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Diaoyu Islands

The Diaoyu Islands are a group of uninhabited islands located roughly due east of mainland China, northeast of Taiwan, west of Okinawa Island, and north of the southwestern end of the Ryukyu Islands. They are currently controlled by Japan, which calls them Senkaku Islands. Both China and Taiwan claim sovereignty over the islands. 

CommentInsight & Opinion

China's dream of rebirth

John Lee says China's mission of national renewal is founded on resurrecting its days of glory, and the US and Japan need to understand that this implies a reworking of the current regional order

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 March, 2013, 3:30am

In a speech at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington recently, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe informed the audience of officials, experts and journalists that Japan is "back" and will not stand down in its ongoing sovereignty dispute with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. With Chinese provocations on the rise, US President Barack Obama, Abe's host, appealed for calm and restraint on both sides.

Japan is likely to accede - grudgingly - to America's request, as it remains dependent on its alliance with the US for its security. But it will be much more difficult to persuade China that it should stand down.

China's assertiveness over its sovereignty claim reflects more than a desire to exploit seabed resources, or to gain a widened strategic gateway into the western Pacific. It is also about national renewal and rejuvenation - the core of the Chinese Communist Party's raison d'être. Turning away from a fight with its former occupier and historical rival would be a step backwards in this six-decade-long quest.

The idea of Chinese renewal or rejuvenation was popularised by then premier Zhao Ziyang in the late 1980s, and frequently promoted by presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao . Most recently, incoming president Xi Jinping , visiting the National Museum of China's "Road Towards Renewal" exhibition, pledged to continue the "great renewal of the Chinese nation".

What does "renewal" or "rejuvenation" mean to Chinese? All nations - great and small - embody a combination of historical fact and myth. In this case, the Communist Party's view of rejuvenation is built on the belief that the zenith of Chinese power under the Ming and Qing dynasties represents the natural, just and permanent state of affairs for a 5,000-year-old civilisation.

When Mao Zedong took power in 1949, his immediate goal was to re-establish the "greater China" of the Qing dynasty, insisting that the Manchu-led empire was the permanent and enduring China. But, while the assault on the Qing dynasty by foreign powers is a historical fact, the notion that there has been one enduring China struggling against avaricious outsiders across several millennia is false and self-serving.

Mao achieved his goal following the so-called peaceful liberation of the East Turkestan Republic, now Xinjiang , in 1949 and of Tibet in 1950, which promptly increased China's size by more than one-third. And every Communist Party leader since has carried forward his vision of a greater China, adjusting and expanding it as the country's power grows. For example, China showed little interest in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands prior to 1968 - the year a geographical study pointed to vast oil reserves beneath the seabed.

The same can be said for China's growing stridency with respect to its claims in the South China Sea. In 2009, relying heavily on a dubious historical claim, China formally tabled its "nine-dotted line" map to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, and has since referred to almost all of the South China Sea as being under its "indisputable sovereignty".

Having dominated East and Southeast Asia for all but the last two centuries of the past two millennia, China is chafing at the current US-led regional order of sovereign states, in which even the smallest enjoys the same rights, privileges and protection as the largest.

Modern China has benefited enormously from this arrangement; none-theless, there is keen resentment that the Chinese civilisation-state's vast achievements over several thousand years offer China no special status.

To a people imbued with a deep sense of superior moral worth, historical achievement, and victimisation by foreign powers, this state of affairs is unjust and unnatural. It follows that pulling back from any territorial dispute with smaller and inferior states would be seen as a humiliating defeat, rather than a step towards ensuring long-term regional stability.

Moreover, an expanding view of greater China implies that a resolution of the dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in China's favour would be likely to embolden rather than satisfy its ambitions. Making good on its claim to the South China Sea could be next.

As Obama and Abe forge a common strategy aimed at helping to manage China's rise peacefully, they must understand that China's conception of renewal seeks to resurrect a glorious past, and that this implies revision, not affirmation, of the existing regional order.

This means they will have to limit China's strategic and military options, even if they cannot constrain its ambitions.

John Lee is a fellow and professor at the Centre for International Security Studies, the University of Sydney. He is also a non-resident scholar at the Hudson Institute in Washington DC, and a director of the Kokoda Foundation in Canberra. Copyright: Project Syndicate

