China's Real Strategic Culture

A Great Wall of the Imagination

Published in: Contemporary Security Policy, v. 35, no. 2, 2014

Posted on on June 27, 2016

by Andrew Scobell

The Great Wall is frequently held up as the most striking symbol of the potency of a persistent Chinese pacifist, non-expansionist, defence-minded strategic stance. But how accurate is this 'Great Wall' depiction of China's strategic culture? What is the impact of this depiction on China and the Asia-Pacific region? While the Great Wall is an apt symbol of a romanticized image of Chinese strategic culture, the reality behind the genesis of this impressive fortification and the accompanying pervasive belief in a monistic strategic tradition is that they are figments of the collective contemporary Chinese imagination. Nevertheless, these formidable myths exert real influence on two 'faces' of strategic culture. The first face refers to how leaders and society perceive the policies and actions of their own country. The second face, routinely neglected, refers to how leaders and society in one state perceive the policies and actions of an adversary or potential adversary state, which, like the first face, is constructed out of myth. The impact of these two faces on the Asia-Pacific region exacerbates the region's security dilemma, adversely impacting China's relations with other countries, notably Japan and the United States.

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