Understanding the military parade marking the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender.

There has been a lot of press coverage about the military parade China held to mark the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender that ended the Second World War, sometimes referred to as the Second Sino-Japanese War, and known in China as the War of Anti-Japanese Aggression.

It was reported that most Western nations did not attend, fearing the parade would send the wrong signal in a volatile region. Of course, this is one possibility, and we must assume that the Chinese were aware of such.

The Chinese government understand that China’s continued development requires harmony within China and peace within the region. This is evident in her measured support for Pakistan, often acting as a brake to Pakistan’s more belligerent acts towards India, or it’s positive arbitration role with North Korea over it’s nuclear programme.

So what is happening with Japan? In fact to answer that question we need to go back a lot further than 70 years. Indeed, almost as many years again, to 1894, and the First Sino-Japanese War. It was a war, which, at the time, shook the Chinese establishment to the core. There was disbelief that Japan, a former tributary state, would dare go to war against China – the Chinese saw the relationship between the two countries akin to between an elder and younger brother. We must remember within Confucian societies such a relationship is hierarchical. For a younger brother to attack his elder brother was shameful on the younger. For the elder to be beaten by the younger was shameful on the elder. When Japan won a quick and decisive victory over China in 1895, it caused a paradigm shift in the way the Chinese saw themselves, and one which arguably lingers to this day. The defeat also acted as a catalyst to revolutionary fervour and movements to overthrow the Qing Dynasty.

As Japan claimed the spoils of war, including taking control of Taiwan and the now famous Diaoyu Islands, it caused a chain reaction, and 1895 marks the start of a second scramble for China. This culminated in the Boxer Rebellion – a rebellion against the Qing Court, which the court cleverly turned into a movement against foreigners. This led to an invasion by eight nations, including Britain, The US and Japan. As they moved form Tianjin to Beijing the Japanese became known for their particular brutality in treating the Chinese. In 1914 with the outbreak of the First World War, Japan, as Britain’s ally, invaded and took control of the German concession of Tsingtao (Qingdao). The Japanese then took the opportunity of the Western nations being preoccupied by war in Europe to present the infamous 21 Demands. Had China agreed to all 21 demands it would have made her a vassal state of Japan.

Despite siding with the allies and providing around 250,000 labourers to assist in the war against Germany and Austro-Hungarian Empire, 96,000 directly supporting the British war effort, China was betrayed at the Paris Peace Conference, and against China’s objections, Tsingtao was awarded to Japan.

Japan was then to use its foothold of Tsingtao to annex northeast China and establish the puppet state of Manchukuo as a precursor to full-scale invasion in 1937. What followed were eight years of war in which an estimated 20 million Chinese died, the majority were civilians. Japan perpetrated what are generally regarded as some of the most heinous acts of the Second World War, including the infamous Rape of Nanking, the widespread killing of civilians, the forcing of Chinese women into military brothels where they were repeatedly raped on a daily basis and medical experimentation camps in which Chinese were used as human guinea pigs for some monstrous experiments.

What is evident is that for 50 years, from 1895 until 1945, China was effectively helpless against Japanese militarism. To China, her perpetual weakness was a great humiliation – indeed, the period from the First Opium War (1839) to the end of the Second World War is known by the Chinese as the Century of Humiliation.

Although many historical issues remain unresolved between China and Japan, including sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands, the lack of a full apology for its war time atrocities and revisionist elements within Japanese school history textbooks, to see the military parade as primarily related to such issues is too simplistic. To see it as purely sabre rattling would be to seriously misplace the emphasis. The audience is first and foremost internal, its purpose one of assertion rather than warning.

Although the Century of Humiliation ended 70 years ago, its effect upon the Chinese psyche had been pervasive. It has shaped China’s foreign policy since the foundation of the People’s Republic in the country’s Five Principals of Peaceful Co-existence. The Five Principal’s are as much a lesson in the way China was treated historically as they are a statement of current policy – which is effectively not to treat others as they have been treated. President Xi Jingling stated that the victory over Japan “crushed the plot of the Japanese militarists to colonize and enslave China and put an end to China’s national humiliation of suffering successive defeats at the hands of foreign aggressors in modern times.” He went on to say, “China will never seek hegemony or expansion. It will never inflict its past suffering on any other nation.” Whereas the Opium Wars were a long tome ago, much of what the President is referring to is within living memory.

