Looking back over the last 30 years, culture as an explanatory factor has been in retreat. Today, however, with the determined reassertion of Islamic values, and an increasingly confident China developing its own international paradigms, the need to investigate cultural and historical specificities is hard to deny. In the Asian region, developments in the South China Sea during 2016 have been especially perplexing for many commentators: International Relations (IR) analysis has come up against a wall of stubborn Chinese and Southeast Asian perspectives. Even some elements in Samuel Huntington ‘civilizations’ approach, widely condemned in the 1990s, today deserve reconsideration–certainly with respect to what Wang Gungwu saw as Huntington's stress on a ‘new language and logic of behaviour’. The common IR analytic framework–highlighting sovereignty, state interests and power (and the balance of power)–needs to be supplemented. Current interest in non-Western IR is promising, especially if it engages in research collaboration with history (particularly the history of ideas, with its focus on close textual analysis). Culture–though certainly in a refined conceptualization–is back.