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China’s Motivations and the Risks of Assumptions

There may be rising nervousness within the West about China’s rising assertiveness on the worldwide stage. This nervousness is clear within the insurance policies of western states. The USA has described China as ‘a sustained problem’ to the worldwide system (The White Home, 2021 p.8). In the meantime, the UK is investing in its ‘China-facing capabilities’ and Australia is buying nuclear submarines to hedge in opposition to China’s presence within the South China Sea (HM Authorities, 2021 p.22; Masterson, 2021). Undoubtedly, China’s rise poses a problem to the established order. If for no different purpose than that it represents an alternative choice to the western-centric worldwide system (Turin, 2010). However, representing an alternative choice to the established order doesn’t imply that Chinese language international coverage is inherently motivated by difficult the West.

Such anxious views of Chinese language international coverage are rooted in realism, a principle of worldwide relations which assumes actors to be inherently self-interested and motivated by the egoistic pursuit of energy (Waltz 2001; Mearshimer 2003). In line with this ontology, the potential energy to be gained by appearing assertively is sufficient to account for China’s international coverage motivations. Social constructivism, then again, posits that an actor’s motivations are rooted within the social interactions between teams inside the state (Leira, 2019). Utilizing this lens, China’s international coverage motivations should be understood in relation to its home politics. Adopting a socially constructivist ontology, this text argues that Chinese language international coverage is motivated, not less than partially, by home nationalist pressures and that, by the use of the safety paradox, western insurance policies are fuelling Chinese language assertiveness.

This text proceeds as follows. Firstly, by presenting the Chinese language Communist Occasion’s (CCP’s) twin-pillar mannequin of legitimacy and its elevated reliance on nationalism to keep up its regime’s legitimacy. It then outlines China’s nationalist motion and its international coverage agenda, utilizing the 2010 Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute to point out how nationalist stress impacts the CCP’s international coverage decision-making. Consideration is then given to the CCP’s social controls, displaying that the CCP is unable to mitigate nationalist stress by way of its propaganda infrastructure. The ultimate part then presents the safety paradox idea and the way the West’s realist assumptions and anxious insurance policies are fuelling Chinese language assertiveness.

Pillars of Legitimacy

After Mao’s dying, the CCP may not depend upon a cult of persona to offer common help for its regime (Coble, 2007). Slightly, the CCP has since premised its regime legitimacy ‘upon the dual pillars of nationalism and financial prosperity (Reilly, 2004 p.283). This mannequin of legitimacy predicates the CCP’s regime safety upon its potential to enhance the financial circumstances of the Chinese language folks and its potential to guard and pursue China’s nationwide pursuits.

Definitely, the CCP has carefully related itself with China’s financial success and nationwide pursuits. The CCP-owned Folks’s Every day, for instance, frequently praises the CCP for fostering China’s ‘thriving and various economic system’ (Cai, 2021). It goes so far as to reward particular CCP financial insurance policies such because the 13th 5 12 months Plan, which is credited with rising China’s digital economic system by 16.6% from 2016-20 (Folks’s Every day On-line, 2021a). Additionally revealed had been calls to help the CCP in defending nationwide pursuits from international intervention. For instance, by buying Xinjiang Cotton in opposition to the backdrop of worldwide condemnation of China’s therapy of Xinjiang’s Uighur inhabitants (Folks’s Every day On-line, 2021b).

Notably, Chinese language president Xi Jinping invoked each pillars when talking on the CCP’s 100th-anniversary celebrations. Stating that ‘solely socialism with Chinese language traits can develop China’ (BBC Information, 2021) On this assertion, the CCP and its particular model of socialist ideology are offered as important to China’s financial growth. In the meantime, Xi additionally made an overtly nationalistic pledge that the CCP will:

by no means enable anybody to bully, oppress or subjugate China. Anybody who tries to do this may have their heads bashed bloody in opposition to the Nice Wall of Metal cast by over 1.4 billion Chinese language folks (Xi by way of BBC Information, 2021).

