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The South China Sea and the Nine Dash Puzzle

China’s Nine Dash Map of the South China Sea has caused much unnecessary angst – especially among people with no concept of history or strategy.  Many of those who rail against it would do well to spend some time with the Nine Dot Puzzle instead and learn how to think outside the box.

China’s claim is strategic, symbolic and historic.  In fact, the Middle Kingdom is surrounded by US missile bases, not only in the obvious places such as South Korea and Japan but also in countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kazakhstan.   It is no surprise that China resents this threat just as Russia is uncomfortable about the NATO missiles pointed in their direction from their own encirclement.

So China has grabbed a few uninhabited atolls and has built some military installations on them.  This might give the Chinese populace some comfort and face (so important in Chinese culture) yet in no way indicates China is about to go on a rampage.  In fact, China has a history of not invading or attacking other countries – something the United States and most of its allies cannot claim.  (China was invited to take over Tibet by the Tibetans around 1,000 years ago when they found they couldn’t govern – there is, of course, much more to that story.)   It has backed the occasional ally such as North Korea and might not be keen to do so again considering how that has worked out.

It is worth remembering that of the three great, long-standing ancient cultures – China, Egypt and South America (in a few incarnations such as Aztecs, Mayans and Incas) – who gave us so many advances in science, mathematics and yes, gunpowder, only China has re-emerged as a world leader.  Some might argue that Rome and Greece should be on that list but they didn’t last very long in historical terms and… where are they now?

Few know that the nine dash line was first published by the Chinese Nationalist government – western allies – in 1947.   It reflects a range of history where China had interests in the various islands and areas covered in the map – for around two thousand years in many cases.

Whatever you think of The Philippines President Duterte (and that is a whole other discussion), he has handled this situation very well by focussing on securing fishing rights for his people and doing multi-billion dollar trade and commercial deals with China.  Who cares about a few uninhabited islands and the fact that China wants to build some mostly-symbolic missile bases or other military installations on them?   If China wants to nuke the U.S. or Australia, it won’t do it from the South China Sea – it has much more advanced facilities on the mainland.

Sending navy aircraft carriers and other vessels steaming through the area to make a point is the sort of childish bravado most of us left behind in the sandbox and serves no useful purpose.  And do we really think China is likely to impede shipping in the area when it is arguably the world’s biggest importer/exporter?

Thanks to the foresight of Deng Xaio Ping, China has taken a huge population (now around 1.4 billion) from the disasters of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution to galloping prosperity in less than sixty years.  No country is minting more new millionaires and billionaires at the same rate.

Instead of the ridiculous rhetoric thrown at China by uneducated commentators and one abhorrently ignorant president, The United States and the West should be engaging this amazing nation in every way possible.

As for China’s communist label: Communism and Democracy are like Kipling’s Triumph and Disaster – both imposters.  Had Karl Mark been around before the French Revolution, France would have been communist.  Communism could only take hold when, in the words of Mel Brooks’ clever double entendre, “The peasants are revolting”.   When people are so downtrodden and starving, as they were in the Tsar’s Russia and Chiang Kai Shek’s China, the idea of shared proceeds of effort is inviting.

Neither system really works as human nature and its accompanying greed kicks in.  We know all that and the recent US election is a classic example of highly flawed democracy.  China has ended up as a totalitarian system, which might not be ideal (it is certainly not “communist”), but there is no way democracy could work there – at this stage and in the foreseeable future.

Are human rights better served in the United States? Ask Philando Castile or the many, many others whose experience would say “no”.

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