April 5, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 9877

Chinese Intellectual Sun Liping: If Russia's Security Concerns Can Be 'Justified,' Then 'Japan's Invasion Of China Can Be Justified' Too

April 5, 2022
Russia, China | Special Dispatch No. 9877

On March 13, 2022, Sun Liping (孙立平), a renowned professor at Tsinghua University, published an article, titled "Russia's Security Concerns: If This Reason Is Tenable, Then The Reason For Japanese Invasion Of China Back Then Can Hold Water," condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Yet, the article is no longer available online, as the Chinese authorities deleted it from the Chinese social media[1]

Sun Liping wrote: "The security concerns of one state cannot justify waging war against another sovereign state. If this reason can be justified, then Japan’s invasion of China can be justified, and the reason why Tsarist Russia occupied a large area of Chinese territory in the history of China can be justified as well."

Below is the Sun Liping's article:

(Source: Instagram)

'Today's Russia Is The Metamorphosis Of And Successor To The Tsarist Empire'

"Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, one issue that has come up frequently is the question of Russian security, or Russian security concerns. This is Russia's rationale for going to war, and it's a bone of contention.

"Security concerns: is this a legitimate reason, or is it just a deliberately made up excuse? If there is an actual sense of insecurity in Russia, is it based on reality, or is it purely based on imagination?

"I want to discuss the problem as objectively as possible.

"You may have noticed that I have mentioned Russia's imperial legacy a number of times in previous articles. Today's Russia is the metamorphosis of and successor to the Tsarist Empire. "But it is important to realize that along with its empire, Russia also inherited its troubles. More specifically, the troubles of the empire which Russia is encountering today.

"An empire, taken in a less strict sense, is a state with an emperor as its sovereign, usually a vast territory with vassal states, and a dominant position in a particular cultural region. The vast territories were often acquired by campaigns or other means of conquest. This determines two important characteristics of the empire: first, the population is diverse with a low degree of integration. The second is the constant change and ambiguity of the external boundary.

"It can be said that these are the two weak spots, or flaws, that many empires will inevitably have.

What Russia now faces is both of these troubles from its imperial legacy. This is also the historical origin of its so-called security concerns.

"We know that, apart from the earlier, more chaotic history, the Russian Empire began in the Grand Duchy of Moscow. The grand duchy (or duchy) here can be roughly understood as a vassal state, with the monarch known by the title of grand duke.

"The Grand Duchy of Moscow was formed by Grand Duke Vladimir at the end of the 13th century, and named after its capital, Moscow. How big was the Grand Duchy of Moscow at that time? It was about 1300 square kilometers, which is about 1/200th the size of Hulunbuir City in Inner Mongolia, China and 1/13,000 of the area of Russia today. Until the mid-16th century, when Ivan IV was crowned tsar, Russia was a small empire with only 2.8 million square kilometers of territory.

"In the heyday of the Russian Empire, its territory reached 25 million square kilometers, about 19,000 times that of the Grand Duchy of Moscow. After the establishment of the Soviet Union, although some land was lost, it still covered 22.4 million square kilometers. When Putin and [anti-liberal philosopher Alexander] Dugin accuse the Soviet Union of losing some land during the Soviet era, this is precisely what they are referring to.

'Such A Large Country With Strong Internal Heterogeneity Can Only Be Maintained Through A Unified Ideology And Centralized System'

"In today’s parlance, this would be called wild growth.

"The massive expansion of territory at such a rate was, of course, the result of war and conquest. In the process, some diverse ethnic groups became part of the empire. Many of them were forced to join with bloodshed and deadly hatred. I have not found out how many ethnic minorities there were in the heyday of the Tsarist Russian Empire, and in fact I can't find out, because there was no ethnic identification at that time. What we do know is that in Russia today, there are 194 ethnic groups. By the way, among the 194 ethnic groups in Russia, there is no Han ethnic group, but there is one called the Chinese ethnic group (华人族), with a population of more than 28,000 people, accounting for about 0.02% of the national population.

"Such a complex ethnic composition led to strong internal heterogeneity, resulting in a low degree of internal integration. During the Soviet Union, there were 53 subdivisions, including 15 republics, 20 autonomous republics, 8 autonomous prefectures, and 10 ethnic regions. Within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, there were 16 ethnic autonomous republics, 5 ethnic autonomous prefectures and 10 ethnic autonomous regions, 4 of which were co-autonomous between two ethnic groups.

"Such a large country with strong internal heterogeneity can only be maintained through a unified ideology and centralized system. To explain it with the concept I put forward in the 1990s: if a country has a low level of social integration, it can only be replaced by political integration. But for all that, such states are fragile.

"Therefore, it is understandable that even after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union’s successor, Russia, is still plagued by the obsession with a national separatist movement. In fact, even during the Soviet era, national autonomous bodies strove for their independence or autonomy whenever possible. The disintegration of the Soviet Union has further stimulated the national separatism movement within Russia. Chechnya and the Tatars once refused to pay taxes to the Russian Federation treasury; Chechnya's independence movement initiated two armed conflicts between Chechnya and the Russian Federation, which have not been completely settled to this day.

'Russia [Has] A Delicate Psychology: Both Arrogant And Insolent, Yet Also Self-Abasing And Fearful'

"In this way, we can understand why Russia, though a behemoth, has such a strong sense of insecurity. Another source of this insecurity is external. As we all know, Russia is referred to as the 'polar bear.' In people’s minds, Russia is as big, aloof, and fierce as a polar bear. As a result, the smaller countries around Russia naturally fear it and avoid it as much as possible. The so-called eastward enlargement of NATO, as far as Western countries are concerned, may have the implication of expansion, but those small countries that are trying to join NATO are only looking for a protective umbrella. In Russian parlance, that is also their security concern.

"That makes Russia a unique yet awkward presence in the world. A few days ago, I wrote an article, titled 'Explaining What I Mean by Saying 'Russia is Both Too Big and Too Small',' about this awkward situation. To borrow the words of a netizen: 'Being big makes it unwilling to be second to others, while being small makes it impossible to display its ambitions.' This awkward reality, coupled with the entanglement of historical grievances, has created in Russia a delicate psychology: both arrogant and insolent, yet also self-abasing and fearful.

"What's more troubling is that in the long history of the empire, including in the Soviet era, whether it was a natural process or an artificial process, an ethnic mixing situation has formed in many regions. This is true not only within Russia, but also among the independent states that broke away from the Soviet Union. For example, Crimea and the Donbas regions at the center of the conflict are already heavily Russian, but also home to a sizable Ukrainian population and other ethnic groups as well. We can expect that even if there is a resolution to this conflict, we will see trouble in the future.

"To summarize the point of view of this article:

"First, Russia’s security concerns are not entirely an illusory fantasy; they do indeed exist. But then again, these security concerns have both past causes and future ramifications. It would oversimplify and even distort matters to emphasize that security concerns are legitimate as long as a country has them, without considering the causality that leads to them.

"Second, there is in fact no value or ideological barrier between Russia and the West. Now the biggest problem is that Russia wants to integrate with the West but cannot in its current state. It is both too big and too small, which puts it at an unfavorable position in the real international order.

"Third, the security concerns of one state cannot justify waging war against another sovereign state. If this reason can be justified, then Japan’s invasion of China can be justified, and the reason why Tsarist Russia occupied a large area of Chinese territory in the history of China can be justified as well."


[1], March 13, 2022.

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