General Liu Yuan (劉源), son of late People’s Republic of China (PRC) president Liu Shaoqi (劉少奇), published an opinion editorial on huanqiu.com (環球網) on Feb. 4 this year in which he borrowed from a re-reading of history proposed by academics two years ago at a commemoration for the centennial anniversary of the 1911 Xinhai Revolution.
In this re-reading, Japan has frustrated China’s attempts to rise after the Opium War (1839-1842) and has been attempting to interrupt China’s “strategic opportunity period” ever since 1989. Liu wrote that China could launch a local war against Japan if necessary to secure long-term peace.
It might be tempting to brush aside these comments as biased views from a member of the “princelings” faction, which blames everything on Japan. However, his eagerness to resort to war should be a warning.
According to The Book of Lord Shang (商君書), an ancient Chinese Legalist text: “If by war one wishes to abolish war, even war is permissible; if by killing one wants to abolish killing, even killing is permissible.”
His views enjoy a certain legitimacy within his own culture.
US President Barack Obama recently appointed former US senator John Kerry as the new US secretary of state. Instead of reaffirming the US-Japan Security Treaty, Kerry has said that the US attaches great importance to China. This is almost like an encouragement to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) said during his US visit that China and the US should promote a “new type of relationship between great powers,” and that Washington, not Tokyo, is Beijing’s real target. Still, how is Beijing going to navigate the US-Japan security treaty?
Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, in his book One China, wrote about Beijing’s “offensive deterrence strategy” of launching a local war, adding that the purpose is risk adjustment, not defeating the enemy, which is forced to make a choice under such circumstances.
Former Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) expressed his willingness for political dialogue by ordering the PLA not to attack US troops to avoid casualties, paving the way for his eventual goal of building diplomatic ties with Washington.
If a war breaks out over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, how is Beijing going to achieve its political goal?
If the PLA is determined to fight over the Diaoyutais, it might choose to sacrifice Chinese warships and fighters and not to strike back at US troops. It might squarely confront the Japan Self-Defense Forces, while landing on the Diaoyutais with hundreds of fishing boats and fishermen.
If that happens, the US and Japan will find themselves in a political dilemma — How will US troops react to a PLA that does not strike back? How will the US fulfill its obligations under the security treaty? How will the US keep its promise about security in East Asia if it is unable to fulfill its obligations? How will Japan’s Self-Defense Forces prevent a large number of “civilians” landing on the Diaoyutais? How will Japan’s government deal with not being able to regain the “four northern islands” held by Russia, and Takeshima, which is also claimed by South Korea, while losing the Diaoyutais to China? How will it explain the predicament facing its sovereignty?
Under the pressure of North Korea’s nuclear test, is it easier for the US and China to develop a new type of relationship?
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is good at such “revolutionary diplomacy.” However, if China chooses to repeat Mao’s path, it will come at the cost of long-term isolation, which is exactly Kissinger’s warning.
HoonTing is a political commentator based in Taipei.
Translated by Eddy Chang