We should therefore see the parade as a message to self. China is no long the Sick Man of Asia, it is no longer weak and vulnerable, and can no longer be bullied as it once was. In short, the shame of the Century of Humiliation is now over.

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Hong Kong Demonstrations

Having recently read an article in ForeignPolicy.com on the demonstrations in Hong Kong the issue of over-simplification of issues, and stark black and white judgements, often casting China in a villainous role prompted me to write the following comment on the article.

I found this article at times almost unbelievably superficial and often unable to withstand scrutiny. For example, take the paragraph

“The demonstrators in Hong Kong aren’t just demanding democracy. They’re also asserting their own identity in the face of increased efforts by Beijing to impose greater homogeneity on its far-flung territories — a trend exemplified by the sentencing last week of Uighur academic Ilham Tohti to life imprisonment.”

There is the use of the word democracy as if it has a universal, unambiguous meaning. There are many different forms of democracy, calling this a movement for democracy gives newspaper headlines that afford a gratuitous slap to Beijing, but it fails to pick up on what is arguably the more important points.

We’re told Hong Kong people are asserting their own identity. Really? What identity would that be? This notion may support the argument that follows – Beijing attacking diversity within the regions – but it stands no scrutiny. The referenced but not reconciled “identity” is a hollow sound bite that adds nothing to our understanding of the situation. Surely what the demonstrators are asserting is their political voice. This is their right by law. However, lest we get carried away with the thought that Hong Kong is pioneering some roadmap for itself (and by wishful thinking, the rest of China) to an inevitable embrace of western-style liberal democracy, we should keep in mind that these demonstrations are over the pre-election vetting of candidates that sits within an agreed and established wider democratic process.
In the UK there is no mechanism for the public to elect the Prime Minister, and in the United States the electoral colleges select Presidential candidates who the people then vote on. You may argue they’re not the same things, and you’d be right. But are they any less undemocratic?

The article claims that there are “increased efforts by Beijing to impose greater homogeneity on its far-flung territories.” Can this really be substantiated? At the very best Beijing’s approach is an attempt to maintain the status quo. And surely the one country two systems framework is a huge fly in this particular ointment.

As for citing IL ham Tohti to support the point, this seems odd as he lived in Beijing. Besides, the charges against him were of separatist activities. Whatever one’s views on the case, the historical treatment of China by western powers and Japan led to hypersensitivity around the issues of sovereignty and territorial integrity that remain today. Though long a protectorate of China, Xinjiang only formally became a province under the Qing in 1884 as a means to try and safeguard China’s territorial integrity. At the heart of Tohti’s case is, that same safeguarding principle, and has little, if anything, to do with some supposed Orwellian plot by Beijing to bring about a homogenous state. The Chinese are, if nothing else, pragmatic, and such, a plan to homogenise China would be scrapped before the ink had dried. Resistance would come from every province, which, contrary to what seems to be a widely accepted view, enjoys significant amounts of autonomy within what is effectively a federalist state.

This highlights one of the many fault lines within this article: the treatment of the situation in Hong Kong as a “them and us”, Hong Kong versus China; as if China is a monolith rather than a vast country of incredible complexity and glaring contradictions. To raise the possibility that Shandong or Hunan, or any of China’s 34 provinces (or equivalents) could be as strongly opposed to the direction of travel coming from Beijing as those demonstrating in Hong Kong undermines the article’s primary draw string – our pre-occupation in the west with a simplistic idealised view of democracy and freedom, needing to be ever-vigilant in offering support for the fledgling pleas by oppressed peoples the world over for democracy. It’s a redundant duality of the cold war.

