October 25, 2011Topic:EconomicsEconomic DevelopmentIdeologyRising PowersPoliticsSecurityRegions:China
Chinese Nationalism and Its Discontents

Mini Teaser:China must choose between kowtowing to domestic nationalism và submitting khổng lồ a peaceful rise. Lately, nationalist belligerence has ruled the day. Washington is overreacting, encircling China. A latent rivalry ratchets up lớn dangerous levels.

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AT NO time since the kết thúc of the Cold War have U.S.-China relations been worse. Yes, in the past there have been periodic confrontations over Taiwan, và tensions over the American bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and the Chinese fighter-jet collision with an American reconnaissance plane over the South đài loan trung quốc Sea. But the current downturn reflects a potential long-term trend with the likelihood of protracted strategic conflict. Equally troubling, this raising of tensions is not only unnecessary but also potentially costly khổng lồ the United States.

Beginning in early 2009, đài loan trung quốc committed a series of diplomatic blunders that ultimately elicited a near-universal condemnation of Chinese diplomacy. The list is long:

 - The March 2009 Chinese naval harassment of the U.S. Navy reconnaissance ship Impeccable operating in China’s exclusive economic zone in the South trung quốc Sea;

 - Beijing’s heavy-handed resistance to negotiation at the December 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, causing diplomatic friction between đài loan trung quốc and Europe và between đài loan trung quốc and the United States;

 - Its hard-line response to lớn the January 2010 U.S. Decision lớn sell arms to Taiwan, which included a threat khổng lồ impose sanctions on U.S. Companies that have defense cooperation with Taipei;

 - Mismanagement of North Korea’s sinking of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan in March 2010, followed by widespread South Korean anger toward China;

 - Strident Chinese diplomatic protests against U.S.-South Korean naval exercises in international waters in the Yellow Sea;

 - Excessive hostility khổng lồ the Japanese detention, in September 2010, of the captain of a Chinese fishing boat for operating in Japanese-claimed waters và for steering his ship into a Japanese coast-guard vessel;

 - The Chinese government’s clumsy campaign to compel Google khổng lồ cease service of its tìm kiếm engine on the mainland;

 - Its December 2010 harsh and persistent opposition khổng lồ Liu Xiaobo’s selection as the Nobel Peace Prize recipient;

 - Increasingly forceful assertion of its disputed economic và territorial claims in the South china Sea, eliciting apprehension throughout Southeast Asia.

In contrast lớn three decades of a successful peaceful-rise strategy that enabled Beijing to develop cooperative interactions with nearly every country in the world, within two years china had managed to lớn sour relations with virtually every Asian country và every advanced industrial nation.

The source of all this strident Chinese diplomacy is not its emergence as a regional great power with corresponding confidence in its new capabilities. Rather, China’s new diplomacy reflects the regime’s spiraling domestic confidence and its increasing dependence on nationalism for domestic stability. Washington has misread the state of affairs, exaggerating Chinese capabilities và fundamentally misinterpreting the source of all the aggressive Chinese diplomacy.

THE TRUTH is đài loan trung quốc is neither particularly militarily strong nor particularly domestically stable. Beijing’s combative diplomacy was not spurred by American economic weakness in the wake of the recession, & it was far from an indicator of growing Chinese confidence. On the contrary, in recent years Beijing has not deployed & operationalized significant new advanced naval capabilities, và its domestic economic environment is worse today than at any time since the onset of the post-Mao economic reforms in 1978.

Beyond its coastal waters, China’s naval capability remains dependent on its advanced diesel submarines, which were first deployed in the mid-1990s. By 2000, China’s submarine force had already begun to pose a formidable challenge to lớn U.S. Naval operations in the western Pacific Ocean. But since then it has not deployed any additional naval capabilities that pose consequential new challenges khổng lồ the U.S. Navy or to America’s defense of its security partners. đài loan trung quốc still cannot independently manufacture advanced military aircraft, and it has yet to lớn deploy a single Chinese-designed advanced aircraft. The J-15 and J-20 fighter planes are still in development. It has finally launched its first aircraft carrier, but it does not have aircraft for the carrier. Its antipiracy naval operations off the coast of Somalia are basic. Its protection of its claims in the South đài loan trung quốc Sea depends on coast-guard ships. đài loan trung quốc is developing potentially effective advanced-technology maritime access-denial capabilities, including an improved missile capability, but none of it has yet been adequately tested, much less deployed. Its antiship ballistic-missile program is not operational. China’s space program is making great progress, but the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) hasn’t developed the capacity to lớn significantly challenge U.S. Space-based communication capabilities or hasn’t built its own space-based war-fighting capability. The PLA is developing drones & air-based radar systems, but again these & other such defense projects remain relatively primitive or experimental. đài loan trung quốc will continue to modernize its military capabilities, & it will eventually deploy advanced systems that may challenge U.S. Security và regional stability, but Beijing’s new diplomacy cannot be explained by thirty years of defense spending and military modernization.

