More Fake Soft Power for China

“Asia-Pacific Institute of International Law.” Here surely is a weighty institution whose members include leading lawyers from around the Asia-Pacific region, from China to Canada, Melbourne to Manila ready to offer a forum for discussion of issues such as the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea and its application in the region.

Well, think again. The grandiose title hides a new piece of China’s vast and well-funded international united front operation, now particularly active in the Asia-Pacific as it attempts to neutralize the stinging rebukes handed to Beijing by the Permanent Court of Arbitration for its aggression and in and despoliation of the South China Sea, a sea whose coastline is largely inhabited by non-Chinese.

This correspondent was led to the APIIL by an article in the Hong Kong newspaper the South China Morning Post by Daniel R. Fung who was described as the organization’s “founding president.” The intitute was registered in Hong Kong in April this year and is described as a company “limited by guarantee.”

Fung is in fact a former Hong Kong Solicitor-General – the number two legal post in the government – and current or former member of many government and Beijing-related organisations. He also a leading united front activist on the international stage being Chairman of the United Nations Development Program’s Peace and Development Foundation, a member of the Board of Governors of the East West Center in Hawaii, and a Council Member of the International Institute of Strategic Studies.

These prestigious posts have not prevented him from peddling lies, half -truths and Chinese racist assumptions on the subject of the UNCLOS and the regional seas. Far from supporting UNCLOS and the international legal mechanisms attached to it, this lawyer is doing his best to undermine them as Beijing dictates.

Fung’s underlying ethnocentricity is indicated by the fact that at no point does he even mention the non-Chinese people of these seas, let alone their two millennia-plus of sailing and trading in these seas and westward to India, Arabia and Africa. Instead he repeats the Beijing inventions of history without giving any sources. Thus “the islands have been visited annually since time immemorial by Chinese fishermen” on an annual basis and “Chinese claims date back to the 15th century.”

In fact, Filipino, Indonesian, Vietnamese and other fishermen from the littoral nations have been plying these seas since long before the 15th century and there are records to prove it.

One must suppose that this lawyer also believes – or at any rate will spread Beijing’s nonsense -- that Taiwan has been part of China for millennia. Ignorance of history is no excuse for repeating lies.

Fung is all too typical of Chinese inability to regard their southern neighbours as real people who were sailing these seas a thousand and more years before the 15th century – and long before any evidence of Chinese doing likewise. But as one who as solicitor general in Hong Kong did nothing to enforce laws supposed to protect foreign domestic helpers – almost all from the Philippines and Indonesia – from exploitation such attitudes to these “barbarians” is not surprising. His disdain for them is such that he dismisses out of hand any claim by Vietnam despite its proximity, the trading record of Vietnam’s Cham people, and despite the fact that Vietnam’s French rulers claimed them in the 1930s – before China.

Fung cites agreements between western powers made without consultation with the people of occupied Vietnam and the Philippines as though these people should be of no account. He even repeats what he must know to be, in the context, untrue. Thus he deliberately refers to the Cairo Declaration of 1943 reference returning all Japanese-occupied Chinese territory to China.

But neither the Spratlys nor Paracels were mentioned – they could not have been as they were claimed by France. He also refers to nationalist China’s “recovery” of the Spratlys when it never controlled them beforehand.

In short, Fung is using his position on international boards and legal groupings to spread China’s anti-historical claims and racist assumptions about the 500 million non-Chinese people of maritime southeast Asia. So lawyers of the region beware this Beijing propagandist and his AIIL. Throw real history back in the face of such smooth-talking liars, and the western lawyers and academics bought with Chinese largesse.