Are we not blind to some uncomfortable truths? LHM51 glories in the fact that “Hong Kong was fortunate to have been a British colony, having been as it was, steeped in British political sensibilities and traditions of liberty and self-soverignty.” Let’s not dwell on Britain’s use of military force so that she could continue to illegally peddle opium to the Chinese people, and as compensation for the insolence of China trying to put an end to the trade acquired Hong Kong from which to co-ordinate its illegal and immoral activities. Nor that Hong Kong was for perhaps a century little more than an elitist club for foreigners, and local Chinese were denied the dignity of equality – and the thought of “self-soverignty” so insanely preposterous that there really is little point in discussing it. Let’s move to the relatively more enlightened 50 years or so post world war two. By 1945 Hong Kong had been under British rule (save for a short period under the Japanese) for 102 years. LHM51, along with just about every western commentator on the current demonstrators seem unaware that by the handover back to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, ending 156 years of British rule, Hong Kong had no tradition of democracy, and the only “British political sensibilities” it was steeped in was the direct appointment of the Governor by mandarins in London.

Chris Pattern, having lost his seat in the British Parliament, was compensated by his former political colleagues (who had secured a fourth Conservative term governing the United Kingdom) by being appointed the 28th and last Governor of Hong Kong – Hong Kong people had no say in his, or any of the other 27 Governors. In his memories, former Prime Minister John Major revealed he had earmarked Pattern to be Chancellor of the Exchequer. The will of the British people put an end to such plans, and so he was dispatched to a place where the will of the people counted for nothing – Hong Kong. Most of the other 27 Governors were, at least, appointed on merit. It is difficult to see Pattern’s appointment as anything more than old-fashioned nepotism, a job for one of the boys – perhaps this is one of the British political sensibilities and traditions mentioned!

There had been calls for universal suffrage in the 1988 elections to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LEGCO). Britain would not entertain the idea. Pattern had different ideas, and for the 1995 elections introduced universal suffrage, with the people able to vote in 20 of the LEGCOs 60 seats, interest groups elected the others, though for the first time none were directly appointed by the governor.

It is perhaps worth noting that the response by the people of Hong Kong to their newfound political enfranchisement hardly reflected glory back onto the system. Only about half of those eligible to vote even bothered to register. Of those, only 27% actually exercised their right to vote – meaning less than 14% of those eligible to vote did so.

This eleventh hour attempt at introducing democracy (two years before the handover) hardly gives Britain the moral high ground from which many expect her to speak. Arguably too little too late, it felt to many like Britain had ruled Hong Kong with little if any regard for the will of the people, but was hell bent on ensuring that China could not. It certainly left (and leaves) Britain open to allegations of hypocrisy.

In contrast, each of the Chief Executives (the replacement for Governor) since China resumed sovereignty have been elected – perhaps not democracy in a form practiced in the west, but undoubtedly “more democratic” than the appointment of Governors by anonymous officials in London, and “more democratic” than any elections held under the British for the LEGCO.

As difficult as it may be to leave behind the baggage of the cold war, and the comfort of a childlike belief in them and us, good and bad, we must surely begin to reframe our understanding of China. References such as “the browbeaten masses of the mainland”, “tyranny in mainland China”, “crude, bumptious, grasping “locusts” spawned by a corrupt, authoritarian regime” and “China needs to learn and adopt western political openness and democracy” say infinitely more about their authors than it does of China.

China is different. Expecting her to be the same as the west is naive, one might say arrogant. Recognising that difference, even when you don’t agree with it, is the only way of developing an understanding that reflects reality, and is essential if we are to build bridges between China and the west.

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Number One? No thanks!

The Financial Times reports that China is set to become, if it has not already become, the world’s largest economy in 2014, based on purchasing power. But interestingly it is reported that China has been engaged in a long campaign to suppress the figures.

If we accept that China disagreed with the figures (without the use of the kind of emotive language to be found in the Times article), the question immediately comes to mind – why? The principle argument given in the article is that China does not want the additional responsibilities that being number one would bring. But are the additional responsibilities from being number two to being number one really the cause? More likely, as hinted at in the article, but not examined in any detail, the reason is far more about perceptions than it is about responsibilities.

What in fact really matters to China, the Chinese government and the Chinese people is the living standards enjoyed by Chinese citizens. Deng Xiaoping, once said, “Socialism is not poverty.” And by putting the economic development of China as the overriding priority, he embarked China upon a century-old dream of modernization and standing tall once more.

