Mon, 14 Feb 2000

Pirates and Chinese frontier expansion

I would like to comment on the letter from Mr. Santo Darmosumarto (The Jakarta Post, Feb. 3, 2000) titled Making sense of Beijing's conduct in the S. China Sea, as it contains not only inaccuracies but distorted facts.

Mr. Santo has written and suggested that China is trying to attain the state goal by turning a blind eye on illegal fishing and piracy by Chinese citizens in military fatigues with the calculated intention of extending China's maritime jurisdiction and through establishment of a reign of terror. He has also suggested that Chinese pirates are indirectly exerting Chinese influence over the disputed territory. I would advise Mr. Santo to read more newspapers.

The Straits Times reported on Dec. 23, 1999 that China sentenced 13 pirates to death and one of the co-ringleaders was Indonesian. On Jan. 29, 2000, the Times reported the execution of the 13 pirates, including the Indonesian ring leader, ending their "reign of terror" of murdering 23 Chinese crewmen. And on Jan. 29, 2000, in the Singaporean Straits Times, it was reported on page 3 that one of the three pirate attacks around the world last year took place in and around Indonesian waters. And there were 113 reported attacks in Indonesian waters according to the Indonesian Maritime Bureau (IMB). The director of IMB, Mr. Pottengal Mukundan in London, has also praised China for its action.

On Feb. 3, the same day, Santo's letter was published, The Straits Times also reported in its East Asia File that a Chinese court jailed 14 Myanmar pirates for hijacking a Taiwanese cargo ship. Actually, China has been a victim of pirates since the early 1500s by the Japanese Wokou pirates.

The silk route was opened not by military conquest or by force but by peaceful efforts. The great emperor, Han Wuti, sent the legendary Chinese emissary, Zhang Qian, in 138 B.C. with 100 men to establish diplomatic relations and allies with the Central Asian kingdom and its people in order to officially open the silk trade routes. Zhang Qian came back 13 years later with only one other man after surviving two abductions, committed respectively by the barbarian Xiongnu and the Tibetans.

The frontier strategy being traced to the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C. to 208 B.C.), as stated by Santo, was also very much misleading. The Chinese frontier strategy from the Qin Dynasty till the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) built and reconnected the great walls in its northern border to try to fend off invasions and lootings by marauding nomadic barbarians. But China was never successful in containing such invasions by the great walls. Soon after Shi Wangti unified China, he ordered to build and connect the existing Great Wall to almost 2,200 km.

Despite the great walls, China was always attacked and invaded by nomadic barbarians, who were finally driven out of China not by China, but by foreigners during the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty and later by the foreigners during the Manchurian Dynasty. A few other previous kingdoms also successfully conquered the northern part of China (Northern Wei in South and North dynasty period). Yuan Mongolian and Manchurian Ching conquered China completely, but they then adopted the conquered Chinese civilization. If the conquerors adopted the conquered's civilization, we will have to admit the superiority of the Chinese civilization. And inherent in Chinese civilization, is cultural pacifism and in it, Confucian's thoughts, which despise military violence, and reward and punishment as advocated by Han Fei Tzu legalists, which played a big role.

Civilian control over the military was also officially instituted a millennium ago since the Song Dynasty. And traditionally the military commanders tended to be Confucian scholars who would write and recite poems in the battlefield. All these led to Chinese military deficiencies and weaknesses. However, as JFK Fairbanks points out, that has also made China to be an indestructible political unit since the Song Dynasty.

The Sun Tzu art of war is also no match for Machiavellism, which is being studied in western and Indonesian Military schools here.