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Remarks by Ambassador Qu Xing at "China's Coming War with Asia" Book Launch Debate
2015-03-02 22:30

I am delighted to attend today's book launch debate, and share with you my observations on issues relating to China's foreign policy. I do not want to spend too much time on the title of this book: China's Coming War with Asia, since there’s nothing new in this point of view. Ever since the founding of PRC in 1949, scholars from America and Europe keep coming up with predictions as such. Yet more than half a century has passed, nothing real has come out of such predictions.

That being said, I may as well understand to some extent why Professor Holslag chose such a title for the book. I was once a professor at university myself for more than 20 years, and a senior researcher at research institute for 5 years. I have learnt from my experience as scholar that in today’s society where there are more people who write books than those who read, a book will need an eye-catching title to gain attention. Sometimes publishers would even go far as to suggest the author use a most sensational title in order to have better sales, even though the title may be far from the truth.

Suppose Professor Holslag use a different title, say, "China’s good-neighbourly relations" or "China’s prospect for a peaceful settlement of disputes with neighboring countries", there probably would not be so many people attending today’s event. Sadly, that is how society works and Professor Holslag is no exception. Let me give you one example. Professor Holslag made a number of quotations from China's "White Paper on Defense", but failed to mention the two white Papers "on China's peaceful development" which were issued in 2005 and 2011. I guess it is easier to draw people’s attention when you talk about "defense" than when you talk about "Peace". For these reasons, I do not want to spend too much time to comment on the book's title.

I would rather focus on the key point of the book. In this book, Professor Holslag outlined the history of China’s diplomacy since 1949, and made analysis of China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors, especially issues relating to the East China Sea, South China Sea, China-India border dispute etc.. At the end of his analysis, Professor Holslag concluded that China's most important interests are incompatible with the idea of a peaceful development in a complex Asia environment, and that the tragedy of great power politics would be unavoidable. Although the problem is not caused by China alone, in the end, China will not be able to avoid war with neighboring countries, and the war is coming, as the title of the book suggests.

Since the core point of the book is about whether China’s core interests are compatible with its idea of peaceful development, we should first and foremost make clear about what China’s core interests are. Just now, I mentioned "White Paper on China's peaceful development", because in the White Paper of 2011, China has a clear definition on its "core interests", namely, "state sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity and national reunification, China’s political system established by the Constitution and overall social stability, and the basic safeguards for ensuring sustainable economic and social development". For any country in the world, these six elements would be essential for survival and development. No country in the world would accept infringements from foreign countries on their sovereignty, security, territorial integrity, the constitutional system and social stability. Therefore, there would be no logic to put the core interests and peaceful development against each other. Otherwise, no country in the world will be able to achieve peaceful development. And there is more.

Another argument Professor Holslag uses to support his conclusion on China’s coming war with Asia is that the Communist Party of China (CPC) has been pursuing four great aspirations: first, to secure control over frontier lands; second, the Party to be recognized as the legitimate political structure; third, China’s sovereignty to be recognized and respected; fourth, to recover China’s lost territory. Professor Holslag argues that despite the great changes in China, and despite a lot of policy adjustments, the above-mentioned four aspirations have stayed unchanged. Especially the fourth aspiration, to recover lost territory, that is where the danger of war comes from.

In the book, Professor Holslag said he did not want to spend too much time on the first three aspirations of China, because they have been largely achieved. I agree with him on this point. First, on securing control over frontier lands. The founding of PRC in 1949 put an end to the control of frontier lands by warlord armies which were supported by foreign forces. Since 1949, China has no longer been subjected to civil war or foreign invasion. In comparison, in China’s modern history of over 100 years, not a decade had passed without a foreign invasion or civil war. Second, about the Party's ruling status. Under the leadership of the CPC, the overall national strength has been tremendously increased, and Chinese people’s living standard has been largely improved. In particular, since the reform and opening up, China’s GDP increased from $ 216 billion in 1978 to $ 10 trillion in 2014, listing China as the second largest economy in the world. China's per capita GDP increased from $226 in 1978 to $7,000 in 2014. Although there is still room for improvement, the party's ruling status is universally recognized in China. Third, about China's sovereignty be recognized and respected. I think we all agree that it is a common aspiration for all countries and ruling parties in the world. It is true that China's sovereignty has been much better recognized and respected since the founding of the PRC in 1949. Today, any country intending to take actions detrimental to China's sovereignty will have to weigh the consequences.

Professor Holslag focuses his argument on the fourth aspiration, that is, to recover lost territory. He made analysis on four issues: the Diaoyu Islands issue with Japan, the South China Sea issue with the Philippines and Vietnam, the border issue with India, and the Taiwan issue. According to Professor Holslag, the significant increase in China's economic and military strength is causing concern in neighboring countries. As nationalism in relevant countries gain strong momentum, politicians do not have much room for compromise, but will have to introduce external powers to balance China. In that case, China will not only have war with neighboring countries, but even countries outside the region. There is no sign of paradigm shift, and the tragedy of traditional powers in Asia will be unavoidable. Let us see if this is true.

