Don't turn back the clock to dark ages of imperialism

Who can disagree with Chinese President Xi Jinping's observation that "only those who are in the habit of threatening others will see everyone else as a threat" (China is no threat to other countries, says Xi; March 21)?

China's peaceful development has been welcomed by the world. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of its growing militarisation - and potential nuclearisation - of illegally reclaimed islands in the South China Sea over the last six years.

What constitutes "sacred" Chinese territory? It appears to be changing with the times to suit the Chinese Communist Party's ambitions.

As far as I know, China did not administer the South China Sea in ancient or recent times. Its vessels simply plied these global commons like those of other nations.

While the history of the Chinese civilisation is certainly illustrious in parts, it is patchy at large.

Never defined by a party or even race for that matter, but by different dynasties over time, it echoed a monarchic Europe before the French Revolution catalysed the distribution of power to the people in the form of universal suffrage - a socio-political nirvana that remains elusive in China even after more than 70 years of the "people's revolution" and socialism with Chinese characteristics.

As far as I know, China did not administer the South China Sea in ancient or recent times. Its vessels simply plied these global commons like those of other nations.

Indeed, history is filled with such perverse ironies.

This is probably why after two devastating world wars, many countries came together to form the United Nations and lay down a more predictable and stable framework for inter-state behaviour in a spirit of reconciliation and peace.

Many former colonies became independent as a result.

No supreme leader of any one country should be under any illusion that he can turn back the clock to those dark ages of imperialism and ride roughshod over other sovereign nations like his subjects at home.

Basic conscience ought to remind us never to do to others what we do not want others to do to us.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 25, 2018, with the headline 'Don't turn back the clock to dark ages of imperialism'. Print Edition | Subscribe