Nor does the strident diplomacy reflect Chinese economic confidence. At the height of the global financial crisis, the Chinese economy continued lớn grow at approximately 10 percent per year. But beneath this facade of prosperity, China’s economy was weakening significantly. In October 2008, as the global recession deepened, Chinese leaders unleashed a massive but dysfunctional stimulus program. Not only did it fail to resolve most of the deep-seated problems in the system, it also managed to foster many new ones. Despite the stimulus, unemployment in trung quốc remains high in rural areas and among urban college graduates. In 2010, Premier Wen Jiabao estimated that there were 200 million unemployed Chinese. Moreover, during the past two years, inequality—by international standards—has become extremely high. As a result of the stimulus, inflation has soared, affecting the price of food, housing & transportation. By last year, China’s property bubble had significantly worsened, the condition of national banks had deteriorated more than at any time in the past ten years và local government debt had skyrocketed. Economic growth has increasingly relied on government-stimulated investment, not on consumption—which fuels even-greater inflation. More worrying still, the state-owned sector is expanding at the expense of the private sector, thus undermining innovation while politicizing economic policy making. These are all protracted problems which together suggest that social instability in china will grow and that the Chinese Communist Party’s economic-based legitimacy will significantly erode.

Beijing’s problems are only exacerbated by the fact that the tools of Chinese repression are deteriorating. In the past five years, the number of spontaneous small- & large-scale demonstrations has mushroomed. More recently, the internet has undermined the government’s ability to lớn control information—and to minimize nationwide hostility toward the party. It has become an effective device for people lớn communicate their ire over unemployment và inflation, as well as over political và economic corruption, police brutality, criminal cover-ups, environmental degradation and property seizures. In addition, peer-to-peer microblogging (via Twitter & its Chinese equivalents) can facilitate large-scale, independent và impromptu mass protests. Trung quốc made its first arrest for a microblog post back in September 2010 during the rallies against Japan’s detention of the Chinese fisherman. Economic instability and the erosion of the Communist Party’s control over society are occurring simultaneously. This domestic weakness has forced the government to rely more và more on nationalism for regime legitimacy—and it explains Beijing’s diplomatic blundering.

As the Chinese people witness their relative position in the world increasing (particularly in light of the decline of Japan), the United States is seen as the obstacle khổng lồ China’s international acceptance as a great power, so that Washington is gradually replacing Tokyo as the focus of nationalist resentment. With its influence waning, the các buổi tiệc nhỏ is now more vulnerable lớn growing strident nationalist opposition. Since January 2010, on the web and in newspapers, nationalists have demanded Chinese international assertiveness before the government can even consider a policy, putting Chinese leaders on the defensive. Indeed, in recent years nationalism has become more widespread in urban areas, infecting not just the military and disaffected youth but also workers, intellectuals, civilian leaders và businesspeople. Moreover, mạng internet communication technologies enable Chinese nationalists to interact with each other và can facilitate popular protests against Chinese foreign policy, thus magnifying the importance of nationalism & the danger it poses to regime stability. China’s insecure rulers, preoccupied with domestic stability, are thus compelled to pay evermore attention to nationalist triumphalism as they formulate foreign policy.

For the first time since the death of Mao Tse-tung, Chinese leaders have had to lớn choose between using nationalism và strident diplomacy to accommodate their domestic audience and using China’s peaceful-rise strategy khổng lồ accommodate the international community. Until recently, trung quốc opted for the latter. But since 2009 the party’s effort lớn appease China’s nationalists has resulted in a bumbling foreign policy that has aroused global animosity và undermined China’s security.

THIS NATIONALIST diplomacy bred considerable anxiety among America’s allies in East Asia. Did Washington have the will to lớn sustain its strategic presence and balance China’s rise? A robust U.S. Diplomatic response was in order. But the United States went too far, challenging China’s security on its continental periphery, creating the potential for protracted great-power security conflict và heightened regional instability.

