With its sudden announcement of an unorthodox aerial ‘defence identification’ zone, along with its aircraft carrier’s first voyage into the South China Sea, China continues to send troubling signals about its strategic intentions in Asia.

From a Chinese national interest point of view, this is a pity on many levels, not least because it overshadows Beijing’s belated but significant effort to contribute to security 'public goods' in the region. After lengthy internal deliberations, China last week sent its hospital ship Peace Ark to assist the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Two weeks ago, many commentators, myself included, made much of China’s failure to respond to the typhoon with speed and compassion. At that point, the idle Peace Ark was at risk of becoming the symbol of all that is self-defeating and indifferent about Chinese foreign policy. 

So, for the record, the deployment of the Peace Ark should be welcomed as a positive step, and better late than never. It is also a reminder that beneath the surface there is substantial debate within China about the merits of its foreign and security policy. It would be a mistake to treat official Chinese pronouncements as the only immovable object in the Asian or Indo-Pacific strategic order.