Thursday, January 10, 2019

Sovereignty: "All under Heaven, China’s challenge to the Westphalian system"

"The world is the world's world"
—Prince Kanenaga to the Hongwu Emperor, 1382
From the Asia Times:

All under Heaven, China’s challenge to the Westphalian system
Beijing is tweaking the rules of the Western order to truly reflect its reconquered geopolitical and economic power, but some Americans see this as a threat to their way of life
Embedded in the now dominant US narrative of “Chinese aggression”, Sinophobes claim that China is not only a threat to the American way of life, but also an existential threat to the American republic.

It’s worth noting, of course, that the American way of life has long ceased to be a model to be emulated all across the Global South and that the US walks and talks increasingly like an oligarchy.
Underneath it all is a huge divide, in outlook and cultural beliefs, between the two great powers, as some leaders and writers have attempted to explain.

President Xi Jinping’s speech last week does make it clear that Beijing is engaged in tweaking the rules of the current Westphalian system to truly reflect its reconquered geopolitical and economic power.

Yet it’s hardly a matter of “overthrowing” the system established by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. As much as trade blocks are ruling the new geoeconomic game, nation-states are bound to remain the backbone of the international system.

One of Beijing’s key foreign policies is no interference in other nations’ internal affairs. In parallel, the historical record since the end of WWII shows that the US has never refrained from interfering in other nations’ internal affairs.

What Beijing is really aiming at is what Professor Xiang Lanxin, director of the Centre of One Belt and One Road Studies at the China National Institute for SCO International Exchange and Judicial Cooperation, referred to at a crucial intervention during the June 2016 Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore.

Lanxin defined the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as being an avenue to a ‘post-Westphalian world’, in a sense of a true 21st century geoeconomic integration of Eurasia acted out by Asian nations. That’s the key reason why Washington, which set the current international rules in 1945, fears BRI and now demonizes it 24/7.

Understanding Tianxia
The notion that imperial China, over the centuries, obtained a Mandate of Heaven over Tianxia, or “All under Heaven”, and that Tianxia is a “dictatorial system” is absolute nonsense. Once again that reflects the profound ignorance by professional Sinophobes about the deepest strands of classical Chinese culture.

They could do worse than learn about Tianxia from someone like Zhao Tingyang, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and author of an essential book first published by China CITIC Press in 2016, then translated into French last year under the title Tianxia: Tous sous un meme ciel.
Tingyang teaches us that the Tianxia system of the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BC) is essentially a theory – a concept born in Ancient China but not specific to China that goes way beyond the country to tackle universal problems in a “process of dynamic formation that refers to globalization.”

This introduces us to a fascinating conceptual bridge linking ancient China to 21st-century globalization, arguing that political concepts defined by nation-states, imperialisms and rivalries for hegemony are losing meaning when faced with globalization. The future is symbolized by the new power of all-inclusive global networks – which is at the center of the BRI concept.

Tingyang shows that the Tianxia concept refers to a world system where the true political subject is the world. Under the Western imperialist vision, the world was always an object of conquest, domination and exploitation, and never a political subject per se.

So we need a higher and more comprehensive unifying vision than that of the nation-state – under a Lao Tzu framework: “To see the world from the point of view of the world”.

You are not my enemy
Plunging into the deepest roots of Chinese culture, Tingyang shows the idea that there’s nothing beyond Tianxia is, in fact, a metaphysical principle, because Tian (heaven) exists globally. So, Tianxia (all under Heaven), as Confucius said, must be the same, in order to be in accordance with heaven.

Thus the Tianxia system is inclusive and not exclusive; it suppresses the idea of enemy and foreigner; no country or culture would be designated as an enemy, and be non-incorporable to the system....
When you have Chinese admirals saying stuff like:
“What the United States fears the most is taking casualties,” Admiral Lou declared.
He said the loss of one super carrier would cost the US the lives of 5000 service men and women. Sinking two would double that toll.
“We’ll see how frightened America is.”
It is probably a good idea to remind said admiral, Lou Yuan, 20December2018, that another Asian power has already had a go at sinking American ships.

But China being China with its 5000 year history, it is probably more diplomatic to go further back in time for the reminder, hence the introductory quote. I've mentioned the story a couple times, in 2014's Oil and China's Territorial Ambitions: "The World Is the World's World"
The part of the headline in quotation marks is not to be found in the story, rather it is from a 1382 letter sent by Japan’s Prince Kanenaga to the Hongwu Emperor of China, founder of the Ming Dynasty, explicitly denying the legitimacy of Chinese dominance:
Heaven and earth are vast, they are not monopolized by one ruler. 
The universe is great and wide, and the various countries are created each to have a share in its rule. 
Now the world is the world's world; it does not belong to a single person.
For some reason I've never been able to get that quote out of my head but I promise that is as esoteric as I'll ever get....
And again in last month's "Thinking About President Xi and Prince Kanenaga"
...Here is a better, more scholarly reference via Oxford Journals' Chinese Journal of International Politics, Summer 2012:
...The threat of military force was evident in Ming China’s effort to bring Japan into the tribute system. Japan’s Prince Kanenaga imprisoned and executed a number of the Chinese envoys that Emperor Hongwu had sent in 1369 to demand tribute, apparently angered at the condescending tone of the diplomatic letter denoting Chinese superiority. When the Ming court threatened invasion, the Japanese reminded it of the Mongols’ failed attempts in 1281 to conquer Japan. A letter Kanenaga sent in 1382 explicitly denied the legitimacy of Chinese dominance: ‘Now the world is the world’s world; it does not belong to a single ruler … . I hear that China has troops able to fight a war, but my small country also has plans of defence … . How could we kneel to and acknowledge Chinese overlordship!’88  ...
Jus' sayin' Mr. President Xi, jus' sayin'.
Sometimes people just need to be be gently guided away from idiocy.