The strategic discussion between the U.S. and China can’t be called a dialogue of the deaf. The talk is loud and each side hears the other.
Yet a lot of mishearing is happening. Perhaps the metaphor should be a security debate shaking on a sea of scrambled semiotics.
Everybody purports to be talking about the same thing when really they’re talking about different things. Same subject, divergent understandings.
Take the subject du jour: the South China Sea. The issue under discussion should be clear and well understood. This is about rocks and reefs, contested ownership and rights in some vital maritime territory. When each side talks about the South China Sea, however, they’re also talking about lots of things that look nothing like rocks and reefs; scrambled semiotics in spades.
(Recommended: America’s Edge over China)
The big shared understanding is that the South China Sea is one element in a much larger process—the shift in Asia’s balance of power.
Beyond that, though, the South China Sea becomes a subject of conflicting and confusing signs and symbols and understandings.