Is China an imperial power in the image of the West?


Unlike the West, modern China has seldom used brute force to access resources or expand markets — except, notably, in the South China Sea.

Owing to geography and geopolitics, my country the Philippines finds itself in the middle of an escalating conflict between the United States and China.

Like the trench lines that stretched from the North Sea through France to Switzerland during the First World War, the front lines of this conflict stretch across both land and sea for over 4,200 kilometers — from Korea and Japan to Taiwan and the East China Sea, and on to the Philippines and the South China Sea.

Like most other people in Southeast Asia, Filipinos know much about one actor in this conflict: the United States, an imperial superpower whose troops we host in nominally Philippine bases. Though they are much closer geographically to the other actor, China, they know much less about it.

What Is China? And What Is It Up To?

What is clear, though, is that Filipinos don’t like the People’s Republic of China. They know it mainly as a powerful country with a Communist government that claims 90 percent of a body of water traditionally called the South China Sea — and, lately, the West Philippine Sea — and says “fuck you” to the claims of the Philippines and four other countries which border it.

In particular, Filipinos feel — justifiably — that China is a bully that has seized two maritime formations that belong to us, Mischief Reef and Scarborough Shoal, that lie much closer to the Philippines than they do to China, and that it has done so in violation of international law.

But while Filipinos don’t have much affection for the People’s Republic of China — and much of the rest of the world doesn’t either — there are questions for which they must find credible answers so they can arrive at the appropriate strategy for dealing with it.

The big why for Filipinos, Vietnamese, Malaysians, and Indonesians is: Why is China behaving in this crude, big power fashion in the South China Sea? This brings up a related question: Is China an imperial power like the United States and other western powers that preceded it as powers on the world stage?

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