Chinese Nationalism

At its core, Nationalism in China, serves to advance the nation’s interests. The rise of Chinese nationalism is characterized from its diplomacy in the maritime space, global economic ventures, and security advancements that have demonstrated China’s new assertiveness and challenged United States foreign policy . It has been argued that Chinese national identity has ties to historical beliefs of a desire for dignity from feelings of humiliation from China’s first encounters with Western and Japanese imperialism . This underlying belief coupled with Chinese strategy to advance its interests provides a competitive approach to international affairs to right perceived grievances and establish China as a global superpower. Motivated by nation building and a quest for status as a global power, China has successfully used nationalism to ensure internal stability and establish itself as a player in the international world order .

China’s actions and policy in the South China Sea are examples of Chinese nationalism and China’s attempt to reshape the world order. Chinese actions and policy in the South China Sea are a result of assessing the current international environment, determining Chinese room to maneuver, and deciding on how the South China Sea fits into strategic plans . The Chinese Peripheral Diplomacy Work Conference on 2425 October 2013, and the Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs on 2829 November 2014 included discussions on maritime power in the South China Sea and its foreign policy implications . Documents from the two conferences identified the goal of Chinese foreign policy is to elevate the status of China as a global power . Policy on South China Sea, as a component of overall foreign policy in elevating China’s international status, can be seen as linked to nation building and quest for global status motivations of Chinese nationalism.

Chinese nationalism shapes their DIME (Diplomacy, Information, Military, Economic) instruments of national power. The economic aspect of Chinese strategy is to play a global role and lead by creating institutions that protect national interests . The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), supporting Asia Pacific development, and “One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative to strengthen infrastructure on land routes West of China typify Chinese economic cooperation . Under the banner of economic cooperation, primary interest in participation in AIIB and OBOR is to create markets for Chinese goods and facilitate their transportation . China has exploited opportunity to fill roles of greater leadership by taking advantage of the United States position on Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations and advancing efforts on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) . The RCEP trade agreement includes countries which account for 12% of global trade and 29% of global GDP . Chinese foreign aid is largely committed to projects that benefit China by providing aid in areas that Chinese businesses are involved and stand to make profit . Chinese use of the economic instrument of national power is clearly derived from Chinese nationalism in that China can be expected to participate in economic ventures only after ensuring that China is the primary benefactor.

Current Chinese military force development and strategy is shaped by Chinese nationalism and fueled by competition with any nation the Chinese believe pose a threat now and into the future. Capability development in the domains of information, cyber, air, and maritime have increased exponentially and attempts to gain technological advances from competitor nations occur routinely. The Chinese have traditionally avoided alliances and overseas basing as part of their strategy, however, current Chinese thinking is to establish points of access in strategic locations globally that will house equipment, logistical support, and personnel. This change in thinking is an attempt at expanding Chinese spheres of influence and ability to project power. In recent polling of Chinese nationals, it was discovered that approximately 80% of the respondents believed China should compete to become the strongest country militarily . China is still considered a “near peer potential adversary to the United States militarily, but current Chinese military spending and capability development is closing the gap.

Chinese nationalism is a key component in China’s rise as a global power. As United States policies take on isolationist and anti-globalization tones, one can expect China to take advantage of opportunities that have a direct positive benefit for China . Chinese nationalism shapes Chinese strategy and use of their instruments of national power. So, what makes Chinese nationalism successful? Arguably, the reason nationalism is successful in China is the united nature of the population, government, and policy towards Chinese vision of their future status and role in the world. Chinese nationalism unites the population with the government and when the populations’ views of strategy and policy differ; the Chinese government uses nationalism to influence opinion. This differs from the United States in which the population is currently polarized along political party lines with differing views of the role of the United States in the future.

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