The Tao is very simple, and the fallacy is very “complex”
—– Why should we unequivocally condemn aggression?
A few days ago, I saw Chinese compatriots in Ukraine complained that some people in the domestic network made insulting jokes on Ukraine, saying that they wanted to “host” Ukrainian girls, which was quickly translated into Ukrainian, causing the indignation of Ukrainian people and transferring the anger towards Chinese overseas Chinese in Ukraine, which caused them to be cursed and their vehicles to be smashed. I think the trouble is caused by these scum without conscience, but the speech insulting Ukraine in China is mainly caused by the artificially controlled public opinion environment in China and the biased reports of the official media. In addition, the authorities refused to condemn the Russian aggression and publicly defended it, saying that the reasons for the Russian invasion of Ukraine were “very complex”; therefore, some people pry into “intention of the leader” and make extreme remarks. However, the authorities’ dilemma in diplomacy and inconsistencies in diplomatic statements are rooted in the lack of civilized value foundation in foreign policy and its guiding ideology.
When the United States and other western countries evacuated overseas citizens, the Chinese embassy did not call on the Chinese to evacuate. At the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Chinese Embassy suggested that the Chinese people stick the Chinese flag on their cars. This move is an extremely wrong signal, which is tantamount to saying: welcome Russian army! Can we understand like this? Certainly. Is the Chinese flag posted for Ukrainians to see? Chinese expatriates have lived there for many years, and most of them live in harmony with the local people. Did they start to hate the Chinese people as soon as Russia invaded? Obviously not. That’s for the Russian army. It means that I’m Chinese (I’m friendly), please don’t hit me. This is a hypothetical situation. The Russian army has invaded. Its meaning is to hope the Russian army come in and to believe that the Russian army can come in. “You can shoot Ukrainians, but you should see my flag clearly. I’m not Ukrainian.” This meaning will obviously annoy the people of the host country.
This is obviously not a technical error, but a problem of values. This is the attitude towards Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Is it just? Is it in conformity with international law? Does it conform to the rules of human civilization? Putin made a speech on the eve of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, including the historical reasons for the Russian invasion; the problems of undemocratic and corruption in Ukraine itself; NATO’s eastward expansion poses a threat to Russia, Ukrainian politics is manipulated by western countries, and so on. Make the problem complicated. However, all the reasons he said were far-fetched and could not come to the conclusion that war should be used to solve the problems.
Lao Tzu said, “my words are easy to understand and easy to do. No one can understand and no one can do in the world.” Among them, “my words” is “Tao”. It means that the Tao is very simple, easy to understand and easy to implement; But people in the world seem not able to understand or implement it. Why? This is because people can’t see that the Tao will bring benefits to mankind as whole in the long run. For their immediate interests, they use seemingly “complex reason” to prove why they should deviate from the Tao; so “no one can understand, no one can do.” What is the Tao between countries? That is the basic rule of human civilization. This rule has two main points. First, as Kant said, it is a “universal law”. It means that a person is willing to follow the law, which he or she is willing to be regarded as the law of all people, which means that this law is the same to and beneficial to all people. Second, the principle of nonviolence. That is, disputes and conflicts should be resolved by peaceful means rather than war.
For the first point, the test is, when a rule is declared, do you want it to apply to you? For example, President Putin said in his prewar speech that Ukraine was wrongly established as a state due to Lenin’s mistake, so it should be corrected by war. In human history, the dividing and merging of countries and the borders between countries are often determined by violent means such as war. There are many injustices in history. As Hannah Arendt said, “no matter what kind of political organizations human beings can form, they all originate from crime.” (2011, page 9) today’s independent countries and borders are determined by international agreements after World War II and the cold war. If we want to solve historical problems with war today, there will be no peace for mankind. Moreover, historically, Russia owes far more blood debt to other countries than other countries owe it. Russia is a military empire. Most of its territory today is seized by its using force, including the territory seized from China. Can China launch a war against Russia to restore China’s former territory in the same way as Putin said? Obviously, Putin’s logic cannot pass this test.
