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Buried away in the corner of a New Zealand daily newspaper, barely noticeable, is an item entitled “China’s new e-passports cause anger.” The meager attention given to a major geopolitical issue is indicative of the naïve, if not outright stupid, mentalities of New Zealand journalists, politicians, diplomats, and business leaders who cannot see further than Chinese smiles, handshakes, and trade.[1] The entire article reads as follows:

China has redrawn the map printed in its passports to lay claim to almost all of the South China Sea, infuriating its neighbors.

In the new passports, a nine dash line has been added that hugs the coasts of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and some of Indonesia, scooping up several islands that are claimed both by China and by its neighbors.

China has printed nearly six million of the passports since it quietly introduced them in April, judging by the monthly application rate.

The Philippines joined Vietnam yesterday in voicing it anger at the new map.

“The Philippines strongly protests the inclusion of the nine-dash lines in the e-passport as such image covers an areas of the Philippines’ territory and maritime domain,” said Albert del Rosario, a foreign affairs spokesman.[2]

This is typical of the quagmire that is called named “Asia,” as if there is, has been, or can ever be, such a unitary bloc in geopolitical, ethnographic or even just pragmatic economic senses. “Asia” as a unitary idea exists only in the minds of those in business, political and diplomatic circles, particularly in New Zealand, Australia and the USA, who have a reductionist outlook based on trade.

This surreptitious symbolic declaration of imperial expansion inaugurated by the Chinese in April was “noticed by keen-eyed Vietnamese officials who are in the process of renewing six-month visas for Chinese businessmen,” according to the lengthier report that was carried by The London Telegraph, from which The Dominion Post culled the five brief paragraphs.[3]

Vietnam has a long history of standing up to Chinese expansionism,[4] and has been the first to challenge China on this. The Telegraph’s Malcolm Moore adds that “In response, Vietnamese immigration is refusing to paste visas inside the new passports, instead putting the visa on a separate, detached, page.” Recognizing the passport with a visa would imply recognition of China’s claim to Vietnamese territory.[5]

“The new passport also stakes a claim to the Diaoyu or Senkakku islands, which have been a great source of friction between China and Japan.”[6]

Claims Against India

However, The Telegraph report is also far from adequate, failing to even mention the very significant inclusion of the Indian territories of Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin that have also been included on the passport map. India, also having a history of resistance to China’s expansionism, in response has issued visas stamped with maps of India that include Arunachal and Aksai Chin.[7] An Indian Express article concludes:

Incidentally, the new outline map on Chinese e-passports also includes Taiwan and South China Sea in its territory, leaving Beijing’s other neighbors such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia too infuriated. Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam have all protested against the new map.

About three years ago, China had created a diplomatic row by issuing stapled visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir, terming it a “disputed territory”. It has always denied visas to those hailing from Arunachal.[8]

It seems enigmatic that China would now make such a provocative gesture when it is attempting to show its commitment to being a player for stability in the region, to be a reliable trade partner and part of a regional community, if not a world community. Is China as a nation irredeemably sociopathic?

China clashed with both Russian and India during the 1960s over disputed border areas. These disputed areas have supposedly recently been settled peaceably. The Indian Express commented on the territorial contentions with India:

In 1962, China and India fought a brief war over Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh, but in 1993 and 1996 the two countries signed agreements to respect the Line of Actual Control to maintain peace and tranquility.[9]

The dispute with Russia was supposedly settled amicably in 2008, whereby Russia would hand over Yinlong Island (known as Tarabarov in Russia) and half of the Heixiazi Island (Bolshoi Ussuriysky) at the confluence the of Amur and Ussuri rivers. The agreement was thought to be the basis for a Sino-Russian rapprochement. While Russia gave up Tarabarov and half of Bolshoi Ussuriysky, totalling 174 square kilometres, China supposedly gave up its claim to the other half of Bolshoi Ussuriysky. What is noted about all these concessions is that China seems invariably to get the better end of the deal.

Russia’s retreat from Central Asia with the implosion of the USSR has seen China attempt to full the power vacuum. Indian researcher Sudha Ramachandran offered a perceptive analysis, writing last year of China’s strategy: “A Sino-Tajik border agreement that was ratified recently by Tajikistan’s parliament flies in the face of images of China being a ‘bullying’ and ‘belligerent’ power that ‘will go to any length to fulfill its territorial ambitions.’” The agreement requires Tajikistan to cede about 1,000 square kilometers of land in the Pamir Mountains to China; only 3.5% of the land China was claiming. Under border agreements with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, China received 22% and 32% respectively of disputed land. Ramachandran states that of 23 territorial disputes since 1949, Chgibna has offered “substantial comprises” in 17, usually accepting half the territory that has been demanded.[10]

Ramachandran offers an explanation for China’s “generosity” that is uncommonly insightful, and should be read in full:

However, there is more to it than meets the eye. The territorial concessions that China is believed to have made are not quite as substantial as they appear to be. Srikanth Kondapalli, a China expert at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi pointed out that China’s strategy of stepping up territorial claims and then settling for less has enabled it to appear to be making a major territorial concession to reach a border resolution agreement. In several disputes, “whether China actually gave up territory or made a substantial concession is a debatable question,” he told Asia Times Online.

