Chinese actions in the South China Sea are often viewed as proof of an assertive China, despite the Chinese claims that their Confucian values make China a peaceful power. This paper analyzes the South China Sea conflict through a prism of strategic culture theory and examines both the Chinese narrative on the conflict as well as the actual Chinese behavior in the area. Confucian norms and values provide a powerful rhetoric device utilized by the Chinese policymakers to legitimize the Chinese behavior to the domestic and to some extent also foreign audiences. However, the actual Chinese behavior rarely exhibits strong influences of Confucianism, suggesting that in actual behavior China acts in accord with realist predictions.
Matej Šimalčík is Executive Director of CEIAS. In his research, he focuses on Chinese foreign and security policy, strategic culture, territorial conflicts, and relations between China and Europe. He is a member of ChinfluenCE, a regional initative aimed at monitoring China’s economic and political influence in Central Europe, where he acts as national coordinator for Slovakia. Previously he served as a legal counsel to the Slovak branch of Transparency International.