On the second point, the principle of nonviolence is a denial of Putin’s logic. Ukraine’s problems should be solved by the Ukrainian people themselves. Moreover, Russia has more problems in “undemocratic” and “corruption” than Ukraine. Putin should first solve his own problems, let alone launch a war. The principle of nonviolence is the most basic principle. No matter how many conflicts there are between mankind, force should not be used. It can only be used in very few cases. First, resist aggression; the second is to resist slavery. In fact, the premise of these two points is that the other party used force first. Claiming to launch a war for a noble or necessary purpose cannot achieve a good purpose, because “war creates more bad people than it kills”. Mr. Jiang Qing said, “Good purpose can only be achieved by good means.” When it is claimed that evil means can be used for good purpose, the purpose has changed. Moreover, what Putin pursues is not a good purpose, so all the reasons for invading Ukraine listed in Putin’s speech cannot pass the test of this principle.
The two main points of the above civilized rules can be used not only to test the norms of international relations, but also to test the nature of a country’s internal political structure. It can connect countries and individuals. Generally speaking, the international civilized rules are expressed as the principle of constitutional rule at home. Roughly speaking, it includes the principles of market economy, rule of law and freedom of expression. They are all nonviolent or under “controllable violence”. The so-called “controllable violence” refers to the government’s use of power and its violent resources under the constraints of democracy and the rule of law to combat illegal violence and criminal acts, not for the purpose of deviating from the Constitution and law. The market is a collection of voluntary transactions between equal people. The rule of law is a fair judicial rule under the restricted power, and free expression means not to abuse public violence to interfere with citizens’ expression. Similarly, if the “universal law” is realized at home, it is necessary to eliminate the oppression, deprivation and restriction of others by some people of the country, which requires equal protection of everyone’s rights—economic freedom, freedom of expression and fair justice. Countries that deviate from the above constitutional principles are actually in a state of hostility with their people. As long as the countries are extended outward, it is violence against other countries, is a war of aggression.
From a longer history, Czarist Russia and its successor Soviet Union are a country that oppresses, enslaves and deprives the people at home. It implements rules that violate the basic rules of civilization. The people do not have full economic freedom, their speech is monitored and controlled, and there is no fair judicial system. Therefore, it has always been a country against the people. Expending this anti civilization rule outward, tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union are an empire specialized in military. It conquered and invaded neighboring countries with violence, formed its territory and formed some of its advantages. The international community does not discriminate against Russia itself, but condemns its violation of the rules of civilization; At the same time, in view of its long-term implementation of such acts of internal oppression and external aggression, it has also formed a certain habitual view of Russia, that is, it is an aggressive Empire and remains vigilant and even hostile to it. One of the reasons for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is to reintegrate Ukraine into the territory of Czarist Russia and become a part of his direct rule. This nostalgia for Czarist Russia is a nostalgia for the anti-civilization rules of oppression and aggression pursued by Czarist Russia; his rule is a violent rule without control; this is the anti-civilization rule that runs through the inside and outside, and it cannot be accepted by the world.
The Ukrainian people’s centrifugation of and fear of Russia have been formed in the Soviet era. During the Soviet period, Ukraine was an administrative region under the governance of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union’s treatment of Ukraine did not bring benefits to it, but caused several major disasters. For example, the Soviet Union imposed collectivization and severely suppressed the resistance of Ukrainian farmers. In January 1930 alone, 1700 riots and protests were suppressed; in 1930, 75000 people were expelled to remote areas such as Siberia. Due to agricultural collectivization and excessive grain collection, there have been many famines, including the great famine from 1932 to 34, which killed about 4 million people, about 1 / 8 of the population of Ukraine; in 2006, the Ukrainian parliament passed a resolution that it was a Soviet conspiracy to genocide in Ukraine (plokhy, 2019, pp. 435-436). The second disaster is that during the “great cleansing” period, 270000 people in Ukraine were arrested and about 130000 people were executed; these include many party and government leaders in Ukraine (Ploki, 2019, P. 438). The third disaster is the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident, which killed more than 90000 people and caused 270000 cancers (Baidu Encyclopedia). Behind these disasters, there is discrimination and malice from the Soviet Union against Ukraine, which is similar to the oppression of the Empire on the colonies, and naturally makes most Ukrainians hate the Soviet Union. This emotion will also continue to Russia, the successor of the Soviet Union.