Evidently, the CCP is raring to affiliate itself with financial growth and defending the Chinese language nation. Doing so in accordance with the dual pillar mannequin to keep up its regime legitimacy.

Nevertheless, an rising challenge with the dual pillar mannequin is that the CCP more and more struggles to make sure financial prosperity. Central to the financial pillar are Deng Xiaoping’s liberal financial reforms. Since their introduction within the early Eighties, per capita revenue has elevated by 2500% and over 800 million Chinese language have been saved from poverty, conferring common help for the CCP’s financial stewardship (Denmark, 2018). But, structural financial challenges together with a declining labour pressure, low per-capita productiveness, and an over-reliance on manufacturing lead to limitations to sustained development (World Financial institution, n.d.). Consequentially, 373 million Chinese language proceed residing in some extent of relative poverty (Ibid.).

As financial prosperity turns into tougher to ensure, the integrity of the financial pillar is weakened. This is a matter of which the CCP is conscious. China’s development price in 2018 was 6.6% (Kuo, 2019), considerably under each China’s highs of over 10% development within the 2000s, and the mandatory price wanted to keep up excessive ranges of employment (World Financial institution, n.d.). This led to considerations amongst CCP officers that rising unemployment would possibly result in social unrest (Kuo, 2019). This included Premier Li Keqiang, who publicly acknowledged ‘public dissatisfaction’ over China’s stagnating financial efficiency (Bradsher and Buckley, 2019).

Given the financial pillar’s weak point, the CCP should rely extra upon the nationalist pillar to hold the burden of its regime legitimacy. Therefore, the CCP has been much less prone to constrain common expressions of nationalist in recent times (Abbott, 2016). In 2005, tens-of-thousands of Chinese language nationalists protested Japanese textbooks for his or her omission of atrocities dedicated in opposition to China through the Second Sino-Japanese Conflict (Watts, 2005). Protesters attacked Japanese companies and property, together with Japan’s embassies and consulates (Yardley, 2005). Some native CCP branches and low-level officers inspired the demonstrations, however the central CCP discouraged the nationalist demonstrations (Watts, 2005). These efforts included deploying riot police, shutting down public transport and the Minister of Public Safety declaring the protests unlawful and citing concern for Sino-Japanese relations as the explanation for this crackdown (Yardley, 2005).

In stark distinction, the CCP did comparatively little to cease anti-Japanese protests in 2012. This time, nationalists in over 180 Chinese language cities gathered within the tens-of-thousands to protest Japan’s nationalisation of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands (Gries et al., 2016), an island chain within the East China Sea claimed by China however administered by Japan. Notably, senior CCP officers did not touch upon the protests whereas the dispute was ongoing (Buckley, 2012). Tensions in Sino-Japanese relations had been larger in 2012 in comparison with 2005 (Gries et al., 2016), which means it’s difficult to isolate China’s financial efficiency as a variable accounting for the distinction within the CCP’s response. Nevertheless, it’s notable that China’s financial development price slowed by roughly one-third from 11.39% in 2005 to 7.86% in 2012 (World Financial institution, n.d.). Accordingly, as per the twin-pillar mannequin, the CCP’s reluctance to constrain the nationalistic anti-Japanese protests was to be anticipated, any anti-protest measures risking the nationalist credentials upon which the CCP more and more relied because the financial pillar faltered.

Chinese language Nationalism and the CCP’s Overseas Coverage

The CCP’s reliance on the nationalist pillar confers appreciable affect upon China’s nationalist motion. This in flip requires the CCP to acquiesce to the nationalist agenda in its international coverage to keep up its legitimating nationalist credentials. Chinese language nationalism just isn’t a unified motion however consists of teams and organisations sharing a typical Chinese language nationalism delicate to what it considers affronts to the Chinese language nation and vocal in its activism in opposition to stated affronts (Reilly, 2004; Coble, 2007; Johnston, 2017). A few of these teams and organisations have formal hyperlinks with the CCP, for instance, the Communist Youth League and nationalists working in native CCP branches (Watts, 2005; Kecheng, 2020). Others function extra independently of the CCP, corresponding to nationalists among the many Chinese language diaspora and most of China’s on-line activist teams (Modongal, 2016; Fang and Repnikova, 2018).

