In a message posted on Twitter on On Oct. 6, Chinese embassy in India spokesperson Wang Xiaojian (王小劍) urged New Delhi to adhere to the “one China” principle and stop all forms of official exchange with Taiwan. This needs to be put into the correct perspective.
The “one China” principle is a core issue the People’s Republic of China (PRC) uses to lay claim to Taiwan. By extension, this principle is used to give legitimacy to all areas it has usurped and all other territories it now lays claim to.
This corrosive principle underscores China’s hegemonistic ambitions and territorial expansionism.
However, the “one China” principle is based on false premises and a deceitful distortion of history. The PRC uses similar distorted logic to advance its claims in other areas.
In this context, one must go back to ancient Chinese history — which is staring at us from the Great Wall of China — to understand what the real “one China” is.
The Great Wall of China was built by various empires to prevent invasion by other states, secure China’s northern border and protect the Silk Road trade. However, there is no single wall.
The Great Wall, as we know it, is a series of walls built over centuries of Chinese history by emperors of different dynasties and for different purposes. The outer boundary of the Chinese nation is defined by the outermost part of the “great walls.” From this fundamental logic it is quite clear that there is only “one China” — the area encompassed by the Great Wall to the north and the coastline to the south.
The areas of Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan are well outside this area, based on historical evidence. As late as 1932, Tibet, Xinjiang, Manchuria, Mongolia and Taiwan were not part of China.
Xinjiang, Manchuria and Mongolia were assimilated into China by the communists using various pretexts during a politically turbulent period in China which spans the Japanese occupation and the civil war up to the end of World War II. Tibet was invaded and annexed in 1956.
In the 17th century, Taiwan was a Dutch colony. After a brief period of independence, it was taken over by imperial China. It was a Japanese colony from 1895 to 1952.
Japan ceded sovereignty over Taiwan as per the Treaty of San Francisco and Treaty of Taipei on April 28, 1952, to the Republic of China (ROC) — not to the PRC, governed at that point by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Ever since then, Taiwan has been an independent state. It has never been ruled by the CCP, even for a day.
In the mid 1970s, many governments did not recognize the PRC, while most governments recognized and dealt with the ROC. It was only when the US recognized the PRC in 1979 that the very idea and concept of the “one China” principle came into being.
China insists that Taiwan is an inalienable breakaway part of its territory, and wants to annex it, by force if necessary. This was one of the key themes at the CCP’s 20th National Congress. From all perspectives, the “one China” principle is a recent construct and is not based on historical evidence.
The “one China” principle is therefore premised on the false fact that Taiwan is part of the PRC, even though it has never been under its rule. Accepting this outlandish principle and its twisted logic means accepting the Chinese expansionist claims in other areas.
For instance, China twisted and manufactured history in the form of the “nine-dash line” to lay claim to the entire South China Sea. Ignoring Chinese intentions and not contesting its falsehoods emboldened the PRC to establish artificial islands in the South China Sea and control part of it.
From an Indian perspective, the twisted Chinese logic of “one China” resonates with other perfidious claims. In a 2003 agreement, India recognized Tibet as part of China. The agreement was based on the understanding that the boundary between India and China was to be settled generally along the McMahon Line, in itself based on the Himalayan crest line.
At the time of the signing of the agreement, Arunachal Pradesh was already one of the constitutional states of India, as it has been since 1987. There was no objection to this status when the agreement was signed in 2003.
However, after signing it, China started laying claim to the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh, saying it is part of South Tibet. Until then, the term “South Tibet” had never existed in any form. The invented term is now being given a coating of fictitious history to accord it legitimacy.
There is a stark similarity with this process and the one behind the idea of the “one China” principle.
In its latest gambit in 2020, China laid claim to the Sakteng sanctuary, which is 100km deep into Bhutan. This area is contiguous to the Tawang Tract. The Chinese have now started claiming it as part of South Tibet.
The Chinese have simultaneously revived Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) so-called “palm and five fingers” theory, which says that Xizang (Tibet) is China’s right hand’s palm, and its five fingers are Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal. As all of these five are either occupied by, or under the influence of India, it is China’s responsibility to “liberate” the five to be rejoined with Tibet.
The concepts of “one China,” the “nine-dash line,” “South Tibet” and “Mao’s five fingers” are all part of China’s territorial expansionist design, which is being furthered and implemented incrementally. There seems to be a “Greater China” principle at play. It is high time that India and the rest of the world recognize that accepting the “one China” principle means yielding to China’s larger plan.
From an Indian perspective, it is totally unacceptable. This needs to be conveyed in no uncertain terms. I do hope that Wang reads this. I also hope that some officials in the foreign ministries of India and Taiwan read this and formulate a joint plan to counter China’s illegal expansionist designs.
Lieutenant general P.R. Shankar PVSM, AVSM, VSM is a former director-general of artillery in the Indian Army. He is currently a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, and writes extensively on strategic and geopolitical affairs.
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