No nation wars against itself

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MAURO GIA SAMONTE

Part 2
So now, here is raising the issue in the title of this article: Can a nation attack itself?

China has never been conquered
Of all the nations in history that have been subject to foreign aggression, China is the only one that has never been really conquered.

This assertion is at once contested by a close colleague in the writing field, pointing out particularly the cession of Hongkong to Great Britain in 1842. This cession, a provision of the Treaty of Nanking which came about as a result of the Opium War, was actually a hallmark of the treaty port system exacted by European imperial powers from the ruling Qing Dynasty in the late 1800s, and although in the case of Great Britain and Germany it had been achieved with large amounts of military intervention, the treaty port system which opened up China to commerce with western economies was in the main not military conquests but as the name suggests, arrangements reached through peaceful treaty negotiations.

So the assertion in this sub-topic stays: China has never been conquered.

In physical terms, the Great Wall of China, until today considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World, pictures the immense impregnability of China to foreign invasion. Constructed beginning 200 BC in the Qin Dynasty, it underwent expansions down succeeding dynasties: the Han Dynasty, which began joining disparate defensive walls in various territories, the Ming Dynasty, which modernized its architectural features. One account estimates that if joined end to end, the wall will reach a length of 21,196.18 kilometers, enough to circumscribe half of the earth.

During the period of the Han Dynasty, the Huns breached the early Great Wall, bringing about the decline of the dynasty. This is true, yes, in the strictly physical context, but more important than physical conquest, the invasion of China stopped the Huns from persevering in their centuries-old nomadic, rampaging lifestyle and instead got them staying put this time in the civilized ways of the Chinese they appeared to conquer. In the view of one writer, the Huns never really conquered China but instead got themselves assimilated into the unassailable, irresistible civilized ways of the Chinese people. Another writer puts it thus: “they were sinicized.”

It is in this respect that it is quite accurate to say China is one nation that has never been conquered.

Nor Has China Been A Conquering Nation
So now, just as China has never been conquered, so has it, for all its awesome size and power both in politics and economy, never been a conquering nation.

The only occasions I can remember China engaging another nation in military skirmish were those it made with India in 1962, with Russia in 1969, and Vietnam in 1979. In all these instances, the bone of contention was territorial boundary. In other words, China fought for protection of what it perceives as its rightful territory. The same yardstick should apply in the Tibetan uprising which it suppressed in 1959, in the Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1996, and the Battle of the Paracel Islands in 1974 and Johnson South Reef Skirmish in 1988, both against Vietnam – all involving China’s assertion of sovereignty, not aggression of someone else’s territory.

It may well be asked, what territorial dispute does China have with the Philippines so that it should war with Filipinos at large? Some may be quick to retort, precisely there is the conflicting PH-China claims over the Paracels, the Scarborough Shoal, and other features of certain sections of the South China Sea (call it West Philippine Sea if it suits you fine).

Something seems to be amiss in this view. The Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA) decision makes not an iota of a ruling on the issue of sovereignty, and if at all, on the Philippines claim, it still is subject to a prior determination of what exactly is the nature of the features it claims, whether these features constitute islands having continental shelves independent of those of the Philippines or are they islets and submerged banks forming part of the Philippine continental shelf and therefore may be reckoned according to UNCLOS criteria in this respect.

The danger in the popular view on the issue is the mindset that those features fall as they are under Philippine sovereignty. I am no lawyer, and as my layman’s appreciation of the PCA ruling would prompt me to realize – which indeed I did even before the ruling could be issued in 2015 – sovereignty was never at issue in the one-year PCA proceedings.

In other words, no decision has yet been made that those contested features of the South China Sea are indeed owned by the Philippines so that the country must, as President Duterte told his troops in August, go to war for it.

How can sovereignty be within the “four corners” of the PCA ruling invoked by President Duterte in pronouncing his feared outbreak of “spasms” with China?

Historically, in terms of all recent, past and ancient reckonings, China has always been friendly to the Philippines, particularly in the country’s fight against foreign aggressors. For example, in the structure of the old Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP), with avowed aims of fighting US imperialism, a special bureau was in place for accommodating Chinese assistance, both in terms of personnel and logistics: the Chinese Bureau. One of the most urgent reasons for the declaration of martial law in 1972 was the discovery by the Marcos government of the shipment of arms in the MV Karagatan Incident. Where did the arms come from? China.

In every aspect of the Filipino people at large needing help, China has always been there to lend a hand. At the height of the disaster of Yolanda in 2013, China sent a high-end hospital ship to Tacloban to attend to the otherwise government neglected victims. The biggest rehabilitation center for the Duterte administration’s anti-drugs campaign was built via Chinese donation.

Of the two prime protagonists in the South China Sea conflict, the United States and China, the former has warred with the Filipino people not once, not twice, not even thrice but in a long on-going time, killing Filipinos that number more than triple those killed by the US, too, in the firebombing of Tokyo and atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

China has launched no aggression against the Philippines, has killed not one Filipino in such a war.

(To be continued)

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