April 11, 2001
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The other night on CNN I caught a panel discussion about the situation
in China. Pat Robertson said China had to appear strong against the West
because in the past they had lost the Opium War and territory like Hong
Kong. My first instinct was to dismiss him (What is Pat Robertson doing
on a foreign affairs panel to begin with?).
But a brief history lesson: Throughout its history the Middle Kingdom
has been the center of Asia, exporting its culture to its neighbors similar
to the way Rome did in the West.
The Opium War (1839-42) started because the Chinese were watching money
flow out of the treasury to pay for opium (heroin is its more famous modern
derivative) which was turning millions of Chinese into addicts. The emperor
ordered the seizure of British warehouses of opium which started the war.
The Chinese were easily defeated by the modern British forces. The war
ended in the Treaty of Nanjing and began the system where the West set
the rules for trade.
The Opium War, and the following Taiping rebellion and establishment
of European power in China made it clear that China needed to modernize,
however they found this difficult after centuries of superiority, especially
to turn to the West. Most efforts at modernization did not go too deep.
This was obvious in the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-95, in which the modernized
Japanese army defeated the Chinese without losing a single battle (ten
years later in the Russo-Japanese War they would defeat the Russians as
Ironically the emperor then tried to reform and modernize the country,
but the conservatives were threatened and turned to his aunt the Dowager
empress who imprisoned him and turned back many of his reforms.
Currently the Bush Administration is considering the sale of advanced
destroyers and radar systems to Taiwan despite the fact it is intervening
in a Chinese cold civil war. These new weapons would tip the balance of
power away from China, and so it may start up the war between Taiwan and
China again. In both cases, greed was at the heart of the matters, the
greed of the nineteenth century opium traders and the greed of twenty-first
century defense contractors.
However, the event that seems more likely to coincide with our current
"crisis" with China is the Manchurian Incident. In 1931, Japanese army
officers in Manchuria blew up their own railroad. After blaming the Chinese
they were justified in invading China, conquering Manchuria and setting
up a puppet state to provide them with Manchuria's valuable and abundant
From all military procedures I have read, the plane would have been crashed
into the ocean or self-destructed and its crew deemed expendable to avoid
compromising its secrets. The fact that it landed in China of all places
seems a bit odd. However now the Chinese have one of our planes with access
to advanced espionage systems. We are justified in blaming the Chinese
and selling arms to Taiwan or setting up the National Missile Defense.
Dubya and his NMD contractor cronies should take note of another event
in Chinese history:
The emperor Shihuangdi of the Chin dynasty (221-207 BC) began construction
of the Great Wall, the most advanced defense of its time. The drain it
placed on the Empire's treasury and workforce (and the fact that any intellectual
who disagreed with the emperor was forced work on the wall) caused the
dynasty to collapse in less than 15 years.
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