These teams subscribe to a broad nationalist agenda and anticipate the CCP to make use of China’s rising financial and navy energy to pursue China’s pursuits (Abbott, 2016). Particularly, they demand justice for historic repression, recognition of China commensurate with its newfound energy, that the CCP mobilise in opposition to threats to Chinese language sovereignty, and that China’s sphere of affect be revered (Boylan et al., 2020). This agenda was evident within the current US-China commerce battle. Nationalists referred to as for sanctions in response to what they perceived as a US try to reject China’s standing as a number one world economic system, evaluating US tariffs to the repressive financial restrictions imposed upon China by western imperialists within the 1800s (Ibid.).

Understanding the nationalist agenda and the CCP’s reliance on the nationalist pillar for regime legitimacy is important. It’s because the CCP should adhere to the nationalist agenda in its international coverage to reside as much as its nationalist credentials (Coble, 2007). That is obvious in how, in opposition to the backdrop of China’s slowing economic system, nationalist stress has coincided with a hard-line stance from the CCP in China’s international relations. An instance of this may be discovered as early because the 2010 Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute (also called the Trawler Incident). This dispute started after a Chinese language fishing trawler collided with two Japanese coastguard vessels within the territorial waters of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, after which Japan arrested the trawler’s crew. Initially the CCP responded comparatively benignly, restricted to Overseas Ministry Spokeswoman Jiang Yu issuing an announcement requesting that Japan ‘chorus from so-called law-enforcement actions within the East China Sea’ (Johnson 2010).

Nevertheless, nationalistic anti-Japanese protests started within the days following the incident. The protesters referred to as upon the CCP to take additional motion in opposition to Japan. One protester exterior the Japanese embassy defined: ‘I would like our authorities to be stronger. They shouldn’t let the Japanese bully us on our personal soil!’ (Lim, 2010). In the meantime, a protester in Shanghai summarised the protests as follows: ‘We got here right here to enchantment for equity and for the correct to ask for our captain again. We remorse the federal government’s weak point in diplomacy’ (Al Jazeera, 2010a).

Evidently, the China nationalist motion, in response to a perceived affront within the type of the trawler incident, sought to stress the CCP into resolving the dispute in accordance with the nationalist agenda. The day after the protests began, and in addition solely a day after their preliminary assertion, Spokeswoman Jiang introduced naval deployments to the East China Sea. This demarcated the primary occasion of normal Chinese language patrols within the area because the normalisation of Sino-Japanese relations within the Nineteen Seventies (Inexperienced et al., 2017). Within the following weeks, because the nationalistic anti-Japanese protests continued, China additionally suspended diplomatic contacts with Japan and ceased uncommon earth exports important to Japanese manufacturing (Hafeez, 2015). Chinese language Premier Wen Jiabao additionally threatened Japan with retaliation whereas in New York for a UN convention (Al Jazeera, 2010b).

The truth that the CCP pivoted from a diplomatic response to naval deployments inside someday, and that this pivot coincided with nationalist stress upon the CCP, exhibits nationalism’s have an effect on upon Chinese language international coverage in motion. The speedy change in response to Japan ensuing from the CCP eager to uphold its nationalist credentials whatever the implications for Sino-Japanese relations.

In fact, it’s believable that the CCP merely desired to take a robust stance in opposition to Japan and that anti-Japanese sentiment merely supplied the pretext for the CCP to flex its newfound navy energy. Taffer (2020), for instance, presents the trawler incident as an try by the CCP to check the USA’s dedication to its Japanese ally. Nevertheless, the CCP made efforts to restore Sino-Japanese relations after the flashpoint of the dispute handed. These included the resumption of uncommon earth exports and gentle discouragement of anti-Japanese protests as soon as nationalist stress subsided within the following months (Inexperienced et al., 2017). This means that the CCP didn’t need to injury Sino-Japanese relations, however moderately that nationalist stress compelled the CCP to behave in accordance with the nationalist agenda. Thereby safeguarding its nationalist credentials as per its rising reliance upon the nationalist pillar to safe its regime legitimacy.

