Is China an Imperialist nation?

Mar 28, 2024
Taihe Hall of Forbidden City China

I was recently sent a complete list of China’s invasions of other countries in the last 2,245 years to demonstrated that China is historically an imperial nation and hence dangerous.

Here is the list:

• 221 BCQin invade Vietnam
• 218 BCQin invade Vietnam
• 111 BCHan invade Vietnam
• 43Han invade Vietnam
• 544Chen (Wu) invade Vietnam
• 598-614 Sui launch four invasions
• 602Sui invade Vietnam
• 626 Tang invade Korea
• 640Tang invade Xinjiang (Karakhoja)
• 644Tang invade Xinjiang (Karasahr)
• 648Tang invade Xinjiang (Karasahr)
• 645-648 Tang invade Korea
• 657Tang invade Western Turkic Khaganate
• 661 Tang invade Korea
• 668Tang invade Korea
• 938Southern Han invade Vietnam
• 981Song invade Vietnam
• 1231 Yuan invade Korea
• 1240Yuan invade Tibet
• 1247Yuan invade Korea
• 1251Yuan invade Korea
• 1257Yuan invade Korea
• 1274 Yuan invade Japan
• 1277Yuan invade Myanmar
• 1281 Yuan invade Japan
• 1283Yuan invade Vietnam
• 1285Yuan invade Vietnam
• 1287Yuan invade Myanmar
• 1293Yuan invade Indonesia (Java)
1407Ming invade Vietnam
• 1427Ming invade Vietnam
• 1537Ming invade Vietnam
• 1627 Qing invade Korea
• 1636 Qing invade Korea
• 1644Qing invade Korea
• 1683Qing invade Xinjiang, Tibet (Dzungar Khanate)
• 1693Qing invade Mongolia
• 1720Qing invade Tibet
• 1750Qing invade Tibet
• 1788Qing invade Tibet
• 1788Qing invade Nepal
• 1789Qing invade Vietnam
• 1910Qing invade Tibet
• 1950PRC invades Tibet
• 1962PRC invades India (Ladakh)
• 1979PRC invades Vietnam

That is an impressive list but if we go back 2,000 years every ancient nation and civilisation went through imperial phases (i.e., attacked others). That does not prove their present intent.

For instance, The First Opium War (1839-1842) involved Britain attacking China’s Qing dynasty and extracting the Treaty of Nanking. Consequently, China ceded Hong Kong Island to Britain and opened five treaty ports for foreign trade. Many other foreign powers extracted similar concessions from weak Chinese emperors.

During the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901), an alliance of eight nations invaded China. These nations were Japan, Germany, Britain, Russia, France, Italy, United States and Austria-Hungary. In the early 1930s, Japan occupied much of northeastern China. The full-scale invasion of China by Japan began in 1937, leading to eight years of devastating warfare that cost up to 20 million Chinese lives.
China now refers to the period between the mid-1800s and the mid-1900s as its “century of humiliation” and vows never to be invaded again.

The list of Chinese invasions confirms that China has not invaded any nation since 1979 which is 45 years ago. By contrast during this period America and Russia occupied or overthrew several nations. The USA – Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Russia – Afghanistan, Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine.

The history of the four Chinese invasions listed after 1789 is extensively covered by Wikipedia and many other sources. What stands out is that:

Tibet was part of China before the Chinese Communist Party reasserted control over it in 1951. Both the Qing Dynasty and the Peoples Republic Of China (Kuomintang) claimed it was part of China. Also, no nation ever recognised Tibet as a sovereign state independent of China. Nor does any nation now recognise Tibet as having a government in exile.

The Chinese invasion of India (Ladakh province) in 1962 was a military escalation of the Sino-Indian border dispute following India’s refusal to reach a diplomatic agreement on the Dalai Lama who had fled Tibet. The conflict ended after a month with China unilaterally declaring a ceasefire and simultaneously withdrawing to its pre-war border.

The China invasion of Vietnam in 1979 also lasted only a month. It was in response to Vietnam’s invasion and occupation of Cambodia which was a military ally of China. Notwithstanding Vietnam refusing to withdraw from Cambodia after overthrowing its government, China quickly withdrew from Vietnam and now has good relations with it.

None of these wars suggest China wants to invade neighbouring nations let alone occupy them.

As for Taiwan, for the past 50 years, the West under the One China Policy has recognised Taiwan as being part of China, not a sovereign state. It would be tragic if China invaded this thriving democracy, but I doubt it will because as China’s longest serving ambassador to Washington said recently – Beijing will not fall into a trap of “someone” starting a war in the Taiwan Strait. “We certainly don’t want to see a situation where Chinese are killing Chinese”

Also, China is the world’s largest trading nation so would suffer greatly if a war over Taiwan resulted in it being sanctioned by the West and cut off from its markets.
The claim that China is a military threat seems to have three layers:
1.   China is plotting to invade neighbouring nations,
2.   China is skirmishing with boundary nations, and
3.   China is trying to establish foreign military bases.

This article deals with the first. Future articles will deal with the latter two.

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