In “P-Noy made right call in West Philippine Sea dispute” (Opinion, Inquirer, 6/14/13), Hermenegildo C. Cruz wrote that “China has a record of using force in settling border disputes with its neighbors.” Cruz failed to mention the more numerous instances in which China settled its border disputes through peaceful negotiations.
China signed a boundary treaty with Burma in 1960, and through this treaty Burma secured the territory it had been claiming all along, except for a few square miles difference (Francis Watson, “Frontiers of China,” 1966). In 1961, China and Nepal signed a boundary treaty, in which both sides agreed to use the “traditional customary line” for delineating the boundary (Watson, pp. 134, 137). In 1962, China settled its boundary with Mongolia, abandoning the majority of its territorial claims in favor of the Mongolians (Alastair Lamb, “Asian Frontiers: Studies in a Continuing Problem,” 1968).
After the 1963 agreement with Pakistan, China withdrew from 750 square miles of territory which it controlled (Watson, p. 166), in effect abandoning much of its claims. The boundary treaty signed in 1963 with Afghanistan also indicated that China accepted the existing watershed frontier at the area of the Pamir trijunction (Watson, pp. 139, 168).
China has settled boundary disputes peacefully with smaller states, and on all these occasions has given up nearly all of its territorial claims. On the other hand, it has engaged in armed clashes with larger states like India and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) which refused to negotiate the boundaries drawn during the imperialist era. This pattern of behavior does not seem to fit the “schoolyard bully” label that Cruz has given China.
Cruz mentioned the 1969 China-USSR border clashes but failed to mention that China signed a border treaty with the USSR in 1991, and another treaty with Russia in 1994. China also negotiated boundary settlements with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (Eric Hyer, “China-Russia Relations,” Encyclopedia of Modern Asia). China and Vietnam signed a Land Border Treaty in 1999, and an agreement on the demarcation of the Gulf of Tonkin in 2000 (Ramses Amer, “China-Vietnam Relations,” Encyclopedia of Modern Asia, Vol. 2). It was Vietnam which first proposed official negotiations with China regarding the Gulf of Tonkin (Nguyen Hong Thao, “Maritime Delimitation and Fishery Cooperation in the Gulf of Tonkin,” Ocean Development & International Law, 2005). In the end, Vietnam got 53.23 percent of the Gulf area, while China got 46.77 percent. This ratio is about 1.135:1, in favor of Vietnam, despite the fact that the ratio of the coastlines of Vietnam and China in the Gulf is 1.1:1 (Nguyen, p. 29).
In other instances, Cruz seems to be misinformed. He called the 1979 China-Vietnam war a “Punishment Border War,” but the actual cause was Vietnamese intervention in Cambodia in December 1978 (L. Shelton Woods, “Chinese Influence in Southeast Asia,” Encyclopedia of Modern Asia, Vol. 2). Cruz also presented the Tibet issue as a border dispute, which is quite strange. The Tibet issue of 1950 was a matter of China reestablishing control over Tibet. No major state recognized Tibet, and Tibet’s only sponsor when it appealed to the United Nations in 1950 over its “invasion” by China was El Salvador. Even a US State Department spokesperson noted in 1999 that since 1942, the United States has regarded Tibet as part of China (Barry Sautman, “Tibet: Myths and Realities,” Current History, 2001). Another possible “historic first” by Cruz was his presentation of China’s involvement in the Korean War as one of China’s border disputes.
National defense is important, but the crucial foundation of national defense is correct identification of friend and foe. The Philippines once thought that an enemy was a friend who would respect its independence. The Philippine government should now avoid committing the opposite
error—turning a still salvageable friend into a dedicated enemy.
Daniel Ong describes himself as a physician and a student of history.