Wednesday, December 21, 2016

EAST and WEST. What's the matter here?

HISTORICAL facts. There seems to be a prevailing dislike of China in the West due to obvious reasons. The Chinese are all over the world, not just in US retail stores but also in factories, shipyards, oil drillings, banking institutions, and all imaginable business/trade pursuits there are. Yet as I always say China did not force itself in, or invaded or colonized, a country in the West the way the East was subjugated by Western imperialism and mercantilism for centuries. China implemented the good old Lo Mein styled marketing and merchandising. They worked, they delivered, they got paid—they talked less.

          There are internal-Asian conquests of course yet the closest that I can think of in terms of beyond-Asia invasions was at the time of Genghis Khan in 1200s—when the Mongol Empire rode through Eurasia (or Western Asia) and took power over parts of modern Iran, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. Genghis' grandson Kublai took over these conquests when grandpa died in 1227. Mongolia also annexed China when the giant country was consisted of three separate states: Xi Xia, Jin, and Sung. The Mongol Empire is the largest contiguous empire in history after the Great Khan's death—yet their power didn't extend to mainland Europe.
          On the other hand, Western European entry into what was first called the East Indies (or Asia) started as early 15th century as the search for trade routes to China led directly to the Age of Discovery. Early modern warfare was funneled into what was then called the Far East. By the early 16th century the Age of Sail greatly expanded Western European influence and development of the Spice Trade under colonialism. Enter Marco Polo and his historic navigation of the Silk Road. There has been a presence of Western European colonial empires and imperialism in Asia throughout six centuries of colonialism, formally ending with the independence of the Portuguese Empire's last colony East Timor in 2002.

          During the 1500s and 1600s the Europeans were able to take control of the international trade of Asia, thereby diverting the profits from this trade to Europe. As a result, the Europeans grew stronger while Asian empires and kingdoms became weaker. By the 1800s the Europeans were in a position to establish their authority over much of Asia, particularly the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Six European countries had colonies in the region. Portugal (Malacca, Timor, southeast of Bali in Indonesia, and Japan as early as 1500s), Spain (Philippines), Netherlands (parts of India first, then Indonesia), Great Britain (India, Burma/Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia), France (Vietnam and the five Indochina territories: Cochin China, Annam, Tongking, Laos, and Cambodia), and the United States (Philippines). Thailand was the only Southeast Asian state to remain independent during the colonial period.
          In fact, even mainland China was sort of invaded by the West. The 16th century brought many Jesuit missionaries to China, such as Matteo Ricci, who established missions where Western science was introduced, and where Europeans gathered knowledge of Chinese society, history, culture, and science. During the 18th century, merchants from Western Europe came to China (and Japan) in increasing numbers. However, merchants were confined to Guangzhou and the Portuguese colony of Macau, as they had been since the 16th century. European traders were increasingly irritated by what they saw as the relatively high customs duties they had to pay and by the attempts to curb the growing import trade in opium. By 1800, its importation was forbidden by the imperial government. However, the opium trade continued to boom.

           In 1839, China found itself fighting the First Opium War with Britain. China was defeated, and in 1842, signed the provisions of the Treaty of Nanjing which were first of the unequal treaties signed during the Qing Dynasty. Hong Kong Island was ceded to Britain, and certain ports, including Shanghai and Guangzhou, were opened to British trade and residence. In 1856, the Second Opium War broke out. The Chinese were again defeated, and now forced to the terms of the 1858 Treaty of Tientsin. The treaty opened new ports to trade and allowed foreigners to travel in the interior. In addition, Christians gained the right to propagate their religion. The United States Treaty of Wanghia and Russia later obtained the same prerogatives in separate treaties.
          Other European powers also maintaned enclaves in China through the years. Austria-Hungary, Italy, and Belgium in Tianjin; France in Zhanjiang, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hankou, and Kunming; Germany in Qingdao, and also in Hankou and Tianjin; Portugal in Macau; Russia in Dalian, and also in Tianjin and Hankou; and apart from their presence in Hongkong, Tianjin and Hankou, United Kingdom also had power in Weihai, Liugong Island, Jiujiang, Zhenjiang, Guangzhou, Xiamen, Shanghai, and Yunnan. Meantime, the United States had concession in Shanghai (1848) and Tianjin (1902) as well.

          Let me explore more the Philippine episode. In the Philippines, the U.S. remained committed to its previous pledges to grant the islands their independence, and the Philippines became the first of the Western-controlled Asian colonies to be granted independence post-World War II. However, the Philippines remained under pressure to adopt a political and economic system similar to their old imperial master. This still holds true to date. During the Pacific War, Filipino guerrillas known as the Hukbalahap (People's Army) fought with American soldiers against the Japanese occupation of the islands. After the war, the dusgruntled Huks, who felt betrayed by their colonial masters who promised them stuff but failed to deliver, evolved into the Communist Party of the Philippines (PKP). Filipino WW2 veterans are still, to date, lobbying for fulfillment of those promises. 
          The PKP participated in elections as part of the Democratic Alliance. However, with the onset of the Cold War, its growing political strength drew a reaction from the ruling government and the United States, resulting in the repression of the PKP and its associated organisations. In 1948, the PKP began organizing an armed struggle against the government and continued U.S. military presence. In 1950, the PKP created the People's Liberation Army (Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan), which mobilised thousands of troops throughout the islands. The insurgency lasted until 1956, when the PKP gave up armed struggle. And in 1968, the PKP underwent a split, and in 1969 the Maoist faction of the PKP created the New People's Army. Maoist rebels re-launched an armed struggle against the government and the U.S. military presence in the Philippines, which continues to this day.

          The Philippines and China always sustained a relationship even before Spain set foot in the islands, mainly in trade. Although China never invaded the Philippines, their presence could be seen and felt in the culture. So this “new” Philippines-China friendship isn't really new. It is a sort of reconnecting with friends in the same way that the Asian Tiger and Asian Cub economies started relying on each other for progress and prosperity apart from relations with the West. I don't think that is wrong. Asians may have been fighting internally in the past—but they stay as friendly neighbors eventually. Meantime, they never did set sail to the West and engaged them in war to get what they wanted.
          If the world sees international relations this way, through trade based agreements on mutual benefits, and not a one-sided talk that when it fails, an invasion ensues—then we can attain peace.

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