Nobody coud have envisaged the remarkable success of Deng’s Open Door and Reform policies would achieve. To come from nowhere and then ‘threaten’ the world’s leading economies’ positions brings with it significant political risks. One has only to look at the anti-China rhetoric that comes from some quarters in the US to see that China, despite every effort not to rock the boat with the USA, is actually stuck between a rock and a hard place. Its priority must be the welfare of its own people, and that has been served through rapid economic development – even those who have been ‘left behind’ are better off than they were. But a strong China is seen by some as a threat, not last of all in the US.

This is a far better explanation of Chinas reluctance to be declared the world’s largest economy by purchasing power. And in truth, with China actually the 99th economy in the world in terms of GDP per capita, the Chinese government knows the purchasing power number one slot brings nothing but the political problems it generates from a disgruntled United States.

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If beer could talk!

If you have ever had a glass of China’s most famous beer, Tsingtao, you may have wondered how it is that such an accomplished beer has been brewed in China for over a century. The answer is intriguing, and, recalling the history of Qingdao (Tsingtao), after which the brew is named, you may find your next glass will provide both liquid refreshment and food for thought!

Qingdao lies in Chinas northeastern Shandong Province and is slightly larger than England and Wales combined. Shandong holds a special place within Chinese culture, not only the home of Confucius, but also of the most sacred sites of both Daoism and Chinese Buddhism; it has sometimes been referred to as China’s Holy Land.

At the end of the Nineteenth Century, China was known as the ‘Sick Man of Asia’, Western powers and Japan vied for control over ever larger areas of China’s huge land mass; the smallest incidents would be used to force China to sign what became known as ‘Unequal Treaties’, through which these powers gained control of about 80% of China; as well as demanding huge reparations. It was a perfect scam, China could not make the payments, she had to take out loans – from Western powers and Japan! Britain not only controlled the largest area within China, but controlled the Chinese Customs Service, income from which went to repaying, with interest, those loans. Foreign powers even set China’s import duty rates, all suitably set to give advantage to the respective foreign power who held the most influence. Similar economic control was exerted by the foreign powers (chief of which was Britain), over key strategic infrastructure including railways and waterways. The prognosis for the Sick Man of Europe was not a good one.

The land grab by Germany in China resulted in the control of Shandong in 1898 (Qingdao is its capital). Even today, the German influence on the old part of Qingdao is quite remarkable, with buildings such as government offices, residences and commercial buildings all displaying the distinctive Germanic architectural style. One such building (at least its original core), is the Qingdao Brewery, built, equipped, and made operational by Germans. The brewery, under its original name, Germania-Brauerei, was founded on August 15, 1903.

China was in chaos at the outbreak of the Great War. Over 2,000 years of Dynastic rule had been overthrown by a revolution just three years previously and a replacement system remained elusive. Despite declaring its neutrality, China was dragged into the war when Britain’s ally, Japan, invaded and took control of German-controlled Shandong Province.

It’s a curious fact that in January 1915 China had a change of policy and decided to side with the Allies (although retaining her neutrality), despite there being significant opinion among the Chinese that Germany would win the war. But the decision was a calculated one. If the allies won, Britain and France promised the return of Shandong to Chinese sovereignty. The Chinese sided with the Allies and offered Britain and France non-combatant labourers to assist in the war effort.

The French signed an agreement with the Chinese for 50,000 labourers. 10,000 of these were later to be lent to the Americans. The British had an open-ended agreement, but final records show that 134,353 Chinese volunteer labourers were recruited and transported to France.

On 24 February 1917 543 Chinese labourers were killed when the SS Athos, en route to the Western Front, was torpedoed by the German submarine U-62. This act lead to China declaring war against Germany on 24th August, 1917.

Meanwhile, back in Qingdao the brewery is now under Japanese management after Japan, using her status as an ally of Britian, invaded and took control of Shandong.

By the end of the war, China was to be be bitterly disappointed when The US, Britain and France (the main victors) awarded Shandong to Japan for her support in the War. It’s not likely many glasses of Tsingtao were raised in celebration in China on that day! China refused to sign the Treaty of Versailles and attitudes among Chinese intellectuals swung away from looking to the West to cure China’s problems.

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Chinese community to urge remembrance

Today marks the 97th anniversary of the death of 543 Chinese labourers, killed when the SS Athos was torpedoed en route to the Western Front, carrying (amongst others) 900 members of the Chinese Labour Corps. This act would eventually lead to China declaring war against Germany on 24th August, 1917.

