Slow reading of Bill Hayton’s ‘ ‘South China Sea: the struggle for power in Asia’ means that the point in the book where Geoff Wade supplies evidence which undermines China’s historical claims to the area (24, 25,26) has only just been read. Almost a coincidence then that the confrontation with the Australian academic’s arguments took place almost simultaneously with an international tribunal in The Hague rejecting “China’s argument that it enjoys historic rights over most of the South China Sea” .
The reaction from Beijing was to be expected and it was quickly asserted that “the tribunal’s decision “is invalid and has no binding force,”. Nothing surprising here and in the context of international law China might even have a case. Nevertheless, the claim itself has to be based on something and that is why a defiant President Xi Jinping once again stressed China’s claim to the area “since ancient times.”
Now, re-writing the past to facilitate the CCP’s legitimacy at home is, of course, the norm. Or, how do you sell the Cultural Revolution and all the other shit that might be attributed to “Mr 70% good and 40% bad”, the 1989 massacre at Tiananmen, and the continued censorship, lack of freedom, dirty air, and the richer getting richer, and the poorer, poorer, to the population?
However, when the Chinese Communist Party draws on a doctrine of “historical rights”to claim “inherent and indisputable” sovereignty over much of the South China Sea, it is really time to worry, because it has been proven time and time again that the myth is always stronger than the history. Moreover, while the Chinese people might be coerced and, yes, even seduced by the myths at home, it is when these myths appear on the international scene that conflict becomes inevitable.