Some people may disagree with the statement that “the Soviet Union has malice towards Ukraine”. It doesn’t matter. Even goodwill will cause harm to Ukraine and all the people of the Soviet Union. Because planned economy and public ownership are systems that will harm everyone, although the founders of this economic system might have a little goodwill in the beginning. Most importantly, this economic system violates the above-mentioned rules of nonviolence. The planned economy means that the planning authority formulates the production and consumption plan, because this plan is bound to be different from the market economy in which people trade voluntarily, so it must be enforced. If people deviate from the planned track according to their own wishes, the planned economy will collapse, so violence must be used to maintain the plan. If people have economic freedom, they will spontaneously carry out production and investment, which is contrary to public ownership. Therefore, to maintain public ownership, private property rights must be eliminated. This is manifested in cracking down on people’s voluntary transactions (it is called “speculation”) and any attempt of private production and operation; these attacks have taken advantage of state violence.
As mentioned above, if the government deviates from the constraints of the rule of law, it will improperly use violence and put itself in a state of war against the people. This was the case in the Soviet period, especially the terrorist rule established by Stalin, which was based on the abuse of state violence to suppress the people and suppress different opinions. Ukraine, like other Soviet republics and their people, has suffered. Today, Russia is not a country whose violence is effectively controlled. Its political opposition leaders were assassinated, poisoned or imprisoned from time to time. Although Putin claimed that he did not know it, under his rule, the insecurity of the political opposition still made it difficult to truly implement democracy; Putin suppressed non-governmental organizations. In 2009, he closed more than 9000 non-governmental organizations; He restricted free media, controlled all national television networks, and canceled satire and discussion programs (Li Ying, 2010). Behind all this is state violence.
Due to the exploitation and injustice of the Soviet Union to the participating republics and its deprivation of the rights of the general public, it cannot be defended by the centripetal defense of the republics, but also alienated by the people. Once there is a historical opportunity, the disintegration of the Soviet Union is very natural. This is not caused by the conspiracy of the United States and Western countries. It is completely defeated by its own anti civilization nature. Almost at the same time as the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Treaty Organization, a military organization controlled by the Soviet Union in Eastern European countries, also announced its dissolution. Eastern European countries have been incorporated into the economic and political system of the Soviet Union for a long time. Economically, they are repressed by the planned economic system of the Soviet Union, politically manipulated by the Soviet Union, and their sovereignty is likely to be violated by the Soviet Union at any time. Soviet tanks have driven into Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. There is neither economic benefit nor security for these countries. Once there is an opportunity, they would escape from the Warsaw Pact. Therefore, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact was also caused by the anti-civilization rules of the Soviet Union, and it was not for how clever the strategy of the United States and Western countries was.
Of course, in the competition between the two superpowers, the pressure of the United States works. Due to the principle of constitutional rule—market economy, rule of law and freedom of expression— not only a “universal law” that is fair to every citizen, but also the improvement of efficiency, economic development and innovation due to the protection of people’s freedom and rights. On the contrary, planned economy, judicial injustice and repressing speech would only reduce efficiency, suppress growth and curb innovation. Therefore, in terms of economic strength, the Soviet Union is far behind the United States and Western countries, which is the basis of a country’s military strength. On the other hand, due to the suppression of freedom of expression and the obstruction of academic discussion, there was a lack of mechanism and source of theoretical innovation and technological innovation in the Soviet Union, and military technology depended on these innovations to a great extent. The Soviet Union can only obtain resources for scientific and technological innovation through exchanges with the western scientific communities or espionage, but this method of obtaining technology will make the Soviet Union lag behind at least one beat, so that the Soviet Union will also fall behind in the competition of military technology. Russia, which inherited the Soviet Union, still inherited some characteristics of the Soviet Union, such as the suppression of freedom of expression. At the same time, its expansion strengthen the vigilance of the West, which watch out for Russia to use its own technology, and block it. Therefore, Russia is still a second rate country in military technology.
