In a 2015 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), declared: “The Nansha [Spratly] Islands have been China’s territory since ancient times. This is fully backed by historical and legal evidence.”1 While many of China’s neighbors may disagree about the veracity of the “evidence” cited by Xi, his pronouncement highlights the importance PRC policymakers place on historical precedent. History is not merely a list of dates and events. Instead, history, when properly interpreted, is the basis of a narrative that forms and justifies the PRC’s strategic actions. Regardless of whether the narrative is historically accurate from a Western viewpoint, it is crucial to be aware of it and to understand its role in PRC strategic decision making.
1. Full Transcript: Interview With Chinese President Xi Jinping, Wall Street Journal, 22 September 2015.
2. These three millennia plus the two millennia of the Common Era (CE) are the basis of the frequently asserted claim of “5,000 years of Chinese history.”
3. “Off the Charts: Why Chinese Publishers Don’t Want Maps in Their Books,” South China Morning Post, 19 May 2018.
4. “China May Bring in New Law to Punish Those Who Slander National Heroes,” South China Morning Post, 22 December 2017.
5. William A. Callahan, “National Insecurities: Humiliation, Salvation, and Chinese Nationalism,” Alternatives: Global, Local, Political 29, no. 2 (Mar–May 2004): 202.
6. Callahan, “National Insecurities,” 203.
7. Zheng Wang, “National Humiliation, History Education, and the Politics of Historical Memory: Patriotic Education Campaign in China,” International Studies Quarterly 52 (2008): 784.
8. Wang, “National Humiliation, History Education, and the Politics of Historical Memory,” 788–89.
9. Callahan, “National Insecurities,” 205.
10. Callahan, “National Insecurities,” 800.
11. Yu Rubo and Liu Qing, “Lectures on China’s Historical Strategic Thought” (Beijing: Academy of Military Science Press, 2013), 201–12.
12. Yu and Liu, “Lectures on China’s Historical Strategic Thought,” 206.
13. She Hongyan, “The Historical Development of ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’ View of Maritime Strategy,” Management Observer 598/35 (December 2015): 41.
14. In response to the PRC’s ongoing development of military facilities in the South China Sea, the United States disinvited PRC military forces from the 2018 RimPac exercise. The action resulted in a tremendous loss of both international and domestic “face” by China.
15. “China’s Xi Jinping Rejects Any Action Based on International Court’s South China Sea Ruling,” South China Morning Post, 12 July 2016.
16. “China’s Xi Jinping Rejects Any Action,” South China Morning Post.