Since Professor Holslag studies diplomatic history of China, he should know that in 1949 when the CPC replaced Kuomintang as the ruling party, China had territorial disputes with all its neighbors on land. The PRC government has managed to settle disputes peacefully through diplomatic negotiations with 12 neighboring countries out of 14 in total. If you compare the square kilometers of land in question and the results of final settlement, you will see that China adopts a very pragmatic approach when it comes to territorial disputes. That is, to make clear historical responsibilities and at the same time give consideration to the real situation. The first part means that the border issue is the result of foreign invasion by the Western colonial powers. The second part means that China does not seek to recover all the lost territories taken away from China through unequal treaties, but seeks solutions on the basis of the actual control. Professor Holslag is quite knowledgeable about China’s history of diplomacy, he must know that Britain took away 90,000 square kilometers of land from China via unequal treaties and incorporated into British Burma. In the end, China recovered less than 500 square kilometers in 1960. Tsarist Russia took away 1.5 million square kilometers of land from China via unequal treaties, and China recovered no more than 1500 square kilometers in 1990s from Russia and three post-Soviet neighbring countries. Therefore, there is no proof in history to say that China is not able to resolve territorial disputes but will have to resort to war.

I would also like to emphasize that the Taiwan issue is completely different in nature from the other three. Taiwan was once taken away by Japan in 1895, but was returned to China in 1945 de jure and de facto. Although the Chinese civil war caused separation in 1949, both sides across the Taiwan Strait believe that they belong to one China. The major disagreement is about who is the legal representative of China. Therefore, this is a question between the Chinese across the Strait in terms of how and when the reunification will be realized, rather than an issue of recovery of lost territory.

Now that we are clear about Taiwan issue, we can talk about the other three issues one by one.

On the Diaoyu Islands issue. China's position is to resolve the issue through negotiations. If the conditions are not mature, then the issue can be laid aside. Professor Holslag also mentioned this in the book. During the negotiations for the normalization of China-Japan relations in 1972, Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka brought up the Diaoyu Islands issue on the negotiation table. In his reply, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai made it clear that it is better not to link the Diaoyu Islands issue with the establishment of diplomatic relations. Mr. Tanaka agreed. In 1978, during negotiations to conclude the China-Japan Treaty of Peace and Friendship, Deng Xiaoping met with Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, and said "when China and Japan normalized their relations, both countries agreed that this issue should not be involved. Now we negotiate the China-Japan Treaty of Peace and Friendship, we also agreed not to deal with this issue. We believe that we should set the issue aside for a while if we cannot reach agreement on it. It is not an urgent issue and can wait for a while. If our generation does not have enough wisdom to resolve this issue, the next generation will have more wisdom, and I am sure that they can find a way acceptable to both sides to settle this issue". So the facts are clear. China maintains to lay the issue aside until conditions are mature for negotiations. The Diaoyu Islands issue was shelved since 1972 as a matter of fact, until in 2012 the Japanese right-wing politician Shintaro Ishihara, and later the Japanese government announced to“purchase” the Diaoyu Islands in a bid to “nationalize” the Islands. That changed the status quo of the Islands and triggered tension in the East China sea. In spite of this situation, the two sides reached a four-point principled consensus in 2014 so as to avoid any unexpected event from happening. Although the problem is not resolved, the situation was eased.

On the South China Sea issue, there are two levels of questions. One is the territorial dispute over Nansha Islands. The other is the overlapping Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). Chinese Government's position remains to be: upholding sovereignty, diplomatic solution, shelving differences and seeking joint development. Since China already solved land disputes with 12 neighboring countries through peaceful negotiations, why it’s not possible to resolve maritime disputes in the same way? In fact, China has settled the Beibu(Tonkin) Gulf demarcation issue with Vietnam in 2000 through negotiations. China reached agreement with Vietnam and the Philippines over geological exploration on the South China Sea. China also reached agreement with Brunei on joint exploration of the overlapping EEZ. I would also emphasize that the Nansha Islandsis not an issue between China and ASEAN, because only four out of the ten ASEAN member countries are involved. Neither is the issue everything in China’s relations with the four claimant countries. Although the issue is not settled yet, cooperation between China and the four countries are carried out in different fields.

About China-India border issue. On this issue, Premier Zhou Enlai had proposed in 1960s a pragmatic solution based on accommodation of national feelings and consideration of the actual control. It was a pity that this proposal did not get positive response from the Indian side. Still, after a short military clash in 1962, the two governments decided to safeguard peace and tranquility along the line of actual control. In 1993, the two sides signed the Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border, that means the status quo will be respected by both parties before the issue is finalized. In 1996, the two sides signed the Agreement on Confidence-Building Measures in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas, that means the two sides agreed not to use force. In 2005, the two sides signed the Agreement on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the Boundary Question which reaffirmed the principle of "meaningful adjustments on the basis of actual control" to resolve the border issue. The two sides always managed to solve problems between bordor patrols in disputed areas through diplomatic talks. So, again, disputes do not necessarily lead to war.

At this point, the conclusion is clear. No matter from the perspective of historical facts or from China’s position over disputed territory, it will be too arbitrary to argue that China's core interests will inevitably cause war with neighboring countries, let alone with Asia. In fact, if we look at the overall picture, we will see that the situation in Asia is more peaceful and stable than many other regions in the world, and its economic cooperation among China and Asian countries are more effective.

As for paradigm shift and the tragedy of great power politics, I am more optimistic than Professor Holslag. We are living in an age featured by globalization and high technologies, which is entirely different from the age of World War I and World War II. The "new type of great power relationship" which was proposed by President Xi Jinping charts a course where emerging powers and established powers can achieve a win-win scenario through cooperation. Xi Jinping's initiatives are endorsed by President Obama.

Therefore, out of pure goodwill, I would suggest Professor Holslag put a question mark to the title when his book will be reprinted for a second edition. A title as "China's Coming War with Asia?" will still be eye-catching without reduce the sales, and more importantly, it will be a more objective and value free attitude which is the most precious quality of a scholar.

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