As for the eastward expansion of NATO accused by Putin, from a large strategic point of view, was caused by Russia itself. On the one hand, its domestic anti civilization rules can be considered to extend outward, and all countries under its control or influence will be hurt. Just look at the dictatorships in Belarus and Kazakhstan supported by Putin. Moreover, the painful memory of the Soviet Union makes these Eastern European countries or former Soviet countries unwilling to return to Russia’s sphere of influence. They fear the threat of Russia as a military empire. Moving closer to the west is a wise choice to ensure their own security. On the one hand, it will not hurt their sovereignty by joining NATO. On the other hand, they believe that NATO has the ability to confront Russia. The key is that these countries voluntarily apply to join NATO, not because of the coercion and inducement of western countries. Why didn’t they take the initiative to move closer to Russia? This is Russia’s own failure. Instead of reviewing its own problems, it says that this is a conspiracy of the United States and Western countries, and even at the cost of killing the Ukrainian people to stop NATO’s eastward expansion. Isn’t it the opposite of the resolution of the problem? This will make neighboring countries feel threatened and strengthen their willingness to join NATO.
Of course, the constitutional system of the United States and other countries cannot guarantee that they will not make mistakes in the world, otherwise there will be hope for permanent world peace. President Putin accused the United States and NATO of invading Iraq and bombing Serbia, which is reasonable in itself, but it cannot defend his invasion of Ukraine. If he thinks these invasions are wrong, his invasion of Ukraine is also wrong; if he thinks he is right to invade Ukraine, he has to admit that the United States and NATO are right. But you can’t prove yourself right with the mistakes of others. And there is another difference, which makes Putin’s aggression different from the aggression of the United States and NATO. As mentioned earlier, Putin’s aggression against Ukraine is an extension abroad of political principles and of the use of violence at home; the international aggression or bombing of the United States and NATO violates their constitutional principles at home. The background of their international mistakes is different, but the reason is the same. They both violate the principle of nonviolence. The core principle of democratic principle is that a public decision-making needs the consent of stakeholders. I once suggested that if the United States wants to send troops to Iraq to overthrow dictator Saddam Hussein, if the Iraqi people cannot vote, they can ask Iraqis abroad to vote. The war cost the Iraqi people 600000 lives.
Historically, the constitutional system within a country is an institutional structure discovered by human beings after long-term exploration and paying a lot of blood. The most prominent manifestation of the process of human civilization is the reduction of human violent mortality from 15% to less than 4% (Morris, 2015, P. 481); the constitutional system has further solved the problem of resolving human conflicts in a peaceful way. If the rules contained in this constitutional system are introduced to the world, the problem of permanent world peace can be solved. However, this is a big problem because countries are not similar in terms of scale and strength. They cannot be as in a society— it is impossible to win or lose in the conflict between people, and can only form a balance in the long-term running in and finally form a rights system. Moreover, in military technology, technological breakthroughs often break the existing equilibrium. Therefore, it is difficult to form a world constitutional system. Even those constitutional countries will violate the rules of international civilization without an effective world government and a mature international constitutional mechanism. As a result, the above-mentioned US or NATO aggression occurred.
However, although the United States and other constitutional countries are not bound internationally and often do things that violate the rules of international civilization with their military advantages, they are still bound because they abide by the rules of civilization, the rule of law and freedom of expression at home. Free media often stand on the opposite side of the national perspective and expose the ugliness and losses of foreign wars. For example, the New York Times disclosed the secret report of the US Department of defense on the Vietnam War, and CBS exposed the prisoner-abuse scandal of the US military in Iraq; This will lead to the antiwar wave of domestic public opinion, and will also make the people’s antiwar will affect the parliament’s attitude towards the war. It allows a small number of opposition voices, such as Illinois Senator Barack Obama presented antiwar speech in 2002, which was only one at that time. A few years later, he was elected the President of the United States. Therefore, although the United States and other countries would make some mistakes in foreign war, they can finally be corrected. Countries without constitutional rules may lack this check and balance mechanism, which would make the war crueler, more unable to be stopped and corrected, until bring huge casualties and until the aggressor countries be completely defeated, such as Japan and Germany in World War II. Therefore, when we condemn the aggressive acts of Russia, the United States or NATO from a neutral position, we should also see that Russia’s aggressive acts are even more intolerable.
