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A Global Order of Connectivity – The Chinese Vision


The international political order that was created after the Second World War is based on the concept of sovereignty. With the breakup of the western empires, the sovereign nation-state became the basic and dominant form of political order. These sovereign states adopted numerous treaties that regulated the complicated relationship between them. The treaties attempted to cover as many aspects of this relationship as possible, from the delivery of mail to the development of nuclear energy. The pervasive nature of this order has earned it the title “global”. Being a part of this order is a prerequisite for providing citizens with global services such as information technology and financial clearance.

Still, the basic logic of the “global” order is a narrow notion of sovereignty. Globality is enforced to the extent that it suits the specific interests of specific states. It is possible to wage a “global war on terror”, for example, because all states are concerned about the physical security of their citizens. It is less possible to create “global” cooperation in order to fight global warming, as this is potentially damaging to the economic interests of some states (more than others). First and foremost, sovereignty still serves to impose borders. Free movement is a privilege reserved mostly for capital, not for many goods and commodities and certainly not for people. The “global” remains an exception to most rules and is dependent on express consent which is not easily given.

Ancient History, Contemporary Practice: China’s Encounter with the Xiongnu

What can China’s struggle with the Xiongnu, a nomadic, horse-riding people who lived on the country’s northern frontier 2000 years ago, teach us about how the Middle Kingdom conducts its foreign affairs today? Quite a lot, so long as we acknowledge the enduring influence of China’s historical memory on present-day foreign affairs. To borrow the felicitous term coined by Singaporean Ambassador-at-Large Bilahari Kausikan, China’s “mental framework” is still shaped to a large degree by the country’s singular history.

Before delving into the specifics of the relationship between the Han Chinese and the Xiongnu, it’s helpful to consider the meaning of mental frameworks and the crucial role they play today on the international stage.

SIGNAL Note 60: From David Ben-Gurion to Ben-Gurion University: the Israel–China Connection, from Idea to Action


David Ben-Gurion, founding father of the State of Israel, often expressed his appreciation for the Chinese people and predicted that China would again play a senior role—one of leadership and influence—in world affairs as it had once before. While one may be inclined to diminish the importance of these statements, one might also accordingly argue that Ben-Gurion took this position as a sober-minded statesman who recognized the importance of building bridges and maintaining relations with the great continent that Israel calls home—Asia.

A more thorough examination of Ben-Gurion’s articles, speeches and letters, however, reveals a much deeper dimension regarding his respect for China: one that transcends the practical interest that flows from geographic proximity and potential economic cooperation. Even while serving as prime minister and minister of defense, Ben-Gurion found time to read Chinese philosophy and study the history of the Chinese people, “one of the first peoples of culture in antiquity,” he said.

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