The Limits of the CCP’s Management

Reilly (2011) argues that the CCP practices efficient social management over its nationalist motion by leveraging China’s propaganda infrastructure to direct and disperse nationalist sentiment as wanted. If true, this might imply that the CCP faces no stress to stick to the nationalist agenda. It may merely adapt its propaganda messaging to counter nationalist stress with out appeasing the nationalist agenda in its international coverage decision-making.

But, the CCP has failed to limit nationalist activism in opposition to international actors, illustrating the bounds of the CCP’s management over China’s nationalist motion. For instance, in 2020, in opposition to the backdrop of worldwide condemnation of occasions in Hong Kong, the CCP struggled to crackdown on a nationalist anti-foreign smear marketing campaign on social media (Lo, 2020). Notably, the Communist Youth League, a nationalistic youth motion affiliated with the CCP, provocatively endorsed a ‘social media campaign’ in opposition to international governments sympathetic in the direction of Hong Kong (Kecheng, 2020). This exhibits that the CCP struggles to exert social management over nationalist organisations it has formal hyperlinks with, not to mention the broader Chinese language nationalist motion.

The restrictions of the CCP’s crackdown on the nationalist social media marketing campaign, and thus limitations of the CCP’s social controls over China’s nationalist motion, had been most outstanding in Might 2020. Chinese language nationalist hacktivists hijacked the Twitter account of the Chinese language embassy in Paris, posting an image depicting the USA because the personification of dying, trailing blood alongside a hall and knocking at Hong Kong’s door with the caption ‘who’s subsequent?’ (Lo, 2020). That is important for 2 causes. Firstly, the response from the Chinese language embassy was to quickly delete the publish and issued formal apologies to France and the USA (Keyser, 2020). These actions are inconsistent with a CCP actually motivated to claim China’s nationwide pursuits to the detriment of its international relations, however per a CCP struggling to regulate China’s nationalist motion.

Secondly, and most significantly, this instance exhibits Chinese language nationalists to be hijacking the CCP’s propaganda infrastructure to pursue their international coverage agenda. This factors to a actuality by which, moderately than the CCP having social management of China’s nationalist motion by way of its propaganda infrastructure, Chinese language nationalists discover methods to flee the CCP’s social controls. It additionally exhibits that they’re prepared to reply independently of the CCP to perceived affronts to the Chinese language nation in the event that they really feel the CCP fails to take action adequately.

Given the constraints of the CCP’s social controls, the CCP can not merely adapt its propaganda messaging to offset nationalist stress. Slightly, it should cope with the dilemma of both acquiescing to the nationalist agenda, even to the detriment of China’s international relations, or risking its nationalist credentials and thus regime legitimacy. This demonstrates that home nationalist pressures are a big consider China’s international coverage decision-making regardless of the CCP’s propaganda infrastructure.

Why Does it Matter?

Understanding the nationalist pressures on the CCP’s international coverage decision-making is necessary for 2 causes. Firstly, from an educational standpoint, it serves as a case research in working previous preliminary assumptions about an actor’s motivations. Whereas western policymakers anxiously assume China’s motivations in accordance with realism, this text has offered another rationalization. By an actor’s international coverage as a product of its home politics, it’s potential to offer a extra significant rationalization of their international coverage motivations. On this case, that China is motivated, not less than partially, by the CCP’s want to uphold its legitimating nationalist credentials within the face of stress to stick to the international coverage agenda of its nationalist motion.

