China’s ascendance in world affairs is one of the most significant and challenging issues in today’s international system. This underscores the importance of understanding China’s role in the world. However, when people debate about how to understand China and its policies, they often overlook the importance of perception, especially how Chinese see themselves and their relations with the rest of the world. In fact, there exists a huge perception gap between China’s self-image and how the outside world sees China. Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore, used to say that he was sad to see “the gulf in understanding” between Chinese and Westerners. If we examine China’s recent territorial disputes with Japan in the East China Sea and with the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea, we can clearly see such a “gulf in understanding” between China and its neighbors. In fact, it’s more than a gulf; the perception gap has grown as wide as the Pacific Ocean.Sure sounds like the Chinese government's use of loaded phrases like "water territories have been carved up," “islands and reefs have been occupied," and “resources have been plundered" to justify its “nine-dashed line” has more to do with that perception gap than anything else. China has made its bed here.
Where people outside China tend to see China’s recent foreign policy behavior, such as the actions in South China Sea, as aggressive and bullying, many Chinese genuinely believe that China is a peace-loving country and see themselves as the victims. They believe that China’s neighbors have long been violating China’s sovereignty, rights, and interests inside the “nine-dashed line” in the South China Sea. For example, the Chinese have routinely used a three-phrase narrative to describe these violations in South China Sea: “海域被瓜分” (water territories have been carved up), “岛礁被侵占” (islands and reefs have been occupied), and “资源被掠夺” (resources have been plundered). A Google search of these phrases gives over 293,000 results. Chinese media has detailed reports on the foreign theft, such as how many islands and reefs are occupied by Vietnam and the Philippines and the number of oil and gas wells drilled by foreign companies. Many people also believe that there is an international coalition conspiring against China, with the United States facilitating this bloc. Thus, they see China as the victim: one country against many.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
The Third Reich saw itself as "peace-loving" too.
The Perception Gap Between China and Its Neighbors: China’s self-image is enormously different from how it is perceived by other regional actors: