China and Vietnam

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Sunday, May 18, 2014


CHINA and Vietnam figured prominently in my activist days. (And also Nicaragua.) When one is waging a nationalist and democratic struggle against an imperialist and an authoritarian ruler, one always looks for models. Triumphant revolutionaries of these states are inspirations.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has adopted to local conditions the ideology of the old Chinese Communist Party (CPP): Marxism Leninism-Maoism (formerly Mao Zedong Thought). Local communists considered the situation in China before the revolution there was won in 1949 as similar to the Philippines.

So when I was younger, I brushed up on Chinese history. I lapped up, for example, stories on the legendary Long March, Mao’s application of the “one step backward, two steps forward” admonition.

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I would imagine the heroic scenes of the CCP forces’ retreat from Jiangxi in October 1934 until they reached Yan’an in October 1935. Consider this: of the 86,000 people that crossed 18 mountain ranges and 24 rivers, only around 8,000 survived. But it steeled them in the struggle. Some 14 years after that, Chiang Kai-shek was toppled.

I read Mao’s book of quotations, “The Little Red Book,” and many of his writings.

While the prose of Karl Marx ensured that I couldn’t go beyond a few pages of his work, those of Mao made me want for more. Until now, I still google at times “On Contradiction” and “On Practice.”

I also remember getting hold of a book about the legendary Vietnamese general Vo Nguyan Giap. It was an interesting read because it narrated major battles (remember the failed Tet offensive of 1968?) and interesting strategy and tactics as the Vietnamese fought the French and later the Americans.

The so-called “tunnel warfare” was particularly enlightening while the struggle’s psychological aspect was riveting. The creativity was amazing, too. Imagine putting lighted cigarettes into the mouths of frogs and stealthily tying the frogs on the fence of American detachments at night. The noise the frogs made had the “enemies” losing sleep.

Now, China and Vietnam are once more in conflict (in 1979, China invaded Vietnam but retreated after 29 days). The recent one was sparked by the Chinese decision to bring an oil rig into the Paracel Islands, an area in the South China Sea that is also claimed by the Vietnamese. The confrontation hasn’t turned violent yet, although Vietnam claimed its ships were rammed by Chinese vessels and hit with water cannons.

Vietnam has ties with Russia, but so too China. This rift could therefore lead to an ironic situation where Vietnam would be forced to move closer to the US, its former enemy. As Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu would say, the enemy of your enemy is your friend.

It also seems to be bringing Vietnam closer to the Philippines. President Noynoy Aquino has said he may talk with Vietnamese leaders to tackle their common concern: China’s activities in South China Sea. I reckon leaders of the Philippines and Japan have discussed China in the past. Japan and China claim ownership over Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands.

This means that countries that have territorial conflicts with China are moving towards a unified response to the giant’s recent initiatives (recently, the Philippines has accused China of building an airstrip in the disputed Mabini Reef).

China has favored bilateral talks in resolving the conflict. But that would be like a bully negotiating with a wimp. Countries in conflict with China should forge a unity so they can be in a position of strength in any negotiation.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 19, 2014.

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