Secondly, when it comes to the practise of worldwide relations, it exhibits how the realist assumptions of western policymakers and their respective China insurance policies threat turning into self-fulfilling prophecies. That is in accordance with the safety paradox idea. Also referred to as the safety dilemma, the safety paradox refers to a cycle by which two sides, by way of their efforts to mitigate their very own uncertainty and insecurity, set off uncertainty and insecurity within the different (Sales space and Wheeler, 2007). As this cycle progresses tensions might escalate to the purpose that battle emerges regardless of, paradoxically, neither facet essentially holding any ill-will in the direction of the opposite in the beginning of the paradox (Ibid.). An instance of a safety paradox is the Anglo-German naval arms race through the prelude to World Conflict I. On this, Germany’s maritime ambitions brought on Britain to increase its navy, in flip lea ding Germany to speed up its naval programme and thus Britain to develop bigger battleships, and so forth (Maurer, 1997).

The same mechanic could be noticed at the moment relating to the West and its insurance policies in the direction of China. Western states, anxious about China’s rise and rising assertiveness, are enacting insurance policies in preparation of a Chinese language problem to the established order. Buying nuclear submarines and investing in ‘China-facing capabilities’. Whereas comprehensible given their nervousness and realist assumptions, these insurance policies threat frightening Chinese language nationalists. Thereby producing stress on the CCP to enact the assertive international coverage the West needs to keep away from. Probably resulting in additional western insurance policies that threat being interpreted as an affront by Chinese language nationalists. If unchecked, this might result in hostility regardless of each the West and the CCP merely trying to mitigate their very own insecurities.

That western insurance policies are frightening Chinese language nationalists is obvious to see. Minister Yang Xiaoguang of the Chinese language embassy in London has defined that the Chinese language folks have expressed ‘antipathy and opposition’ to the UK’s plans to China coverage (Embassy of the Folks’s Republic of China in the UK of Nice Britain and Northern Eire, 2021). This means home nationalist stress on the CCP to answer the UK’s coverage. Equally, in response to American posturing and Australia’s acquisition of nuclear submarines, Chinese language nationalists briefly started requires the CCP to declare battle on AUKUS (Davidson and Blair, 2021). These examples each spotlight how, in response to western coverage, China’s nationalist motion is pressuring the CCP to stick to its international coverage agenda. In doing so, making the case that the West is, by the use of its China insurance policies, creating the assertive China that fuels their very own anxieties.


Evidently, China’s international coverage motivations are influenced by home nationalist pressures and western coverage. That is obvious contemplating the twin-pillar mannequin. As financial prosperity has develop into tougher for the CCP to ensure, it has needed to more and more depend upon nationalism for legitimacy. This confers appreciable affect upon China’s nationalist motion. China’s nationalist motion subscribes to a broad nationalist agenda, which it needs the CCP to stick to in its international coverage decision-making. This has affected China’s international coverage in practise, obvious as early as 2010 when the CCP rapidly pivoted to align extra carefully to the nationalist agenda through the 2010 Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute. Some have argued that the CCP’s management over China propaganda infrastructure confers efficient management over China’s nationalist motion. Nevertheless, as mentioned, the CCP’s social controls over Chinese language nationalists are in reality restricted. With nationalists even bypassing stated propaganda infrastructure and immediately pursuing their international coverage agenda once they think about the CCP to did not rectify affronts to the Chinese language nation.

Understanding the home pressures motivating Chinese language international coverage showcases the significance of shifting past realist assumptions and highlights how we will obtain a fuller understanding by contemplating the home after we research the worldwide. It additionally exhibits that western international insurance policies are, by the use of the safety paradox, producing the assertive China that western coverage was supposed to mitigate. Because the West provokes Chinese language nationalists, they’re pressuring the CCP to enact extra assertive international insurance policies, in flip inflicting additional nervousness within the West. Additional research into how China’s home politics informs its international coverage may supply extra insights motivations. It may additionally inform western insurance policies in the direction of China. Lessening the chance of frightening Chinese language nationalists and thus higher mitigating western anxieties.


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