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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:34 03/09/2007
Commentary (May 31, 2005)

Western Lies Blackened Beijing's Image

Gregory Clark (Vice President, Akita International University)

China's successful moves to improve ties with India have done more than sabotage Tokyo's hopes for an anti-China alliance with New Delhi. They have also put an end to the myth that China's alleged aggressions against India since the 1960s would prevent any rapprochement between the two countries.

The key to this strange belief was the claim that China in 1962 had launched an unprovoked border attack against India. That claim was a blatant lie -- and one of the brighter and shinier variety. It was a classic example of the ease with which Western governments and intelligence agencies, together with their friends in academic, media and research organs, combine to distort information and blacken China's reputation in Asia.

In 1962 I was China desk officer in Canberra's Department of External Affairs. For much of the year there had been reports of Indian troops pushing into Chinese positions along the Sino-Indian border. On Oct. 20 we had a further report about clashes between Chinese and Indian troops at the Thag La ridge near the NEFA (North East Frontier Area) border, which was to lead to a Chinese counterattack into northern India.

New Delhi claimed unprovoked Chinese aggression. But the maps in front of me showed the Thag La ridge to be north of even the Indian-claimed frontier. So India must have attacked China first, and in an area where China had already offered major territory concessions (condemned, incidentally, by Taipei as a sellout to India).

When my cables to London and Washington confirmed this rather important fact, I assumed I could suggest to my superiors to ease up on their instant denunciations of Chinese "aggression" and their promises of immediate arms to India. Their response was swift: "We fail to see that it is not in the Western interest to have the Chinese and the Indians at each other's throats." London and Washington went along with this grubby realpolitik. Soon the commentators and experts in the Western media and elsewhere were retailing ominous tales about China's aggressive intentions throughout Asia.

The myth of Chinese aggression against peaceful India was to distort Asian affairs for more than 40 years. With the help of Western black-information agencies -- British especially -- it was to provide much of the justification later for Western intervention in Indochina. Detailed documentation from Beijing proving the location of the Thag La ridge was ignored.

Even the 1972 publication of "India's China War," the irrefutably detailed book by Neville Maxwell, the London Times New Delhi correspondent at the time, proving how Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had ordered the attack across the frontier, largely because of national pride and angst over the way China had consolidated control over Tibet, did little to change things. My own book on the subject, "In Fear of China," published four years earlier, had done even less.

Now, finally, with last month's historic meeting between the Chinese and Indian prime ministers in New Delhi, the myth is being buried. Both sides have agreed to settle frontier differences -- something China has long been able to do with all its other contiguous neighbors, often generously. India has dropped any challenge to China's sovereignty in Tibet. China has recognized Indian sovereignty over the once semiautonomous Himalayan region of Sikkim. A strategic partnership has been promised.

But hopes of Japan-India cooperation to oppose China still smolder in the hearts of many Japanese hawks. For years the goal was a tripartite Japan- India-Australia alliance against Beijing in Asia. That began to fall apart as Canberra belatedly realized its economic future lay with China.

Now the hawks are making much of Japan and India's alleged democracy vs. China's alleged totalitarianism, hoping to link into U.S. neocon plans to use the democracy issue to inspire change not just in the Middle East but eventually to force confusion and breakup in China. Leading hawk Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara has now come out openly in the latest issue of Bungei Shunju magazine calling for such a breakup. With the Yasukuni Shrine issue back in the headlines, others will want to follow.

Yasukuni is an especially fertile source of continued anti-China claims. Tokyo's insistence that Beijing's protests over Yasukuni amount to intervention in Japan's domestic affairs rings hollow when one considers how the shrine and its notorious museum celebrate a Japanese intervention in China's domestic affairs that left some 20 million people dead. And Article 11 of the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty specifically obliges Japan to accept Beijing's key point, namely that the 14 wartime leaders enshrined at Yasukuni were in fact A-class war criminals. You can't get more international than that.

Talk about Japan's 60 year postwar record of peaceful behavior in Asia and official development assistance to China is also meaningless when it is clear that Tokyo wants to be involved in U.S. plans for military action against North Korea and China. ODA was simply a cheap way for Japan to avoid having to pay war reparations to China.

The claims that Japan has already apologized to China more than 20 times are also meaningless, given Tokyo's stubborn refusals to admit to former atrocities in China and to compensate Chinese and Korean individuals enslaved during the war years. As both the Chinese and South Korean leadership have pointed out, actions are more important than words, and so far Tokyo's actions have not been impressive.

That the Western media have largely gone along with Tokyo's claims over Yasukuni is further proof of just how easily they accept distorted views of China. Other examples include the Tiananmen massacre myth (check the now declassified cables from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing at the time for the true story), the claim that China's claims over Taiwan are expansionist (check the terms on which every major power has accepted Beijing's sovereignty over the island), or Beijing's constant reference to Taiwan as a "renegade province" (check the English-language Web sites for the main Chinese newspapers to find the reality). And so on.

It's time this important nation was taken more seriously.

(This article appeared in the May 30, 2005 issue of The Japan Times)

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