Beijing’s nationalist push to build support for CCP has stoked tensions with Washington
Beijing’s nationalist push to shore up support for the ruling Chinese Communist Party has stoked tensions with Washington, Jessica Chen Weiss has said.
In an article in Foreign Affairs, Weiss said: “Although the main objective of Beijing’s nationalist push has been to build domestic support for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), it has also stoked tensions with Washington, as each side tries to outdo the other in shifting blame and avoiding accountability for its handling of Covid-19.”
“The tit-for-tat rhetoric has already accelerated a race to the bottom in US-Chinese relations and hindered cooperation in fighting the pandemic. For the United States, this more nationalistic Chinese approach will present even greater challenges going forward, hindering US leverage and deterrence in ways that will constrain US policy options,” she added.
Relations between the US and China have worsened in recent times over a range of issues including the handling of coronavirus pandemic.
But over the long term, she stated that nationalism will prove even more of a hindrance to Beijing’s ambitions since it undermines Chinese efforts to attract international support and show global leadership.
“Wolf warrior diplomacy might appease Chinese nationalists at home, but it will limit China’s appeal abroad. And xenophobia and repression in the name of national stability--whether toward African migrants in Guangzhou, Central Asian minorities in Xinjiang, or ethnic Chinese in Hong Kong--have given the lie to Chinese efforts to project a benevolent and magnanimous image,” she said.
China has faced criticism for massive abuse of human rights of Uighurs in Xinjiang province.
“Even if Beijing recognizes these problems, it will be costly--although not impossible--for the Chinese leadership to constrain the nationalism it has unleashed,” said Weiss.
She noted that to some extent, Beijing has already tempered its most aggressive nationalist rhetoric in the face of domestic and international pushback in recent weeks.
“Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian has denied that China is trying to export its coronavirus response model. Leading military hawks have cautioned Chinese nationalists against using force to reunify with Taiwan,” she said.
“Censors have shuttered social media accounts promoting “fabricated and misleading” claims about India, Kazakhstan, and Vietnam. But despite this modest tamping down of nationalist rhetoric, even China’s internal reporting suggests that global anti-Chinese sentiment is at its highest point since the 1989 crackdown at Tiananmen Square,” she added.
In recent times, China has tried to bully smaller neighbouring countries, aggravating tensions in the region.
Still, she said, more assertive nationalism is likely to remain a feature of Beijing’s rhetoric and diplomacy, with significant implications for US policy.
“The more the CCP prioritizes nationalism and public stability relative to economic growth as sources of domestic legitimacy, the less leverage the United States and other outside powers have, particularly on issues of central importance to China’s leaders, such as territorial integrity,” the article read.
Citing the example of Hong Kong where China has imposed draconian national security law to crush dissent, she said: “Take Hong Kong, where Beijing has feared both democratic contagion and a separatist threat to national sovereignty. Threats of economic sanctions have been ineffective at deterring Beijing from pushing through new national security legislation that effectively ends Hong Kong’s autonomy.”
She highlighted that once mobilized, nationalism creates pressure for the government to talk tough and placate domestic audiences, increasing the costs of restraint.
Cautioning that US policymakers aiming to shape the trajectory of China’s behaviour and influence must consider both the short- and long-term effects of nationalism on Chinese politics and policy, she said policies to force near-term Chinese restraint may also make medium- or long-term belligerence more likely by hardening the overall opinion climate inside China.
“In crafting strategies to deter or punish Beijing, policymakers may end up increasing domestic Chinese demands for tough retaliation, including countermeasures against the range of foreign interests that benefit from access to China--whether scientific, journalistic, or corporate,” she said while adding that the more the CCP leans on nationalism, the less worried the United States should be about China as a rival for global leadership.