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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently made the remarkable statement that flexibility on sovereignty over the Spratly Islands would shame China’s ancestors, and that if “the gradual and incremental invasion of China’s sovereignty and encroachment on China’s interests” were allowed to continue, China could not face its children and grandchildren.

If we are to take this statement at face value (pun intended), then, as Ankit Panda of The Diplomat has noted, part of what makes it remarkable is that it is such a clear expression of the importance of culture and identity in driving foreign policy. Not every culture worries about...

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