It is an obscure fact, for sure, but represents a very small piece of a much larger story of China’s involvement and support for Britain in World War I. In total about 140,000 Chinese labourers were sent to support the Allies (the Americans had a contingent of 10,000 Chinese to support them). The number that died runs well into the thousands.

That the story of so many thousands of Chinese who supported Britain and France is so obscure, virtually forgotten, is a great shame – even shameful?

With the coming centenary commemorations of the Great War, it is not too much of a surprise to learn that a national Chinese charity, The Chinese in Britain Forum (ww.cibf.co.uk), is in the final stages of planning a campaign to have these men commemorated with a permanent memorial. “The pieces are coming together,” said a spokesperson, “but a numbers of strands all need to be in place before we launch. What I can say is that we hope to involve everyone in the campaign, not just Chinese people. This is a story about Chinese people, but it is just as much a British as a Chinese story: it’s about ensuring we remember.”

This appears to be part of a wider political landscape in which overseas and commonwealth contributions are being recognised. Certainly our interest has been raised in the story of the Athos, which you can read about in our next entry.

The campaign launch will take place in late March or early April. You can pre-register for the campaign newsletter below. (If you cannot see the form below, try at the end of the page here. Please note your details will be sent directly to the Camapaign, and not to Two Dragons. Update(25/02/14) Campaign Facebook Page

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A real clash of cultures

This year that most commercialized of Western festivals, Valentine’s Day, fell, for the first time since being popularized with China’s urbanites, with the traditional Chinese festival of the Lantern Festival. Marking the end of the Spring (Chinese New Year) Festival.

The Lantern Festival takes place on the first full moon of the lunar year. It goes without saying, Chinese festival = food. For this one it is a kind of sweet dumpling, round in shape, like the full moon. Where’s there’s food there’s a gathering of family, and eating together as a family on the Lantern Festival is seen as symbolic of family unity during the following year.

For Valentine’s Day and the Lantern Festival to fall on the same day thus provides a clear choice for anyone with a significant other, but particularly young people (this term is stretched far beyond the Western concept of teenagers we have in the West – in a society that prizes the wisdom of the elderly, anyone under 40 is considered young).

So, a romantic dinner for two, or dinner with the family? A simple choice, but a hard decision! And who came out on top in this clash of cultures? According to various reports between 70% and 90% put family first. With Valentine’s Day as popular in Beijing as it is in London, this is perhaps a little surprising, and even if we discount those figures slightly to allow for those who gave the politically correct answer while doing the politically incorrect actions, there’s still a majority of lovebirds who put family first.

It would seem that 2,500 years of Confucian values still hold sway, with filial piety (which applies to girls as much as boys) and the good of the group over the interests of the individual still holding sway. Perhaps this outcome isn’t what we would expect from a British perspective on life, but it goes to reinforce the point that Chinese culture and therefore very often Chinese behavior is different to that of the British – at times markedly so. Appreciating cultural differences is essential for anyone engaging with Chinese people.

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The Taiwan Question

Representatives of China and Taiwan formally met today (11th February 2014) for the first time in 65 years. It is an historic occasion, a pragmatic (if difficult step) in the ever-closer relationship between the mainland and Taiwan. But what is the back ground to the Taiwan question.

Aboriginal peoples have from ancient times inhabited Taiwan, with Han Chinese relocating to the island form the 7th Century onwards. In the modern era it was the Portuguese in the 16th Century who “discovered” the island, and called it Formosa (Beautiful). But it was the Dutch, and shortly afterwards the Spanish that formed colonies on the island during the early part of the 17th Century.

When the Ming Dynasty was overthrown, some loyalists to the Ming regime set up administration in part of the island, but the Qing Court gained control of the island in 1683, but it was another 200 years, in 1885, before Taiwan was designated China’s 22nd Province. But this status came abruptly to an end in 1895, when, following China’s defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) the island was ceded to Japan.

Following Japan’s defeat at the end of World War II Taiwan was returned to China in 1945. Soon after the civil war broke out between the ruling Kuomingtang (KMT) – Nationalist Party, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The KMT were eventually pushed to the peripheral areas of China, most notably the islands of Hainan and Taiwan. The CCP declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on 1st October 1949, even though these two areas remained under the control of the KMT.