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chinaradioint
China is chafing at the current US-led regional order where countries enjoy equal rights? Are you kidding? China joined the WTO in 2000 to end its exclusion from world trading system. Since then, China has been working integrate the international community. Why? Because China wants equal treatemnt not only on economic terms but also politically. Where did you base your judgement that China pursues "sepcial treatment?"
Besides, John Lee doesn't seem to have a clue about Chinese history. The zenith of Chinese power is not the Ming and Qing Dynasties, but the Tang Dynasty. There's a reason that all China town in other countries are translated into chinese as "Tang Ren Jie".
The author needs to do more homework. SCMP is damaging its own reputation by running pieces like this.
whymak
A reader says, “3 countries living in three different time frames and points of reference.”
His statement on frames of reference resonates with my appreciation of Einstein.
An EVENT is defined by both space and time. Neither length nor time interval between two events is the same (invariant) as measured by two observers. However, special relativity lays down the principle how an interval in space-time becomes a geometrical invariant. That is, one who understands the beauty of this can explain the differences in the measurements of either space or time among various observers by using this invariance concept.
Politicos like John Lee pretends that his brand of political science, a witchcraft really with self-contradictory assumptions, personal illogicalities and faulty reasoning, could solve the most intractable complex problems when the beauty of physics could reveal the secrets of only the most fundamental.
Professor Lee’s arrogance needs a reality check. We should first put him through a physics boot camp and see if he could cut the mustard.
shouken
All nations - great and small - embody a combination of historical fact and myth. You have it right.
Otherwise, how would the United States grew from 13 small coastal states (US Proper) to a size 7 times that? Manifest Destiny tells the Americans that Canada should be theirs; fortunately in the 1812 War the Brits were still strong enough to defend Canada from US annexation.
Nations have a will to grow strong and remain vital. Otherwise, the Yankees would not have fought a bloody anti-cessionist war 1861-1865.
whymak
The US must keep up the tension in order to justify the occupation of Okinawa as its key base to project power in the Pacific. To suppress Okinawa’s anti-American sentiment, the US needs to rile up the Japanese against China over the Diaoyu dispute. Very clever, don’t you think?
If anyone one is interested in the rich oil and gas reserves in those waters, China, Vietnam, Japan and Philippines are certainly going about it the wrong way. Military buildup, and with it a good chance of real shooting wars, will make costs of exploration unacceptable. Bush and Cheney thought they could get Iraqi oil on the cheap. After spending 1.6 trillion on a war and with many bills yet to be paid, the US has nothing to show for except temporarily locking out China and Russia access to Iraqi oil. Now with Chinese oil companies perfectly willing to accept a much lower profit in Iraq, Western oil companies must follow suit. Is that what Cheney intended, a bare bone profit of a competitive market for US oil oligopolies and Halliburton?
These are facts. Cumulative failures described here destroy wealth of nations and lead to demise of empires. Yet this phony political "scientist," fixated on the global hegemon's sole rights to power and status quo prerogatives, is talking through his rear end with another China containment strategy.
hongkiejj@malaysiaboleh

john, look at the big picture. who started this and why ? That I think you should ponder thoroughly. As far as implying and endorsing full containment policy to limit China strategic military options will not work and pretty naive I would say. Perhaps you should re-evaluate your comment. Making such comments will not help but to create more tension.
Why dont you try something different and propose some ideas on how to resolve this issue rather than adding more oil to fire. Why not comment on what Abe is saying lately. Does he sounds like he is calm and wants to resolve the issue ??
As an elected leader of Japan, the prime minister of Japan, Abe should refrain from making stupid headlines accusation from one story to another. Best that Abe keep a low profile and stop beating the drum. Apparently he has forgotten about what he had said in Washington just last week ago.
China on their part should also lower the temperature. China is not perfect and neither you and Japan or USA are roses.
babyhenry
"As Obama and Abe forge a common strategy aimed at helping to manage China's rise peacefully, they must understand that China's conception of renewal seeks to resurrect a glorious past, and that this implies revision, not affirmation, of the existing regional order."
oooo dear professor, we chinese should send both them a thank you card for "helping".
This is perhaps intellectual BS in the highest level.
jenniepc
professor John Lee,
why don’t you talk about you British invasion of Australia and how British treated Australia’s Aboriginal people. You British sent most of criminal convicts as penal colony beginning 1788 and ended 1868. You British not only dispossessed or grabbed the lands from Australia’s Aboriginal people. You British also brought the illness and death from introduced diseases disrupted traditional lifestyles and practices.
China has controlled Xingjian on and off since Han Dynasty and Tibet on and off since 663. But nonetheless, Chinese people have never sent the criminal convicts there to grab the lands.
Jennie PC Chiang/江佩珍 03/03/13 美國
whymak
江小姐,
I hope you don't mind this salutation from one Chinese to another. You moral suasion to Mr. Lee is totally misdirected. Mr. Lee is Asian. However, I will relate a 40-year old experiment in psychology that is applicable just in case you want to recompose another persuasive note.
A group of baby chimpanzees were raised at birth in a US laboratory. They were showered with human affection and care and taught many cognitive skills. Self awareness of these creatures was demonstrated by their ability to identify mirror images of themselves, other chimpanzees and humans.
Furthermore, they were taught to sort objects into different categories. An experiment now calls for sorting a stack of pictures of humans and chimpanzees into two separate bins.
Without fail, each and every one of these chimpanzees puts its own picture with the pile of humans and other chimps into a separate bin.
Insofar as self identity is concerned, one may conclude that our Hong Kong bananas - yellow outside but white at the core - are not dissimilar to Professor Lee.
xiaoblueleaf
China's spiritual renaissance has nothing to do with territories (and things physical); it is about reversal of moral decadence which requires firstly freedom of the consciousness, allowing one to differentiate between good and evil , right and wrong - not being told so, especially when wrongly told.
jamesobh
It is very clear from the stance of US in supporting Japan in its control of Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands is the containment of Chinese military expansion within the first island chain. US' purpose is to restrict Chinese navy vessels heading to the Pacific and to safeguard U.S. strategic assets all the way to the American military facility in Guam.
However, China's claim to Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands is legitimised by post-war international order of the Cairo Declaration and Potsdam Proclaimation, which says particularly that the territories of China which were occupied by Japan before WW2 must return to China.
Though the world had gone through two world wars, US and Japan are still eager to provoke China to a war, and possibly to another world war. Abe has in mind to bring to fruition, a "democratic diamond security," which is basically an anti-China military alliance. His warmongering attitude is further strengthened with his attempts to influence and lure ASEAN nations to his side in the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands' dispute with China.

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