“Mozi and Foreign Policy”

Far from the Cultural Revolution extreme of trying to root out every vestige of ancient Chinese thought, today the proud claim to ‘5000 years of history’ is often repeated here. The Useless Tree examines claims by the government that they apply the principles of ancient philosopher Mozi to their foreign policy:

Ironically, the article invokes these ideas in reference to the recent tensions in the South China Sea. While it is nice to see a PRC analyst saying that China does not seek hegemony, it must be remembered that the PRC claims, effectively, the entirety of the South China Sea, a position that antagonizes several other countries in the region.

That claim, in its explicit challenge to long-standing territorial claims of other states, is violation the the Mohist principles mentioned in the CD article. It is inherently offensive.

But I want to turn this in another direction: toward Taiwan.

If the PRC is really serious about embracing the Mohist aversion to offensive warfare, then consistency would demand that it renounce the use of force in its dealings with Taiwan. Such a renunciation is not forthcoming, as fas as I know.

Mozi is fundamentally against killing as an instrument of foreign policy:

If someone kills one man, he is condemned as unrighteous and must pay for his crime with his own life. According to this reasoning, if someone kills ten men, then he is ten times as unrighteous and should pay for his crime with ten lives, or if he kills a hundred men he is a hundred times as unrighteous and should pay for his crime with a hundred lives.

Now all gentlemen in the world know enough to condemn such crimes and brand them as unrighteous. And yet when it comes to the even greater unrighteousness of offensive warfare against other states, they do not know enough to condemn it. On the contrary, they praise it and call it righteous. Truly they do not know what righteousness is…. (51)

This would apply to the de facto independent state of Taiwan, which a mainland government has ruled for only about 3.5 years out of the last 116. The prospect of large-scale human losses in any attack on the island should, according to Mohist principles, rule out as “unrighteous” any such plan.

Moreover, the expansion of PRC military capabilities, a good portion of which is aimed at Taiwan, also runs afoul of Mozi. Here’s a passage from part 3 of his chapter “Against Offensive Warfare” (Watson, 54-55):

When a state which delights in aggressive warfare raises an army, it must have several hundred high officers, several thousand regular officers, and a hundred thousand soldiers, before it can set out. The time required fore the expedition will be several years at the longest, several months at the least. During that time the leaders will have no time to attend to affairs of government, the officials no time to manage their departments of state, the farmers no time to sow or reap, the women no time to spin or weave. So in this case the state will lose its fighting men and the common people will be forced to abandon their occupations….

In other words, beyond the immorality of coercive violence, militarization distorts the polity, economy and society in ways that undermine the common good. There’s really nothing good that come of it.

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Filed under China, South China Sea

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