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Squabble of Thrones
Beijing on South China Sea Tensions: You Started It

After losing some diplomatic ground to the Philippines and its ASEAN allies recently, China is lashing out against claims that it is to blame for the tensions in the South China Sea. Reuters has more:

In a statement just before midnight on Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry urged the Philippines to stop its “malicious hyping and provocation” on the dispute, whose basis, it said, was Manila’s illegal occupation of certain Chinese islands.

“The Philippines side has conducted large-scale construction of military and civil facilities, including airports, ports and barracks on those islands for many years,” the ministry said.

The statement was issued after the Philippines Foreign Ministry said it was China that had violated the code with its construction, and was accusing Manila to justify and provide cover for Chinese reclamation work.

“China has never, ever taken actions that may complicate and deteriorate the disputes or affect regional peace and stability,” the Chinese ministry said, urging Manila to stop all building work and evacuate its people.

The Philippines has countered that the work China is referring to is legal repair work on existing structures, and several years old.

Reversing the narrative is a tried and true propaganda strategy, but the notion that Beijing is just an innocent victim here is more than a little absurd. For one thing, at some point between the Opium War and the 1974 Battle of the Paracel Islands, it seems likely that China took actions that might have “complicated regional peace and stability,” for better or for worse. And it’s pretty clear that the South China Sea would be a less geopolitically interesting spot without the well-documented land reclamation efforts Beijing is engaged in right now.

Snarking aside, this latest statement is instructive for anyone trying to understand the historical and political forces that are shaping East Asia today. China’s understanding of the way history has treated it are guiding its hopes and choices as it rises. The roots of China’s territorial ambitions run deep—a culture does not forget being a great empire easily—so any discussion of a strategy for dealing with China and trying to move it away from a dangerous course in its foreign policy must start from there.

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