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Thursday 17 Aug 2017 | 03:27 | SYDNEY

Understanding China's world-view

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29 June 2011 09:47

One of the keys to understanding the implications of China's rise will be assessing the degree to which China and the West understand the motives behind each others actions. Given the high degree of economic interdependence and geographic distance between the US and China, it is much more likely that misunderstanding rather than malice will be the cause of any future conflict.

This is not just a function of the big strategic issues, but also how the smaller tactical issues are viewed. A good example can be found in a new Lowy Institute Report, 'Crisis & Confidence: Major Powers and Maritime Security in Indo-Pacific Asia'. In a measure as (presumably) simple as establishing Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), there is a noticible gap between Chinese and Western views:

The US view that CBMs can and should precede trust and agreement on fundamental strategic issues is at odds with the prevailing strain in Chinese policy...[which] emphasises that 'political mutual trust' should be the 'groundwork' for CBMs, implying that this should be a precondition rather than their goal. Moreover, military confidence-building 'should be based on...mutual respect for core interests'.

Yet, as the authors note, the Chinese view is 'paradoxical' and 'at odds...with the accepted logic of CBMs in much of the world', which raises the question, 'how genuine is China's stance?' 

If we apply the default tool of IR analysis (namely materialist cynicism), could we see China's stance as a proxy or bargaining position, where China seeks to obtain a return for accepting the international norms of maritime behaviour? Norms which it is probably going to have to accept anyway at some point in the future?

Or, as per the starting point of this post, is the Chinese view a real one, whose very oddness to us in the West demands our better scholarship, engagement and pursuit of understanding? If so, the paper 'Crisis & Confidence' is an important and timely effort, but one that also shows just how far we may have to go to reach mutual understanding.

Photo by Flickr user selva. 

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