Following the North Korean sinking of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan in March 2010 and China’s failure to lớn publicly condemn Pyongyang for the attack, the United States developed a series of effective initiatives in maritime East Asia designed to reaffirm its resolve khổng lồ contend with the rise of China. Many of these initiatives were necessary và constructive. In late June, for the first time since the kết thúc of the Cold War, three U.S. Nuclear-powered submarines surfaced simultaneously in Asian ports. In July 2010, during former secretary of defense Robert Gates’s visit khổng lồ Jakarta, the United States agreed to lớn expand military cooperation with Indonesia. In November, during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip khổng lồ New Zealand, the United States agreed to lớn reestablish full military cooperation with the Pacific island nation, despite New Zealand’s ban on visits by nuclear-powered ships khổng lồ its ports. The United States expanded military relations with the Philippines và strengthened its commitment to lớn the protection of Japan. During Sino-Japanese tension over the fishing-boat-captain incident, Hillary Clinton stated that the U.S.-Japan defense treaty covered military contingencies involving the disputed Senkaku Islands administered by japan but also claimed by China. Subsequent to the release of the captain, Washington and Tokyo carried out their largest-ever joint naval exercise. Here then was a strong America reassuring its allies—this may have encroached on China’s grand ambitions, but it was an expected and appropriate response.

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But then there was the overly assertive Washington that launched, in Hillary Clinton’s formulation, its “forward-deployed diplomacy.” It was a volte-face of years of American policy, and it was seen as a growing—and very different sort of—challenge by Beijing.

During the George W. Bush administration, the United States reduced its troops in South Korea by 40 percent, removed its forces deployed between the demilitarized zone & Seoul, dramatically reduced the kích cỡ of the annual U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises & stated in the Department of Defense’s Quadrennial Defense nhận xét that in 2012 the United States would transfer to lớn Seoul operational command (OPCOM) of South Korean forces. These steps, regardless of the administration’s intentions, created a trung quốc that was more secure on its periphery.

Now, the Obama administration has reversed course. The transfer of OPCOM to South Korea has been deferred for at least three years. Throughout 2010 the United States conducted a series of high-profile, large-scale military exercises with Seoul, including maritime drills in waters west of South Korea. Later in the year, the United States & South Korea signed the new “Guidelines for U.S.-ROK Defense Cooperation,” which called for enhanced combined exercises and interoperability between the two armed forces. These developments all suggested a determined U.S. Interest in reestablishing a significant conventional military presence on the peninsula.

The U.S. Security initiative with South Korea has eroded Beijing’s confidence over its strategic relationship with Seoul; đài loan trung quốc is now increasingly dependent on North Korea as its only reliable ally on the peninsula, & it has become more resistant to lớn Korean unification for fear that it could lead to an expanded U.S. Military presence closer khổng lồ China’s border. Chinese leaders now place ever-greater value on stability in North Korea. Rather than use its economic leverage on Pyongyang in cooperation with U.S. Nonproliferation objectives, Beijing has increased its support of North Korean economic và political stability.

And in July 2010, as a U.S.-South Korean naval exercise took place in the Yellow Sea, Hillary Clinton launched a new U.S. Strategic initiative for Southeast Asia at an Asian regional-security meeting in Hanoi. After Washington held extensive consultations & planning with all of the claimants of the Spratly Islands except China, Secretary Clinton announced America’s support for a “collaborative diplomatic process” khổng lồ resolve the dispute. The move constituted a sharp rebuke to lớn Beijing, which has long claimed sovereignty over the territory, and suggested U.S. Intervention in support of the other claimants, which have advocated multilateral negotiations. In addition, the United States had previously expressed support for stability in the South china Sea, but only in Washington, DC, at the assistant-secretary level, & never through prior discussion with any of the involved nations.

