All China seeks is a sense of security

For the Chinese, the modern history of China began in 1840 when the Sino-British Opium War erupted.

Many Western historians are of the view that the conflict was a result of China's not opening up its markets to foreign trade, or a form of punishment for China's backwardness.

The Chinese, however, firmly believe the foreign powers made use of their naval prowess and military advantage to infringe upon China's sovereignty.

For the Chinese, this period of history which saw their country being "beaten up" by Western powers serves as a warning that China needs to safeguard its national security and pay attention to unresolved issues which may impact it.

The dispute over the ownership of the Diaoyu islands is one such issue and its historical roots can be traced back to the same period in modern Chinese history when China suffered at the hands of Western powers.

This brief historical outline is necessary in order to understand why Beijing created the East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ).

The new air zone stems from China's sense of feeling unsafe. Washington's so-called "pivot to Asia" policy plan has effectively disrupted the integration of ASEAN and Chinese economies.

These unresolved security issues have been used by the United States to support the pivot.

The Pentagon's so-called Air-Sea Battle doctrine has further convinced China it faces growing security threats in the region.

On the Diaoyu islands dispute, Tokyo has used its own ADIZ, which overlaps with China's newly created air zone, to upset the operations of China's patrol ships and oil fields in the area. This made Beijing realise the security threat it faces is a real one.

Hence, Beijing adopted simple and clear logic in response: If other countries can set up ADIZs around China, why can't similar zones be established by a China facing air and sea threats?

The shock expressed by Western media and commentators to China's creation of an ADIZ reflects their misunderstanding or ignorance, but the reaction could be an orchestrated one.

After all, the Diaoyu dispute can be traced back to the 1894 Sino-Japanese War and the 1951 San Francisco Treaty.

The disputed islands were administered by the US occupation force after World War II. In 1972, Washington handed over the administrative rights to Japan as part of its withdrawal from Okinawa.

On the controversy over ADIZs, it started with the US setting up the first ADIZ in 1950, followed by Japan's repeated expansion of its ADIZ towards China's coastline, and escalated in the trespassing of such a zone by US B-52 bombers last week.

China's creation of an ADIZ is a normal response to the air and sea threats it faces today.

If one understands modern Chinese history, then one would not point the finger at China. This is because the Chinese people have been victims in past wars of aggression. Up to today, what China seeks is security and the right to develop the country in a peaceful environment.

China hopes to have a "peaceful rise", but at the same time it is very wary of any attempt to prevent its rise using "non-peaceful means". China does not seek war and does not bully others, but it will fight back if bullied.

In protecting national security interests, Beijing opposes hegemony and advocates parity. If other countries have the right to set up ADIZs, then China should enjoy similar rights.

Why is it that China faces great opposition in its attempt to set up an ADIZ when similar zones have been in place for more than 40 years?

In the international outcry over China's creation of an ADIZ, the arrogance and prejudice of former colonists is felt again.

In the game of big-power politics, the rules are similar to the saying "you reap what you sow".

Cooperation begets cooperation. Betrayal begets betrayal. If China feels safe and enjoys security, then its neighbourhood - and the world - will enjoy a safe environment.

Just days after sending B-52 bombers in an act of support for its ally, Washington on Nov 30 advised its civilian airlines to comply with rules set by Beijing over the new air zone. This reflects the US' pragmatism and its respect for China's sovereignty.

The US has executed a tough and praiseworthy act of balancing in big-power politics. What does this latest development say about those political players and media who were quick to take sides in their discussion of the new air zone?

The writer is director of the Centre for Strategic Studies at Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. This piece is translated from Chinese by The Straits Times.

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