Asia’s Past Unmasks PRC Hegemony

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Monday June 7, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

In 2013, when China first promoted its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and later its Maritime Silk Road Initiative (MSRI), there was a haunting déjà vu feeling about it. There still is.

The world, but especially East Asia, needs to return to June 29, 1940, when Japan made a similar announcement of a grand, idealistic plan for East Asia, namely: the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere

On the surface, the plan seemed perfect for the needs of the region. It would free East Asia from Dutch, French and British colonialism and all the newly formed nations would prosper under the guidance of Japan.

Taiwan, having been a Japanese colony for 45 years at the time stood as a model. It had economically prospered and had a developed infrastructure. Visitors from China and other countries had attended its 40th anniversary celebration as a colony. Politically, Taiwanese were on the verge of being able to elect their own representatives to the Japanese Diet.

However, there were other deeper and unspoken issues. How would all this be done and could it be done fairly? The devil as always was in the details.

Korea, for example, had suffered a different fate under Japanese colonial rule. Further, after occupying much of northeastern China and creating Manchukuo, Japan and China had officially been at war since July 1937, and the Soviet Union and Japan had a been fighting border wars in Mongolia and Manchuria from 1932 to 1939.

Unknown at the time, on August 23, 1939, the Soviets had secretly signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of non-aggression with Germany. This freed it to focus on its Japanese front where on Sept. 15, 1939, a cease-fire was achieved on after the battle of Khalkin Goh.

With the Molotov pact, Germany and the Soviet Union were free to attack Poland and carve out agreed upon spheres of influence in Eastern Europe. Germany attacked Poland on Sept. 1, 1939 and the Soviet Union attacked on September 17th after the Khalkin Goh ceasefire.

Germany’s attack caused Poland’s distant allies, France and the U.K. to declare war. Thus, in the spring of 1940 Germany attacked Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France and overran all of them. By the end of June 1940 Germany had invaded large swaths of territory and the Battle of Britain was about to begin.

The Soviet Union, which had already taken its share of Poland, in the same month also overran and annexed the Baltic States.

When Japan announced its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, it knew that the European colonial powers were in no position to defend their possessions in Asia.

Japan’s ceasefire with the Soviet Union led to a five-year nonaggression Pact between the two in April 1941.

All this also put Japan in a good position. Its plans to bring the region under its influence were not done in a vacuum.

By the end of 1940, Germany had achieved its lebensraum space; the Soviet Union had imposed its ideology on states in its vicinity, and Japan was making its empire.

Unfortunately, none were satisfied. Throughout, the Soviet Union continued to supply arms and munitions to a divided China against Japan. China was its next target to spread its ideology.

The then-coming year would prove to be the unraveling of all. In May 1941 with Operation Barbarossa Germany attacked the Soviet Union, and in December Japan attacked Pearl Harbor hoping to keep the US Pacific Fleet from interfering with its Asian plans. World War II was on.

The war in Europe finally ended when Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945; and three months later after the US dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan, the Soviet Union broke its nonaggression pact with Japan and overran Manchuria. It then gave all the captured Japanese arms to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to help win the Chinese Civil War.

Japan was done, but the Soviet Union and People’s Republic of China (PRC) were not.

All this brought the world to the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1952, which the Soviet Union, the PRC and the Republic of China (ROC) were not signatory nations.

Why is it important to go through how all these pacts, treaties, cease-fires, secrets etc. played out? Many players are still around and the PRC is now promoting its version of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Japan’s design with its puppet governments and repressive military power never really succeeded because Japan never intended things to be democratically equal. It was all about control and that is what China’s plans are as well.

Here, we will simply focus on the MSRI. For the maritime arm of its plan to be effective, China must be able to control Taiwan and the South China Sea. China has no legal claim over these two, by treaty or otherwise, so it must invent them. Its desire for control creates the danger for all.

The past also illustrates the complexity of the choosing and switching of sides. Nations look out for their own interest, but should those interests be based on long or short-term goals?

When one hears of Japan’s plans for regional prosperity during the war, it stands as a joke. In the name of its portrayed idealistic cause, the worst results followed.

This is what must also be examined in China’s BRI and MSRI. China is not treating its neighbors with benevolence.

Return also to the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty, which ended the war in the Pacific. In the treaty, Japan surrendered sovereignty over Taiwan, without naming a recipient. The US as chief victor in the war placed the ROC as an occupying force on Taiwan. This is the starting point for Taiwan’s reality of today.

China’s claims in the South China Sea simply represent its newfound colonial ambition. Other nations must ask: “Was all that effort made during WWII to free Asia from one domineering imperial power done only to turn it over to another?”

A constant and phony meme that one hears from the PRC on the issue of Taiwan is that the “Chinese people cannot wait forever.”

Implied is that the CCP somehow wants its hegemonic dreams over Asia to be fulfilled by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the PRC and Taiwan must be included in that.

Who are these alleged Chinese people? They are not the people of Hong Kong. Hong Kongers had been promised full democracy by 2017, only to see that go up in smoke. They now experience the cruel hegemony of the CCP.

Those Chinese are not the millions of Uighurs who are imprisoned, tortured and do slave labor in Xinjiang simply because they want equal rights. They are also not those in Tibet or Inner Mongolia who are experiencing cultural genocide. Tibetans still wonder why must the Panchen Lama must be held as a prisoner,

When it gets down to it, the “Chinese” is a meme used to represent the one-party state led by CCP.

This is what all need to observe. This is what is behind China’s idealistic BRI and MSRI. And this is why Taiwan wants no part of this charade.

This should the wake up call first for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue as well as those nations that are directly affected by China’s control over their maritime rights.

Even the far-away European nations should finally realize how the devastation of the Wuhan COVID-19 virus did not come from a responsible China.

Taiwan could have immensely helped the world fight the pandemic, but hegemonic China kept it out of the WHO and its World Health Assembly. European nations must realize that in today’s global village, they are not immune; they have lost thousands of citizens because of the virus and that is only one item.

Even poorer nations who are struggling economically must see that the BRI and MSRI offer a different danger, that of debt-trap diplomacy. Whatever China says about the initiatives, there is no free lunch.

Taiwan does not need to be told of these dangers. In 2014, it saw through the PRC’s aims when it rejected the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) efforts to establish its Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement with China.

And this is also why many have repeatedly pointed out that Taiwan needs a new constitution; it must separate Taiwan from the ROC and the PRC.

As for other nations, they had best review all the hype that went into Japan’s plans during WWII; they need to open their eyes to the reality of what China dangles before them. All that glitters is not gold.