Revisionists claim that China is not war-like, that it never invades neighbors, like the Malays. History belies that. In 1293 Kublai Khan of the Yuan Dynasty tried to subjugate Java, seat of the emergent Majapahit Empire, now part of Indonesia. In the past 2,000 years China has coveted surrounding riches.
Kublai Khan dispatched 30,000 foot and horsemen in 1,000 junks to take Java. It was a punitive expedition against King Kertanegara, who had refused to pay tribute and maimed one of Beijing’s ministers. The conquest failed. Eighteen thousand of Kublai Khan’s soldiers, including 3,000 elite Mongol warriors, were decimated. Untold number of sea craft were destroyed. The equal Malay force consisted of farmer conscripts. The Majapahit was in the midst of revolt. But their mastery of the terrain and superior navy – boats over 50 meters long, double the Chinese junks – prevailed. Kublai Khan demoted his cavalry, infantry, and navy generals for the defeat. The following year he formed an army three times larger for a second invasion. But his death overtook the plan. Still explorer Ibn Battuta, Franciscan missionary Odorico Matiussi, and Malay chieftain Aria Adikara recorded several more foiled Chinese landings.
Successive Chinese dynasties subsumed Vietnam. First was from the Han to the Tang rule, for more than a thousand years, 111 BC to 938 AD. Constantly revolting, the Vietnamese routed the colonizers at the Battle of Bach Dang River. Again Vietnam was occupied for 20 years, Ming Dynasty, 1407-1427, until Le Loi’s uprising. China’s communists held Vietnam briefly a third time in 1979, but retreated under heavy casualties.
Myanmar too was occupied during the Ming Dynasty. The Qing Dynasty invaded and was repulsed four times.
Eight Chinese dynasties invaded Korea. Pretexts ranged from territorial expansion to exaction of tributes. The first time China held Korea was for four centuries, begun by the Han Empire. The latest invasion was in June 1950, when 300,000 Chinese soldiers fought United Nations forces and halved Korea into North and South. To this day China is the foremost sponsor of communist North Korea.
Twice, in 1274 and 1281, the Yuan Dynasty tried to conquer Japan. Both times it failed. Thousands of ships invaded from the mainland, but were caught in typhoon: “kamikaze” or divine wind, the Japanese call it. Trapped in Japan the invading armies were slaughtered.
Thrice China militarily has aggressed India. First was an incursion in 1962, then the Chola confrontation in 1967, and the skirmishes in 1987. Months ago New Delhi protested China’s penetration ten kilometers deep into Indian territory; Beijing claimed its border patrol only got lost.
Tibet was a neighboring empire since the 7th century. Invading in 1720, China’s last Qing Dynasty was expelled in the Xinhai Revolution of 1911. But in 1950 Beijing’s new communist rulers returned and annexed the land. When the Lhasa Revolt was crushed nine years later the Tibetan leader or Dalai Lama was forced into exile. Beijing redrew China’s map to include Tibet.
China’s expansionism has not ceased. In 2009 it claimed to own the entire South China Sea by unfounded “historic right” and “nine-dash line map.” Ignoring the exclusive economic zones of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, it lets its fishermen poach in their waters. It also claims historically to own the Senkaku Islands and Okinawa. In 2011 it attempted to enforce air and sea defense identification zones in the South and the East China Seas. Neighbor countries were instructed to inform Chinese authorities of flights and sails or else, but stopped only when Western naval powers flew bombers. In 2016 it began deploying from Hainan province a maritime militia to spy on and harass foreign vessels, among other naval missions.
Beijing has occupied the Philippines’ Scarborough Shoal, and concreted seven reefs into island fortresses in the EEZ. Of late it has tried to grab Sandy Cay off Palawan’s Pag-asa Island and the oil- and gas-rich Recto Bank.
China also is grabbing Vietnam’s Paracels and rams Vietnamese fishing boats in the archipelago.
Beijing is transforming Indochina’s Mekong River into a flashpoint. It divides ASEAN by getting Laos and Cambodia to aid its hydropower dam-building spree. As China electrifies its southern provinces, river flow will be choked, dirtied, and lessened. Threatened downstream are rice exporting Vietnam and Thailand, which depend on the river for drinking water, farming, and fisheries.