In the spring of 1950 the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) retook Hainan Island and were poised to make an assault on Taiwan. But just at that point the PRC became embroiled in the Korean War. The United States, who had until this point kept out of the civil war, sent its navy to the Taiwan Straits and prevented the amphibious assault taking place.

From their island stronghold, protected by the US, the KMT asserted that they, and they alone, as the government of the Republic of China, remained the sole legitimate government of the whole of China, and vowed to retake the mainland. The United Nations recognised the ROC as the legitimate government of China until 1971. As the Republic of China, Taiwan maintains its position as the sole legitimate government of China, although the diplomatic battle for recognition was lost a long time ago. Today just 20 countries recognise the ROC as China.

But this is not a position shared by some opposition parties in Taiwan, some of whom advocate and independent state of Taiwan. Such talk became so loud in 2003-4 that the PRC responded in 2005 with an anti-cessation law that formally declared the PRC would use non-peaceful means to reunify Taiwan with the mainland if it were ever to declare independence.

With the PRC’s Open Door Policy there was massive investment from Taiwan and gradually direct contact was allowed, including direct postal, shipping and aviation links. In 2008 the PRC and Taiwan effectively agreed not to vie for diplomatic recognition“z – effectively freezing the diplomatic position at that point in time. The PRC, with its growing economic and political strength has had to actively turn down requests for the establishment of diplomatic relations in order to keep to this agreement. Of late the situation has been complicated by Gambia severing diplomatic links with Taiwan; but the PRC have remained resolute and refused to establish diplomatic relations with them – it is clear where the PRC’s priority lie.

There remains, however, some distance to travel in terms of a popular movement in Taiwan for reunification, despite Beijing’s offer of a Hong Kong style One Country to Systems approach. However, it is not all bad news for Beijing, with a majority on Taiwan believing that negotiations regarding reunification should only be undertaken when the conditions are right for Taiwan – indicating that there is an underlying acceptance by the majority that reunification could take place. Meanwhile, on the mainland, Taiwan’s estrangement from the motherland is an extremely sensitive point. The Taiwan question provides the single biggest political divide among the Chinese diaspora.

As for the PRC, a long game approach has been adopted regarding reunification. For ever the pragmatist, Deng Xiaoping, not anticipating any serious notion of independence, declared, “Reunification of the motherland is the aspiration of the whole nation. If it cannot be accomplished in 100 years, it will be in 1,000 years.”

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China’s Space Programme

The landing of a lunar rover by China’s National Space Administration has grabbed news headlines around the world. The Administration’s accomplishments are significant, but the fact that China has apparently embarked unilaterally on a space programme in some ways is concerning, given the move to share costs and expertise as exemplified in the International Space Station (ISS) – a cooperative venture between the USA, European Space Agency, Russia, Japan and Canada. The European Space Agency supported the latest lunar mission, so it would appear that co-operation is possible. So why isn’t China part of the ISS?

Politics is the reason. Thanks to a law introduced by Senator Frank Wolf, NASA may not “develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement or execute a bilateral policy, program, order or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company,” according to spacepolicyonline.com.

Whist we may lament such a situation in the US, according to an article on space.com it seems China has taken a pro-active approach to sharing information. This would point to a level of confidence by the Chinese that begs the question, who is the loser in China being refused entry to the ISS? China is now inviting foreign astronauts to be part of their own future space station. All this is distinctly pointing to the possibility that it may be the US that is left outside in the cold one day. And it doesn’t stop at a China-led International Space Station, with China quite open about its intention to establish a moon base and to exploit the moon’s resources through mining, or developing a large scale solar energy facility (which, because of the lack of an atmosphere, will be far more efficient than on earth), and using the moon as a staging post for the further exploration of space.

All this may sound fanciful, after all, the US and Soviet Union did what China is doing now half a century ago. And yet there is a difference, and it is a big difference. What motivates China isn’t an ideological battle in which being first into space, or to put a man on the moon was in and of itself a goal, but rather China sees serious potential to derive genuine benefit from space and lunar exploration.

Senator Wolf may be able to obstruct China’s progress, but with the patience, will and the resources, China’s space dreams are surely only a matter of time.

