Chinese prefer to use historical evidence in addition to legal arguments in defending her sovereignty and heritage claim simply because she had lost her sovereignty rights over cities, land, ports, rivers, islands and seas in the recent 200 years from 19th to 20th century as a victim of aggression. Only in the past few decades, China was able to stand up and defend her sovereignty interests with a voice. The return of Hong Kong to China by the U.K. in 1997 is the prominent example. Whereas any country having a dispute with China on territories typically will use arguments based on squatter’s claim, interpretation of international laws or bilateral treaties signed within last 200 years when China was a victim of aggression. The reason is very simple: The claimants in dispute with China can not argue in historical terms. Whatever happened to China's sovereignty in the recent 200 years were due to war-induced unequal treaties, forcing reparation of payments and ceding Chinese properties to the aggressors. Evidence of that include cities (examples, Qingdao, Shanghai, ...), land mass (examples, Manchuria, northeast of China, ...) and islands and seas (examples, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Penghu, Liujiu, Spratly and Paracel islands in the East and South China Seas).
China never exhibited ambition to control the China Seas nor the Pacific Ocean. In 15th century (Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644), China had the most advanced ship manufacturing and ocean faring technologies. The Ming Emperor, Yong-le, had commissioned (1405) Zheng He (1371-1433) to explore the world seven times commanding a large fleet of ships with sizes of 450 ft long and 180 ft wide dwarfing the flagship sailed by Columbus 4 to 1. (A side note: Several scientific evidences support that the Chinese arrived at North America way before Columbus did, reference: Understanding The United States and China, Dr. Ifay F. Chang, ISBN 0977159442 2016) Ming Emperor Yong-le, disappointed by no advanced civilization compared to China ever found by Zheng's explorations, ordered stopping any future exploration by forbidding construction of ocean faring ships and destroying the ocean maps so to conserve his national treasury demanded by other ambitious projects. (Moving the capital from Nanjing to Beijing, building the Forbidden City and reviving and extending the Grand Canal) Since then (late Ming and Qing Dynasties) pirates originated from Japan in the ECS and SCS occurred. However, post WW II till today neither navigation nor pirating troubles happened as indicated by low insurance rates in the ECS and SCS, comparing to Gulf of Aden and Suez (crossing cargo-ship surcharge ~$10000/day in addition to hull, cargo and collision insurance). China’s world trade depends on safe passages of cargo-ships; she must care more about freedom of navigation in SCS or ECS than the U.S. does. The shipping cost (distance and insurance) has motivated China to consider investing in new canals and building new ports. China’s One Belt and One Route (OBOR) program would certainly demand safety in transportation.
Although the U.S. was involved in the aggression against China during 19-20th century by the West, she did not occupy any land or sea properties from China other than being a party with the British forcing an international settlement zone in Shanghai, China. Later, Japan, being more vicious than the West Powers, launched an all-out war to conquer China (1937) which extended into WW II. The U.S. declared war (December 8, 1941) against Japan after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Thus, the U.S. and China were allies during WW II and partners in ending the war. The Republic of China (ROC), led by Chiang Kai-shek, was the recognized government of the war-torn China. Even though Post WW II, the ROC government lost the entire Chinese Mainland to the People's Republic of China (led by Mao Zedong) through people revolution and eventually retreated to Taiwan in 1949, the U.S. maintained her diplomatic relation with ROC and supported ROC’s claim on the sovereignty rights of SCS. In 1945, in accordance with the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations and with American help, the armed forces of ROC at Nanjing accepted the surrender of the Japanese garrisons in Taiwan, including the Paracel and Spratly Islands. On 6 November 1946, the ROC government sent four warships (provided by the U.S.), Taiping, Yongxing, Zhongjian and Zhongye, to the SCS to secure islands within the region. In commemoration of the islands being secured, one Spratly Island was named the Taiping island after the Tai-ping warship, two Paracel islands named Yongxing and Zhongjian and one Spratly island named Zhongye all under the administration of China’s Guangdong Province. Today, ROC controls Taiping with airport, hospital and school, PRC controls Yongxing with 1000 in population and modern facilities and Zhongjian whereas Philippines occupied Zhongye.
Okinawa was an independent state but became a tributary of China in 17th century when the Japanese invaded the Ryukyu Kingdom. In late 19th century, Japan went through Meiji Restoration becoming industrialized and militant. In 1879, Japan annexed Ryukyu and in 1895 seized Taiwan from China for 50 years. According to the Potsdam Declaration (7-26-1945) and San Francisco Peace Treaty (9-8-1951), Japan must surrender to the Allies, accept the judgments of the international military tribunal, and return all occupied territories back to the original States. Following Japan’s surrender, Ryukyu Islands were administered by the U.S. (9-2-1945) The U.S. offered the administration right of Okinawa and Diaoyu Islands to Japan in 1972 over the objection of both ROC and PRC and the Chinese people worldwide. Diaoyu islands, though very tiny not inhabitable like the other bigger islands, Taiwan and Penghu, are historically part of China. All Chinese (cross-strait and global) are emotionally defensive about China's sovereignty on Diaoyu Islands. Frequent demonstrations took place in the U.S. since 1972 till today whenever a controversial Japanese PM visited the U.S. Since China (PRC) was recognized by the UN, the U.S. and most countries in the world, the sovereignty issue in the ECS and SCS had become PRC's national security and territory interests under the One China Policy. The U.S. was aware of it, but she gradually shifted her "taking no position" position on China’s sovereignty (ECS and SCS) to fuzzy position from Dulles-Eisenhower era supporting a republic China but favoring ROC over PRC, to Kissinger-Nixon era re-normalizing relation with PRC but leaving Taiwan as a thorn on China’s thigh to Clinton-Obama era pivoting to AP but creating unnecessary tension in ECS and SCS.
The PRC-ROC cross-strait issue is a Chinese internal problem left unsolved from the Chinese revolution, interrupted by the Japanese invasion. Both governments to this day claim representation of the one entire China and sovereignty over Diaoyu Islands in ECS and the Spratly and Paracel islands in SCS as exhibited by their similar 9-dash and 11-dash ocean boundary lines. The U.S. had recognized the ROC 9-dash line as evidenced by her naval record but was changing her position because of her military strategy targeting China as an enemy. Whether or not this strategy is justifiable and profitable is debatable!
So far Trump had deviated from the traditional US position of ‘neither accept nor reject that Taiwan is a part of China’ and Tillerson had misstated international laws on China’s island building activities. The Tillerson-Trump team, both inexperienced in foreign policy, should face the challenge to define a coherent One China policy – a policy hopefully not targeting China as an enemy but cultivating a collaborative US-China relation for mutual benefits and world peace and a clear ECS and SCS policy that recognizes historical evidence, honors justice, and maintains peace and harmony in the AP Region. Based on recent observations, the present US Administration seems to be making a correction to the Obama-Clinton AP strategy. We genuinely hope that the Trump team can learn from history, trace the changing US perspectives and truly honor the One China she recognized to charter the course of US-China relation including ECS and SCS issues.
Ifay Chang. Ph.D. Producer/Host, Community Education - Scrammble Game Show, Weekly TV Columnist,www.us-chinaforum.org . Trustee, Somers Central School District.