… “China will claim more before settling for less,” he said. “The so-called territorial concessions that it will probably extend while settling the dispute will not merit being regarded as concessions.”[11]

However, in recent months there are indications that China will, when it regards the time as right, act as belligerent as necessary and throw diplomacy overboard.

A significant factor that does not seem to be taken into account is that China is likely to be acting dialectically, as it did under Mao. While the West enthuses over the “changes” that are taking place in China particularly in terms of trade, should it be inferred from this that China has also abandoned the dialectical character of its policies, simply because it now talks of trade rather than “world revolution”? Lenin[12] succinctly described the complex twists and turns of dialectics: “One step forward, two steps back,” which became Mao’s axiom. Filipino diplomat A Del Rosario, previously quoted in connection with the Chinese passport map, is cognizant of this strategy still in operation:

Lest we are lulled into a false sense of security and delude ourselves that quiet diplomacy is working, let us be wary of reports Chinese ships have withdrawn from Pag-asa in the Spratly group of islands. Remember it was Chairman Mao Zedong who said “To take one step forward, take two steps backward.”[13]

The timing of the new passport map is a provocation that reiterates China’s territorial ambitions, which warns the world that China’ s diplomacy should not be taken as a sign of retreat. Shubhajit Roy writes of the timing:

Significantly, these developments occur even as a high-level team of Chinese diplomats, for the first time, visited Sikkim in connection with consular issues, which was seen as reconfirmation of Beijing’s stance of accepting the state as part of India.

The development comes even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the Asean summit in Cambodia where the two leaders discussed ways to move forward on the vexed boundary issue.[14]

This shows the duplicitous character of China; which I contend is sociopathic. Behind a decades’ long façade of “opening up” diplomatically and commercially, China is biding its time, building up and securing the economic strength that it could not secure under the clinically deranged Mao Zedong.[15]

China has not compromised despite its gains, including the territorial gains achieved diplomatically with Russia. Her long-range hegemonic goals remain the same. Tensions are, as paradoxical as it might appear to those who are naïve, increasing regardless of the superficial rapprochement of China with others in Asia and the Pacific regions. Aljazeera observes:

Stand-offs between Chinese vessels and the Philippine and Vietnamese navies in the South China Sea have become more common as China increases patrols in waters believed to hold vast reserves of oil and natural gas.[16]

Aljazeera also observes that the dispute came at the time of an ASEAN summit:

Malaysia and Brunei are also claimants in the dispute which overshadowed an Asian leaders’ summit in Cambodia this week. China is also embroiled in a territorial dispute with Japan.[17]

Japan

In September the long-time antagonism between China and Japan again erupted when China sent six government vessels into the South China Sea near the disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. The ships had been dispatched after Japan announced its intention of buying the islands from their private owner.[18] The Chinese response to Japanese diplomatic protests was to instigate riots against Japanese citizens and businesses in China. The Brisbane Times reported:

Panasonic’s factory and a Toyota dealership in the port city of Qingdao were damaged by fire, while military police were called in to control thousands demonstrating at the Japanese consulate in Shanghai as protests escalated… Protests occurred in Qingdao, Xi’an, Guangzhou and Hong Kong on Saturday as more than 1000 demonstrators gathered outside the Japanese embassy in Beijing. Japan’s Kyodo News said more than 40,000 people joined demonstrations in 20 Chinese cities. …  In Shanghai yesterday, hundreds of military police were brought in to separate groups of protesters outside the Japanese consulate, chanting: “Down with Japan devils, boycott Japanese goods, give back Diaoyu!” There were no reports of injuries.[19]

Despite the reference to Chinese police being called in to “control” the riots, it would be naïve to think that these demonstrations did not take place at the prompting of Chinese officialdom. China does not feel constrained by diplomacy or business. Chinese policy is undertaken in the pursuit of hegemonic geopolitical long-term aims that are quite beyond the comprehension of the small-minded politicians in Wellington and Canberra and the greed-driven enthusiasts for China free trade. China functions on an entirely different level of reality, which is expressed dialectically, as previously stated. Further, despite the calm exterior of Chinese diplomats and politicians on the world and regional stages, none of the old irrational fanaticism of the Mao era has disappeared; it can be tapped into at any time with the same crazed zeal as the Red Guards during the Mao era.