The administration’s forward-deployed diplomacy also includes strategic cooperation with Vietnam. For over twenty years Washington parried Vietnamese overtures, understanding that Indochina is not a vital interest. Yet, in August, after Clinton’s tư vấn in Hanoi for Vietnamese resistance to Chinese maritime claims, the U.S. Navy, including the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, held a joint training exercise with the Vietnamese navy for the first time. In October, Secretary Gates visited Hanoi, where he proclaimed the potential for expanded U.S.-Vietnamese defense cooperation & his hope that Vietnam would continue lớn participate in military exercises with the United States. Later that month, Clinton returned to Hanoi & declared U.S. Interest in developing a “strategic partnership” with Vietnam và in cooperating with the country on “maritime security.” She then visited Phnom Penh và urged Cambodia to establish greater foreign-policy independence from China. In addition, for the first time the United States expressed support for the Indochinese countries’ efforts lớn constrain Chinese use of the headwaters of the Mekong River.

Beijing is now intent on punishing Vietnam for its hubris in cooperating with the United States. It wants lớn compel Hanoi khổng lồ accommodate Chinese power. In 2011 it escalated the frequency and scale of its armed harassment of Vietnamese fishing ships operating in disputed waters, causing increased bilateral tension và damage lớn the Vietnamese fishing industry. Trung quốc also stepped up its naval harassment of Philippine economic activities in disputed waters. But in response, the United States has only reinforced its commitment to lớn the Southeast Asian countries. In July 2011 it held another military exercise with Vietnam. Then it again sent an aircraft carrier to visit the country, and the Pentagon reached its first military agreement with the Vietnamese military. The Pentagon is also assisting the Philippines’ maritime intelligence capabilities in the South trung quốc Sea. China’s deputy foreign minister Cui Tiankai recently warned that some Southeast Asian countries were “playing with fire” and expressed his “hope that the fire will not be drawn to the United States.”

Washington is thus engaged in an increasingly polarized conflict in Southeast Asia. But more important, independent of the course of the South china Sea maritime disputes, U.S. Collaboration with Vietnam’s effort to use America to oppose china is not only costly but also foolish. Vietnam’s common land border with China, its maritime vulnerability khổng lồ the Chinese navy và its economic dependency on Beijing ensure that the United States will not be able to lớn develop meaningful defense cooperation with Vietnam. But having engaged trung quốc in this regional diplomatic tussle, any U.S. Effort khổng lồ disengage from the island conflict by encouraging moderation on the part of its Southeast Asian partners would risk being viewed as a strategic retreat.

The Obama administration’s greater security cooperation with countries on the mainland’s perimeter is a disproportionate reaction to Chinese nationalism. It is not reflective of any recent improvements in Chinese naval capabilities that could challenge U.S. Maritime dominance. Nor does it reflect an increased strategic importance of the Korean Peninsula or Indochina for U.S. Security. Since 1997, the United States deployed increasing quantities of its most advanced weaponry lớn East Asia và consolidated security cooperation with its maritime security partners, all the while maintaining significant U.S.-China cooperation. That was a productive policy.

But now Chinese leaders are reevaluating U.S. Intentions. They have concluded that the United States is developing a forward-leaning policy of encirclement and containment. Regardless of Washington’s intent, recent American actions have provided ample evidence to support China’s claims.

BEIJING’S NATIONALIST diplomacy is dangerous. America’s ill-conceived response makes it even more so. China is militarily vulnerable to the United States, and the regime is vulnerable khổng lồ internal instability. At this point, Washington is embroiled in territorial disputes over worthless islands in the South trung quốc Sea and is expanding its strategic presence on China’s periphery. & in an era when Chinese cooperation is increasingly important, Washington is needlessly challenging Chinese security.

Just as America expects đài loan trung quốc to restrain its security partners in the Middle East và Asia from exacerbating conflict with the United States, America has the responsibility khổng lồ rein in its security partners as well.

The balance of nguồn in East Asia is a vital national-security interest, & the United States must reassure its strategic partners that it will provide for their security, despite the rise of China. The United States military must continue lớn focus its weapons acquisitions and deployments on maintaining U.S. Security in the region. The task at hand for American policy is to realize these objectives while maintaining U.S.-China cooperation. Chinese nationalism will continue to challenge U.S. Foreign policy for a long time lớn come. This will require the administration to lớn acknowledge both America’s maritime superiority and China’s domestic & international vulnerabilities, và thus exercise confident restraint and resist overreaction to lớn Beijing’s insecure leadership.

Robert S. Ross is a professor of political science at Boston College và an associate at the John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University.

Pullquote:Beginning in early 2009, đài loan trung quốc committed a series of diplomatic blunders that ultimately elicited a near-universal condemnation of Chinese diplomacy.Essay Types:Essay