September 1, 2012, by China Policy Institute

The Diaoyu Issue: Managing Nationalism, Continuing Pragmatism

By Zhengxu Wang.

Inside China, as Beijing tries to get things in order for this autumn’s Communist Party congress, a wave of public mobilisation, no matter for what cause, is the last thing it wants. Having only a few months left in office, the incumbent leadership is in no mood to introduce new policy initiatives.

Yet Beijing cannot afford to completely suppress public expression at home. Any efforts to actively contain nationalist sentiment will invite harsh criticism that the government is selling out. Past experience has shown that when it faces a major surge of nationalist opinion, the government is likely to tolerate public protests for a period of time.

To show the public that the government is indeed working to defend national interests, Beijing will make strong and demanding diplomatic statements, while at the same time looking for ways to let public anger gradually fade.

Once that happens, the government will have more room for policy action. Only then will pragmatic negotiations with the Japanese government regarding how to manage the dispute be possible. In fact, Beijing and Tokyo had made significant progress on the Diaoyu Islands until efforts were disrupted by recent events.

Furthermore, Beijing is quickly learning new methods to assert its presence over disputed territories. The establishment of Sansha city has enabled China to turn its claims over waters and features in the South China Sea into an administrative presence.

The reported appearance of Chinese fishery authority vessels in the waters near the Diaoyu Islands last month very likely indicated the beginning of more routine exercises of a similar nature.

Dr Zhengxu Wang is deputy director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham. This blog is the second part of a commentary published by the author with South China Morning Post on 24 August, 2012.

Dr Zhengxu Wang is  Deputy Director of the China Policy Institute and Lecturer at the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.

Posted in International Relations