This issue of SIGNAL Perspectives, by SIGNAL Executive Director Carice Witte and SIGNAL Academic Advisor Dr. Aryeh Tepper, is entitled ‘Understanding How Culture and History Impact China’s International Relations: The Case of the South China Sea’. The piece highlights the value of cultural sensitivity in dealings with China. It employs the case study of the West’s handling of the South China Sea incident to insightfully highlight the role China’s cultural and historical makeup play in forming its foreign policy. The essay demonstrates how the Israeli leadership can learn from the West’s mistakes when dealing with the Middle Kingdom, and strive to better understand China in order to maximize the potential of the developing relations between the two countries.
Is China an up-and-coming aggressor determined to govern the global order? That seems to be the conventional view among some Western pundits and politicians. This view is problematic however, because it lacks the broad historical-cultural perspective that is necessary for evaluating Chinese behavior.
One must first grasp how viscerally connected the Chinese are to their long history. This is difficult for Western observers to do as the historical memory of Western countries is notoriously short and so the role that historical memory can play in viewing current events is often lost on them. But the collective cultural-historical memory is deeply rooted in the Chinese consciousness, and its effects are as far reaching as foreign policy decisions. For example, unlike the West, Chinese foreign policy has never been driven by an imperial impulse to conquer territory and export Chinese culture around the world, even when it had the power to do so. When we consider this, we can better understand China’s current involvement in the global arena. (read more)