Mon, Sep 24, 2012 - Page 8 News List

China’s actions undermine image

By Yu-Wen Chen 陳玉文

Whether this will work or not is a matter of speculation, and it may exacerbate greater challenges confronting not only China, but East Asia and the wider world.

One must note that anti-Japanese sentiment is a phenomenon deeply rooted in history and Chinese society. In school, on TV and the Internet, young Chinese learn early on about the bullying and atrocities Japan subjected China to before and during World War II.

In fact, as recent events illustrate, this anti-Japanese indoctrination is so effective that the government finds it nearly impossible to control.

This has put Beijing in a bind: If the government puts down the ongoing outbreak of patriotic protest, it will bring the very anti-government sentiment it has been trying to divert to the surface. This is a sign that when it comes to being able to channel the nationalism of its citizens, China is in fact a very weak regime.

This can be seen in the ham-handed actions Beijing takes to persuade its population and the world that it nevertheless maintains its grip. This is done by undertaking apparently contradictory actions, from issuing permits for some protests to arresting lawbreakers during other sometimes-violent demonstrations. The same contradictions can be seen in cyberspace, where nationalist posts are often permitted to show the government’s tolerance of popular expression, while at others, similar posts and graphic elements are removed.

Particularly when it comes to situations in which nationalist sentiment is aroused, Beijing is increasingly held hostage to public opinion. This is a direct result of the government’s desire to avoid challenges to its nationalist credentials and its loathing about confronting its burgeoning number of ardent nationalists.

This tendency undermines China’s image and its national interests. The world regards China as a rising power and expects it to behave in a mature and responsible fashion. Failing to do so not only tarnishes China’s global image, it jeopardizes peace and security in East Asia.

Yu-Wen Chen is a lecturer in the Department of Government at University College Cork, Ireland.

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