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Beijing has irredentist claims on all its borders and over all the waters that wash onto its shores. Indeed, it claims about 80 percent of the South China Sea, including the Spratlys and Paracels, which are on a broad plateau up to 1,600 km from China’s eastern coastline. For its part, China insists on a “sacred duty” to recover and reunify what it perceives as “lost” territories.

Besides Taiwan, China claims India’s state of Arunachal Pradesh, which it calls South Tibet, or Zangnan. In 2006, China’s ambassador to India declared the “whole state of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory … we are claiming all of that. That is our position.”

In a challenge to its most powerful neighbor, Japan, Beijing claims the Senkaku Islands, which it calls the Diaoyu. These consist of eight small, uninhabited volcanic islets in the East China Sea within 120 nautical miles of Taiwan and 200 nm of Okinawa.

An insistence on sovereignty over the South and East China Seas incited disputing parties to apply treaties that China has approved in order to resolve jurisdictional conflicts. To this end, The Hague Arbitral panel declared that China’s excessive claims to resource jurisdiction of the South China Sea has no basis in the Law of the Sea Treaty. Driven by an obsessive desire to fulfill a singular sense of geographical destiny, Beijing ignored the panel’s findings that its historic rights arguments were legally unsound.

Meanwhile, on its border with India, China has moved to take a mile while appearing to give back an inch on its claim to all of Arunachal Pradesh. This was backed up by probing moves into Sikkim while improving infrastructure near disputed areas that have military as well as commercial uses.

For its part, New Delhi deployed two additional army divisions and two air force squadrons to positions near its border with China. Despite its own actions, Beijing denounced India’s recent troop movements and insisted there will be no “compromises in its border disputes with India.”

Concerning its maritime claims, since China is not an archipelago country it has no legal basis to extend its continental shelf to claim natural resources in stretches of open water. As it is, Beijing’s assertions overlap the continental shelves of the Philippines and Vietnam. By claiming sovereignty over the Spratlys, it can apply the 200-nm economic zone, and it will do so regardless of recognized limits of other littoral countries.

Another ruse to consolidate claims over its border with the Koreas involves an egregious distortion of the past. Beijing published books and articles known as the “Northeastern Project” asserting that much of Korea’s ancient history began in China. This attempt to rewrite history met with official objections from Seoul and Korean learned societies, which demanded Beijing put the kingdom of Koguryo in proper historical perspective.

The claim is that the geographic overlapping of two Korean kingdoms with northeastern China implies they belong to China’s ancient history. It is likely that the incident is part of a well-orchestrated and purposeful attempt to increase China’s political influence in Northeast Asia. It also reflects concern over large numbers of ethnic Koreans living in the northeastern Chinese provinces of Laoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang that were granted considerable autonomy during the early 1950s.

On the face of it, fudging an historical moment might seem small potatoes. But territorial claims based on history have enormous strategic political and diplomatic importance.

If Beijing successfully creates fake history to extend its borders, it can then rigorously apply its doctrine of “absolute sovereign rights,” which is a central tenet of its foreign policy. Under this dogma, it rejects outside criticisms about events or policies within its declared borders and refuses to compromise on this point regardless of the consequences.

As it is, Beijing insists that other countries exercise the highest standards of historical probity. For example, Chinese media and diplomatic channels have been used to criticize the content of Japanese history textbooks. Beijing is blatantly hypocritical in insisting on others engage in correct renderings of past deeds and misdeeds. Significantly, Beijing rejects interpretations of the Law of the Sea Treaty that contradict its aims, yet applies the logic of the treaty to support its own territorial claims.

But hypocrisy, duplicity and deception are recognized skills and among the most valuable tools of international diplomacy. Ignoring Chinese intent and ability to wield these dark arts to promote the interests of the Middle Kingdom comes with great peril.

To extend its reach across maritime Asia, China developed a “string of pearls” consisting of naval bases, commercial ports and listening posts. These include port facilities in Bangladesh, radar and refueling stations in Myanmar, a deepwater port in Gwadar, Pakistan, and access to the port of Hambontota in Sri Lanka. More recently, it has gone further afield by constructing a naval facility in Djibouti, within a few miles of America’s largest military base in Africa.

Given these steps, it remains to be seen whether China’s insistence on being engaged in a “peaceful rise” will be contradicted by its future actions. While Beijing invites ridicule for making weak or baseless territorial claims, the rest of the world should note it is deadly serious in defending them.

Christopher Lingle is a research scholar at the Center for Civil Society in New Delhi and a visiting professor of economics at Universidad Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala.

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