China’s Worldview in Foreign Policy

VarrallChina Studies Centre, University of Sydney

Dr Merriden Varrall, Lowy Institute

6.00pm – 7.00pm, Thursday 3 September 2015
Quadrangle Building, Philosophy Room S249, Southern Vestibule; Lobby D; level 2 (ground), University of Sydney

There has been much talk of late about the US (and Australia) pushing back more strongly against China’s behaviour in the South China Sea, because what’s been done so far hasn’t worked. However, in order to influence China’s behaviour, it needs to be understood that Chinese decision-makers make choices based on a coherent, deeply held and powerful worldview that is fundamentally different from that in the West. As such, genuine and effective attempts to influence behaviour will need to recognise and engage with this worldview. There are several basic tenets of this worldview that are relevant to how Chinese decision-makers see their interests and options: the narrative of the ‘Century of Humiliation’; the understanding that cultural characteristics are inherent and unchanging; that the future is a direct product of the past; and that the Chinese people are ‘uniquely unique’ and can never be truly understood by the outside world. These different aspects overlap and are mutually reinforcing. Each has a fixed ‘narrative shell’, but within each shell, content can shift according to the identity-building needs of the moment. I would argue that it is in this area of changeable content where we find the best opportunities to genuinely engage with Chinese decision-making.

Dr Merriden Varrall is Director, East Asia Program at the Lowy Institute. Before joining the Lowy Institute Merriden was the Assistant Country Director and Senior Policy Advisor at UNDP China, where she worked for the past three years on China’s role in the world, focusing on its international development cooperation policy. Merriden has spent almost eight years living and working in China, including lecturing in foreign policy at the China Foreign Affairs University and conducting fieldwork for her doctoral research. Prior to that she worked for the Australian Treasury. Merriden has a PhD in political anthropology from Macquarie University, Sydney, and the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. Her dissertation examined the ideational factors behind China’s foreign policy. She has a Masters Degree in International Affairs from the Australian National University, and completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Technology Sydney.=

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