Exceptionalism: Is Chinese Foreign Policy Exceptional?

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This essay seeks to provide an answer to the question, is Chinese foreign policy exceptional. There are convincing arguments linking Chinese society with the notion of exceptionalism. Foot (2010, 129) points to claims of exceptionalist tendencies based on a long history of civilisation, specifically the concept of honour permeating through ideas of the tribute system, and the strong Han cultural identity. The case for an exceptional Chinese foreign policy lies with this use and potential misuse of history, as Callahan (2012, 35) acknowledges “the use and abuse of history is more than just an academic issue: it informs how elites in China and the West are shaping the future world order”. As such endeavours of this nature must thus tread carefully, …show more content…
Thus despite the legacies of exceptionalism, governments including the Chinese government, remain subservient to strategic and economic considerations and interests, not historical legacy. That is not to say that China’s historical legacy of exceptionalism does not have a role to play. There is a substantive body of intellectual thought which argues that Imperial China was characterised by sinocentrism, pacifism and inclusionism, all constitutive of an exceptionalist outlook, while Revolutionary China became characterised by great power entitlement and moral superiority, again argued to be constitutive of an exceptionalist outlook (Zhang 2011, 310). Zhang (2011, 310) argues that contemporary China, although continuing to evolve and adapt, has and will continue to be marked by exceptionalism in the form of great power reformism, benevolent pacifism and harmonious inclusionism. Thus it is clear that contemporary Chinese exceptionalism draws from the Imperialist and Revolutionary eras. It is a form of continuity, drawing from what was the present and now the past to determine the future; indicative of the element of continuity in Chen’s conceptual framework. Termed a foreign policy of difference, Alden and Large …show more content…
In the case of Sino-African relations the paradox of involved detachment applies. Here it is the language of common aims and goals of development versus a language of restraint, such that the pursuit of common goals of development are predicated upon a basic assumption of Chinese non-involvement in what has been termed Africa’s internal politics of states (Alden & Large, 2011, 27). Chinese foreign policy principles, similar to that of other actors within the international system, will invariably diverge from their stated intentions. Such has been the case with Sino-African relations; commentators have been quick to cite examples of divergence from the presumption of non-interference on China’s part for example in Zambia and the Sudan (Alden & Large 2011, 30). Analyses of such discrepancies however have been too easily simplified as case-specific tactical manoeuvring on China’s part. While the alternative, that is adherence to non-interference, leaves China in a precarious international position, producing negative impacts at this international rather than continental level. Adherence to this presumption of non-interference has left China supporting regimes such as the National Congress Party in the Sudan or the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) in Zimbabwe (Alden & Large 2011, 29). The constraint/enable dynamic is an unpredictable paradox, but is one that an exceptionalist

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