Russia’s war behavior proves that the concerns of neighboring countries such as Ukraine are justified. Russia’s threat has become the reality of invasion. Ukraine’s application to join NATO is not a conspiracy of NATO’s eastward expansion, but a rational move to face Russia’s threat and enhance its own security. Putin’s “NATO threat” seems to be an excuse to eliminate it by the “realized threat” on Ukrainian land. Countries are bordering on each other. If neighboring countries deploy defense forces at home, it is said to be a “threat”, which is obviously too overbearing. In this way, if Russia uses this excuse on China, will it be ok? Behind Putin’s excuse is the new hegemony plan – New Eurasiaism, an ambition similar to the “Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Circle” and a delusion of hegemony across Eurasia, which reminds people of the bloody expansion of Czar Russia and the wild massacre of the Chinese by the Japanese army. He wants to extend the anti-civilization rules to the world. “Eexpanding territory” is not only the customary trick of ancient kings to improve their reputation and consolidate their power, but also Putin’s militaristic means to consolidate and extend his power.
However, anti-civilization rules are not only barbaric, but also inefficient. As long as Putin sticks to this anti civilization rule, he will fundamentally fail – starting from his values. Anti-civilization rules, enslaving and invading others with violence, whether at home or abroad, will cause widespread hostility, which has neither moral appeal nor political cohesion. Therefore, it is not surprising that his war of aggression was generally opposed by the Russian people at home – Anti War demonstrations broke out in 147 cities (National Public Radio, 2022), He was condemned by the vast majority of countries – 141 countries at the UN General Assembly. He is isolated in politics, his strength is greatly weakened. At the same time, due to his suppression of freedom of expression, Russia lacks innovative mechanisms and is far inferior to the United States and other western countries in military technology. His military weapons are more than a generation behind. When the United States and other countries support Ukraine’s advanced weapons, Putin cannot win on the battlefield. Although Putin himself is intelligent and can win by surprise in tactics, he cannot make up for the major defects in strategy. He is doomed to failure. A wise man will not stand with him.
The above civilized rules do not refer to the unique rules of the western world. From the perspective that the western world has not solved the problem of permanent world peace, they are civilized rules that go beyond the existing western rules and are universal. Therefore, it is also the rule followed by Chinese civilization. Especially since modern times, China has suffered from foreign aggression and tasted the pain of being bullied in the jungle of social Darwinism. Russia, as a specific country, was the worst one to bully and invade China in modern times. When we see people cheering for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, just as we see people cheering for Japan’s invasion of China, we are deeply hurt; if such a person is a Chinese, it makes people feel that he is “regarding enemy as his father”. Applying the rules of civilization, “Do not do to others what you do not want others to do it to you”, China, which is unwilling to be invaded, should obviously condemn all aggression. No matter who the aggressor is, aggression is the same. As a historical Chinese, we should condemn all wars of aggression. However, the diplomatic attitude is ambiguous, which is not in line with the hatred and disgust of the war of aggression determined by Chinese history.
Moreover, Chinese civilization is a civilization with a long tradition of cosmopolitanism. In the Book of Changes, there is the theory of “World civilization”. “World” and “civilization” are inseparable. That is, the world is not only a physical world, but also a world with civilized rules. Only when the cultural value of benevolence, righteousness and morality appeared, the world began to become “the world”. As Gu Yanwu’s famous sentence shows, we should distinguish between “perishing of a country” and “perishing of the world”. The perishing of a country is just “changing the surname of the ruler”; “perishing the world” is “loss of benevolence and righteousness, and the beasts’ eating people, people’s eating with each other”. If there are no civilized rules, the world is just a wilderness, not a human society. In the existing constitutional texts of mainland China, the principles of “market economy”, “independent trial by the court” and “freedom of expression” are also written. Although they are far from being realized, they are at least consistent with the rules of civilization in the text. The Constitution and cultural tradition together constitute civilized rules that run through domestic and foreign countries. Therefore, starting from the constitutional text and the value of cosmopolitanism, as a Chinese in culture and constitutional text, we should also take a clear stand against Putin’s war of aggression.
National Public Radio, “Russia arrests nearly 5,000 anti-war protesters this weekend”, March 7, 2022
“Baidu Encyclopedia” and “Chernobyl accident” are reviewed by the entry compilation and application project of “popular science China” Science Encyclopedia.
Hannah Arendt, On Rrevolution, Yilin publishing house, 2011.
Li Ying, “An analysis of the relationship between the ’empire’ under Putin and the media”, master’s thesis, 2010.
Morris, Ian, War, CITIC press, 2015.
Plokhy, Serhii, The Gate of Europe: the 2000 History of Ukraine, CITIC publishing group, 2019.
（Translated from “天道很简单，谬误很‘复杂’”）