USA and Russia

The USA and China are in a symbiotic relationship that will not be jeopardized for the sake of US relations with Asia. Nozawa conclude in The Brisbane Times with a significant remark:

Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrives in China today to reassure Chinese leaders the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia is not meant to provoke a confrontation over China’s increasingly assertive posture towards its neighbors.[20]

It seems significant that America’s assurances were given to China just prior to Panetta’s arrival in Japan. Was this a warning to Japan and others that, despite the rhetoric on the world and regional stages, the USA interest in Asia and the Pacific does not include a policy of containing China?

The regional rivalries that exist are between the USA and Russia, not between the USA and China, and the Russo-China rapprochement is about as enduring as China’s commitments to peace over the disputed territories in the South China Sea and India. China has taken what it wants from Russia and others through diplomacy, which only shows Russia’s weakness vis-à-vis its relations with China. While the USA and China extend into the Pacific, Putin’s Russia has a new agenda in the region. A news report that was published in the midst of the antagonism between Japan and China analyzed Russia’s intended expansion of influence into the Pacific, quoting Putin as stating at the APEC summit that Russian is an “intrinsic part of the Asia Pacific region.” The news report perceptively states that Putin’s aims will have to contend with both the USA and China. The APEC meeting was held in Vladivostock, meaning “Lord of the East,” named as such after China ceded the territory to Russia in 1860.[21]

The symbolism of the Vladivostock summit would not have been lost on China. Was this the reason why China flexed her muscled several weeks later in regard to Japan, reminding Russia that she has been a declining power, while China has been in the ascent?

Further realistic thinking came from a Rand analyst:

“There are those in Russia who see China as a prospective threat” despite the two countries’ close relationship, said Olga Oliker, senior international policy analyst at the Rand Corporation. “If Russia does find a way to greater prominence in Asia, it is possible that Russia will find its own interests and pursue them, not always in ways that align with China’s needs.”[22]

Despite Oliker’s conjecture that the USA and Russia might find accord vis-à-vis China, historical dynamics make this unlikely. Nonetheless, wherever such developments might lead, it seems certain that the ignorant and the greedy that shape China policy in New Zealand and Australia will be pushed about by the multiplicity of crises waiting to erupt in a region seething, albeit usually below the surface, with ancient discords.

Notes

[1] “China’s new e-passports cause anger,” Dominion Post, Wellington New Zealand, November 24 2012, B3.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Malcolm Moore, “China’s neighbours protest its passport map grab,” The Telegraph, 22 November 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/9695732/Chinas-neighbours-protest-its-passport-map-grab.html

[4] K R Bolton, “Has Vietnam lost the struggle for freedom?”, Foreign Policy Journal, June 10 2012, https://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2010/06/10/has-vietnam-lost-the-struggle-for-freedom/

[5] Malcolm Moore, op. cit.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Shubhajit Roy, “India, China, in passport map row again,’ The Indian Express, 24 November 2012, http://www.indianexpress.com/news/india-china-in-passport-map-row-again/1035633/

[8] Shubhajit Roy, Ibid.

[9] “China shows Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin as its territory,” Indian Express, 23 November 2012, http://www.indianexpress.com/news/china-shows-arunachal-pradesh-and-aksai-chin-as-its-territory/1035332/

[10] Sudha Ramachandran, “China plays long game on border disputes,” Asia Times Online, 27 January 2011, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China/MA27Ad02.html

[11] Ibid.

[12] V I Lenin, “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back,” “A Few Words on Dialectics,” Appendix, Collected Works, 4th English Edition (Moscow: Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965), Vol. 7, pp. 203-425.

[13] A Del Rosario, “Two Steps Backward, One Step Forward,” Manila Standard Today, 1 August 2012.

[14] Shubhajit Roy, op. cit.

[15] For details on Mao’s sociopathy see: Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Mao: The Unknown Story (London: Jonathan Cape, 2005), inter alia.

[16] “Philippines protest China e-passport map,” Aljazeera, 22 November 2012, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-pacific/2012/11/201211229560658870.html

[17] Aljazeera, op. cit.

[18] Shigeki Nozawa, “Islands dispute sparks riots in Chinese cities,” Brisbane Times, 17 September 2012, http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/islands-dispute-sparks-riots-in-chinese-cities-20120916-260ge.html

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] “Putin’s Pacific ambitions face challenge,” gulfnews.com, 10 September 2012, http://gulfnews.com/news/world/other-world/putin-s-pacific-ambitions-face-challenge-1.1072562

[22] Ibid.