was why the U.S. has criticized China for setting up the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) even though it was the U.S. and her allies, including Japan, who were the first to set up ADIZs. 
- That way why the U.S. is siding with Japan, Vietnam, and Philippines in the above-discussed territorial disputes even though the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of China.
- That was why the U.S. is criticizing China on cyber spying even though it is the U.S. who does the most cyber spying in the world.
- That was why the U.S. is criticizing China for increasing her military budget even though the U.S. has the largest military budget by far and has the world’s largest and most sophisticated weapons.
We should ask who is the destabilizing force in peace and security in Asia and in the rest of the world?
The U.S. is a rich and powerful country, with many good social and political infrastructures that many other countries can learn from. The American people also have a lot of good characteristics for others to copy. But the U.S. must not always impose her wills on the rest of the world, and she must not sabotage other countries that could rise and compete with her.
The U.S. should not conspire with other countries to distort history in order to help other countries to steal territories from China, because the truth will always win out in the long run. The U.S.’s current antagonistic policy to contain, surround, and weaken the world’s second largest economy is a dangerous and immoral policy, and is not in the best interest of the American people or in the best interest of world stability and peace.
If the U.S. wants to remain number one in the world, then she must look within herself to identify the shortcomings, and map out strategies to overcome those shortcomings. The U.S. should welcome the competition as a challenge to improve, but also look for opportunities to collaborate with her competitors to help solve the many important problems that the world is facing so it can be a win-win-win situation for the U.S., her competitors, and the rest of the world.
 Inconsistent Foreign Policy May Drag U.S. Into Another War, http://www.dontow.com/2012/09/inconsistent-foreign-policy-may-drag-u-s-into-another-war/.
 邓嗣禹： 南中国海诸岛屿的主权问题, http://blog.boxun.com/hero/xsj11/2_1.shtml.
 丘宏达： 西沙南沙羣岛的领土主权问题的分析, http://blog.boxun.com/hero/xsj11/3_1.shtml.
 “Territorial disputes in the South China Sea”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Territorial_disputes_in_the_South_China_Sea.
 “The Operation of the HYSY 981 Drilling Rig: Vietname’s Provocation and China’s Position,” http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/t1163264.shtml
 “Some Thoughts on Tibet”: http://www.dontow.com/2008/04/some-thoughts-on-tibet/.
 “What Can Be Learned from China’s New Air Defense Identification Zone?”: http://www.dontow.com/2013/12/what-can-be-learned-from-chinas-new-air-defense-identification-zone/.
 ‘U.S. Must Abandon Its “Forgotten Holocaust” Foreign Policy’, http://www.dontow.com/2014/03/u-s-must-abandon-its-forgotten-holocaust-foreign-policy/.