Chris Williams writes on one of the items in yesterday's China Linkage:

Dirk van der Kley's China linkage is commendable to provide a clearer perspective to geopolitical changes in North Asia, as they impact on Australia's sphere of influence. I valued Christopher Ford's insight into the various narratives currently underway in China today, and suggest these be better understood before Australian foreign policy aligns with a 'pro-Japan anti-Chinese expansion' that seems to form the 2013 background for our restated Defence policy. 

That it took Ford's visit to a PLA-hosted forum before he understood the dynamics at play is not surprising, as he is still learning the importance of their narrative framing process.

I suggest that the backward-looking stance, where the answers to China's future greatness can be elicited from her past greatness, is a safe strategy as the PLA becomes more assertive throughout the South China Sea region and, therefore, into our direct region of influence. 

As an example, China's historians claim the Ming dynasty's greatness was largely attributable to the voyages of Zhang He's fleet. Retelling this story in modern China soothes any local disquiet about naval adventurism, yet Ford would encourage engagement with today's intelligentsia and political elite over the validity of this narrative. The Ming fleet was based solely on repatriation of tribute in the largest ships ever built, and underpinned by an 80,000 man army. Their adventures extended as far south as the Javanese empire, and modern Indonesia might justifiably draw unexpected lessons from any modern retelling of this narrative.

The important message of Ford's experience is to engage critically in China's domestic retelling of old narratives to justify unpalatable, high-risk adventurism throughout the region. If these narratives remain unchallenged, they become modern-day wisdoms, and underwrite PLA adventurism and the populace's understanding of their history-evidenced validity.