April 20, 2023
The implication of AUKUS is that China constitutes a danger to Australian security. It borders on official Australian policy that China is an aggressive power bent on domination. But the history of the People’s Republic suggests its military is for defence, not aggression and that the cases where it has used external military force are very few. Under Xi Jinping it may be assertive and keen to extend influence, especially economic, but it shows no signs of political/military aggression. On the contrary, it is the U.S. that constantly uses external military force and is bent on maintaining domination at all costs.
It was less than a year after the birth of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on 1 October 1949 that the Korean War broke out. Korean history of the first years after World War II is too complex to pursue here. But essentially, no sooner was Korea independent of a defeated Japan in 1945 than a divided country emerged, with the U.S. setting up the Republic of Korea (South Korea) on 15 August 1948 and the Democratic People’s Republic (North Korea) following on 9 September. Under U.S. dominance, it was the South that moved first formally to divide the country.
When the North attacked the South in June 1950, the U.S. got the United Nations to intervene under its own American leadership. China became involved only in October 1950, after the U.S. actively threatened to move north to invade the fledgling PRC. Yet, at U.S. behest, China was condemned for aggression.
Let’s be very clear: the U.S. was the first foreign power to be involved in this war, not China. After a truce was reached in 1953, Chinese troops withdrew fully from the north by 1958, while American troops remain in the south to this day. The dangerous one is the U.S., which assumes its God-given right to control the world, not China. There is no peace treaty covering Korea to this day.
Following the Korean War, China has only rarely been involved in wars outside its own borders. In 1962, it fought a brief border war with India, but it is important to note that the rights and wrongs of this are extremely controversial. Although the Western media reported almost entirely India’s version of events, scholars such as the late Neville Maxwell (1926-2019) and Gregory Clark have shown convincingly that China had a perfectly respectable case.
The most recent time China sent troops to attack another country was in Vietnam in February and March 1979 in response to Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia. During this very brief war, China made no attempt to take the capital or to change the Vietnamese government. It withdrew unilaterally.
In short, the longest war since 1949 to see Chinese troops fight outside their borders is still the Korean war. It was unfairly condemned of aggression by the first foreign power to participate in the war, with the U.S. version of events sticking for decades because of its world power.
Since the Korean War, the U.S. continues to be involved in numerous wars, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, among others, with Australia simply taking part to follow the boss. What’s striking is that the U.S. has lost these wars and ended up withdrawing humiliated. The U.S. has attempted to invent an ideological justification but has frequently been attacked by protests from within its own borders. It has also been involved in proxy wars, some such as the present Ukraine war large in scale.
In contrast to China, the U.S. has hundreds of military bases outside its own borders. It has installed numerous governments in foreign countries, replacing those that don’t conform to the ideology it calls “democracy”.
Many in the West assume that under Xi Jinping, China has become an aggressive nation, even if it was not before. It is true China is much more assertive in world affairs. But I see no sign that China has become aggressive. It shows no sign of wanting to use its armed forces outside its own territory.
As for Taiwan, let’s remember that the international community recognises Taiwan as part of China and Taiwan has no seat by itself in the United Nations. The U.S. may be goading China to retake Taiwan with violence, but has not succeeded up to now. China’s policy is now, and has always been, that it wants to reunify the country by retaking Taiwan, but it wants peaceful reunification, using force only as a last resort.
China extends its influence through trade and investment. We know that its Belt and Road Initiative has expanded China’s economic and to some extent political influence throughout Central Asia, Africa and Latin America, and even the South Pacific. We even hear increasing reports of China’s replacing the U.S. dollar as the reserve currency by trading in the Chinese yuan and other currencies.
Western countries, especially the U.S., express alarm at the increase of Chinese influence and have taken increasingly severe measures to thwart it. However, what the Chinese have not done is establish military bases, overthrow local regimes or even try to spread their ideology to those countries with which they trade.
In this sense, they are far less dangerous than the U.S.
Xi Jinping talks of a common shared future of humanity, not of dominance. Western commentators tend to assume that’s just words, and really he hides deception and conquest in his heart. I don’t see the evidence for that.
What China wants and what seems to me in China’s interests are two things. One is to protect China against external attack. The other is a multipolar world, in which China is one of the important poles. It does not want or aim for a Chinese-dominated unipolar world.
True, it is becoming involved in the Middle East and in peace processes to an unprecedented extent, at the same time as the U.S. is in decline relative to China (and other countries). Personally, I can’t see why it should not. As a great civilisation, it has a right to extensive influence. Influence is quite different from dominance.
The U.S. currently assumes it is number 1. Its main aim is to retain that position. Its policies are geared to that end, to keep China down. What alarms the U.S. is China’s success. How can a country so recently impoverished and backward actually be prosperous enough to enjoy a life expectancy at birth longer than the U.S.? (World Bank data for 2020 have China at 78, and the U.S. at 77).
The way Australia has submitted itself to this dangerous and untrustworthy country, the U.S., is shameful. Our track-record of blindly following allies into wars that don’t concern us is unworthy of the independent country we should be and aspire to be.
About the author
Colin Mackerras, professor emeritus at Griffith University, Australia, is one of the world’s finest scholars on China and has developed a special relationship and friendship with China over five decades. More about him on Veronica Mackerras’ homepage for him, “China In My Eyes”.