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Some Reflections on the United States and China

15 13 0

One of my favourite quotations is from the late former Prime Minister of China under Mao, Chou en Lai. He was interviewed by French television in the 1970s and was asked for his views on the effects of the French Revolution. Chou replied “too soon to tell.”

That baffled his interviewer, but it points to an important difference between the European (of which Australia has been an historical part) and the Asian perspective.

China, along with Persia, of which I will have more to say, has a history and civilization extending back at least 4000 years. Both countries have experienced some difficult times in recent history. The nature of the contemporary challenges they face would be a topic in itself.

In China it is referred to as “the dark century.” It was actually a little longer, but essentially extended from active European involvement in the late 18th century through to the revolution of 1949.

That period included the British control of Hong Kong, which was only formally relinquished in 1997. Astonishingly, the handing back to China of its own territory was accompanied by conditions including a 50 year transition period during which Hong Kong was to retain certain special characteristics.

As is well known, with the defeat of the Chiang Kai Shek regime in 1949, the defeated Nationalists fled to what was then called Formosa and set up a separate government, the survival of which was guaranteed by the American military.

Equally astonishingly, the Formosa (later Taiwan) group retained China’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council as the representative of China until October 25 1971. Resolution 2758, expelling the Taiwanese representatives and installing the PRC as the legitimate representatives of China was passed by 76 votes to 35 against, with 17 abstentions.

That resolution specifically referred to the Representatives of the Chiang Kai Shek government as “unlawfully occupying” China’s seat at the United Nations and all its associated organisations.

Australia was one of the 35 countries to vote against the resolution along with the United States and with a group of other mainly African and South American nations. (I am ashamed to admit that New Zealand also voted against).

The position of the US vis-a-vis Taiwan has been ambivalent ever since. It maintains diplomatic contact with Taiwan and its military ships continually patrol the region, including what are properly regarded as Chinese territorial waters. Unsurprisingly, the US presence and its continued support for Taiwan remains a source of irritation to the Chinese government.

It is my view that Taiwan will be reunited with the mainland and that is likely to occur sooner rather than later.

Since the PRC came to power it has been involved in some border disputes, notably with Russia, Vietnam and India, although it would be wrong to characterize those disputes as wars. Certainly the disputes involved the exchange of gunfire, and low-level casualties were incurred.

The major military dispute occurred in the Korean War when the PRC reacted to the US led invasion of North Korea and allied troops advancing as far as the border between North Korea and China.

UN Security Council Resolution 84 of 7 July 1950 was passed by 7 votes in favour, 3 abstentions (Egypt, India and Yugoslavia) and one absentee (Soviet Union). There is a dispute among analysts as to whether that Soviet absenteeism was a tactical ploy or a tactical error.

The resolution authorized assistance to South Korea necessary to repel the invasion and to restore peace and security to the region. It did not authorise the invasion of the North, which the United States and its allies nonetheless undertook. The invasion continued as far as the Chinese border.

As ill-equipped as they were, the Chinese troops rapidly inflicted significant casualties upon the US led forces, driving them back below the 38th parallel in early 1951.

We now know that the US command sought permission to use atomic weapons against the superior Chinese troops who had defeated them so comprehensively. Truman refused, although it was a narrow victory for sanity. It was a fear that McArthur would nonetheless defy Truman that led to his sacking as commander of allied forces.

The ground war was essentially stalemated after the defeat of the US allied forces and their retreat below the North-South boundary in early 1951. The US continued to bomb the north however, where they enjoyed a high degree of aerial superiority.

The social infrastructure of the North was destroyed, together with a significant proportion of its food growing capacity. Estimates of total casualties vary wildly, but it seems at least 5 million people died, the vast majority in the north, either Koreans or their Chinese allies.

American casualties were (in round figures) 40,000 deaths and 100,000 other casualties. Australian casualties by comparison were 340 deaths and 1216 wounded out of a total military commitment of about 17,000 troops.

Michael Pembroke, in his excellent history, subtitles his book “Korea” as “Where the American Century Began”.

I would date American........

© New Eastern Outlook