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China’s Apartheid

In an article in the People’s Daily, China’s ambassador to South Africa between 2001 and 2006, Liu Guijin, is quoted as saying of Nelson Mandela,

“He once told me that when he was in prison he and his fellow inmates used to celebrate China’s National Day, which falls on Oct 1. They painted Chinese flags on their hands secretly, to encourage each other to fight and achieve success like the Chinese people.”

At first this may seem somewhat of an odd thing for Nelson Mandela and his fellow inmates to do. An achievement by the Chinese was something that somehow encouraged them; was seen by them as somehow aspirational – what had been achieved in China was, for them, a goal in South Africa. What’s behind this?

The Treaty of Nanking (1942) which concluded the First Opium War between China and Britain was the first of a series of Unequal Treaties that saw China ‘opened up’ and over 80 Chinese cities effectively governed by foreign powers, ranging from all the major European powers and the USA, to Japan and even the Free Congo State. Independent judiciaries, police forces and taxation developed in these cities, although they were nominally still parts of China. It was colonization on the cheap!

The comparison with South Africa under Apartheid comes in the way that Chinese were second class citizens (or even persons no gratia) in their homeland. In just the same way that Black South Africans could not live in certain areas, so native Chinese were not allowed to live in certain areas of Treaty Ports, The humiliation was compounded by what is known as ‘extraterritoriality’ in which the citizen of a foreign power was not subject to Chinese law, but rather the law of their country of origin. Under this system, for example, an American in Shanghai was immune from prosecution by the Chinese authorities, but instead (should he or she even be brought to account) would be handled by a judicial system set up by the Americans.

The oppression of Chinese people in their own land is perhaps most famously depicted in Bruce Lee’s ‘Fist of Fury’, in which he is refused entry to a park in Shanghai, being shown a sign which reads, “No dogs and Chinese”. The point is (from a Chinese perspective) pushed home very forcibly by the depiction of Japanese being given free access.

That such a sign may never have existed is a moot point. The regulations posted at the entrance of the Public and Reserve Gardens in Shanghai stipulated “1. The gardens are reserved for the foreign community,” and, “4 Dogs and bicycles are not permitted”.

It wasn’t until the 1940’s that all Treaty Ports reverted to Chinese control, and the extraterritoriality ended. With the founding of the People’s republic on the 1st October 1949, the last vestiges of foreign oppression in China were ended, and as Mao is famously quoted as saying on proclaiming the establishment of the People’s Republic, “The Chinese people have stood up!”

The final piece of the puzzle in understanding the link Mandela makes between South Africa and China comes in the foreign policy of China during Mandela’s struggle in South Africa. Since the Asian-African Bandung Conference of 1955, China had promoted itself as a champion of national liberation, and supporter of oppressed peoples around the world.

China had overcome a form of apartheid and subsequently openly supported the liberation of oppressed people around the world. This may be seen as simple rhetoric or communist propaganda from a Western perspective, but clearly, to those fighting their own national liberation, such as Mandela in South Africa, China’s experience and accomplishment was something to draw encouragement from.

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China offers combat troops to UN Peacekeeping

News that is a significant development in the development of China’s foreign relations.

Since Premier Zhou Enlai’s development of the Five Principle’s of Peaceful Co-existance in 1954, the Five Principles-

1. Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,
2. Mutual non-aggression,
3. Mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs,
4. Equality and mutual benefit, and
5. Peaceful co-existance

– have been an unshakeable core of China’s foreign policy.

Where China has been criticised on its application of the Five Principles is in its willingness to engage with states that are ostracised by the West. The most notable examples are North Korea, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Iran.

Whereas, from a Western perspective, the cause for criticism is simple to see; from China’s perspective the issue is far less black and white. However, this is an issue which I will take up in a separate entry.

Returning to China’s willingness to send combat troops to Mali. This is perhaps less surprising than it may seem. For some time now China has been taking a more assertive position, including on the genocide in Darfur and North Korean belligerence. In an attempt to maintain its adherence to the Five Principles, China has called such positioning as “influence without interference”.

Of course, for China, with interests now spread across the globe, perhaps more extensively than any other country, the challenge will be not to be drawn into the trap of becoming the world’s second policeman.

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