Whatever the case may be, the fact that Xi is attempting to foster good relations with the US does, at the very least, conform to the historical strategy of cultivating good relations with distant states, while being hostile to those nearer home.
First used in highest antiquity in China, it is a method the Han Chinese have used in invading other countries and expanding their territories from their original home in the Central Plains in the lower reaches of the Yellow River to the current extent of China’s borders.
The Chinese bitterly denounce the incursions into their territories by Western powers in the 19th century, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the Han Chinese have obliterated and annexed countless bordering “barbarian” states over the course of a history of expansionism spanning many millennia. From what we see today, little has changed in this regard.
Late Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) was well aware of the strategy of befriending distant states and attacking neighboring ones, but given the persuasive influence the Soviet Union had on the victory of the Chinese Communists over the Nationalists he was initially obliged to side unreservedly with the Soviet Union against the US, and to see it as the main enemy.
Indeed, he was even willing to concede territory in the interests of maintaining the international anti-US united front with other communist countries.
This was a situation that was to hold all the way until the early 1970s with a change to the befriending distant states policy signaled by China’s rapprochement with the US, a policy continued by late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平).
Tiananmen was a watershed moment, as the Chinese placed responsibility for the pro-democracy movement at the feet of the US, and the US once again became the enemy.
The princelings, mindful of conserving their political power, recoil at the very idea of universal values, and have a love-hate relationship with the US.
Nevertheless, favorable relations with Washington will serve China’s needs well, and if Beijing wants to use the befriending different states policy to restore, and perhaps even surpass, the glory of the Manchu Qing Dynasty, China’s neighboring countries are in for a rough ride.
This is especially true of Japan. After all, there is a theory that many Japanese are descendants of Xu Fu (徐福) — whom legend has it landed in Japan two millennia ago on a quest for the elixir of immortality — and his entourage, meaning that they could be said to be, “since antiquity,” Chinese.
Paul Lin is a political commentator.
Translated by Paul Cooper