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Nationalism Rising
Anti-Americanism Rises in China

Beijing is stoking anti-Western sentiments, and Jamil Anderlini at the Financial Times is concerned:

In liberal democracies with traditions of free speech, vociferous denunciations of these attitudes can act as a counterweight. But in authoritarian countries where alternative narratives are forbidden, official attempts to demonise foreigners and “others” can be especially dangerous. In the past week, the Chinese government has launched several viral online videos that blame “western hostile forces” for a host of ills and supposed conspiracies within China.

The videos are crude but exceptionally powerful in their simplicity and emotional appeal. One video promoted by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate and Communist Youth League, two of the most powerful state bodies, begins with heartbreaking scenes of orphans and victims of the wars in Iraq and Syria, and then jumps to an assertion that the west, led by the US, is trying to subject China to the same fate.

“Under the banner of ‘democracy, freedom and rule of law’ western forces are constantly trying to create societal contradictions in order to overthrow the [Chinese] government,” the subtitles read over pictures of democracy protesters in Hong Kong and President Barack Obama meeting the Dalai Lama.

According to the video, western plots and the “dark shadow of the Stars and Stripes” are also to blame for everything from attacks on Chinese peacekeepers in Africa, to farmers’ riots in China’s hinterland, to the Tibetan independence movement. The effect is heightened by ominous music and juxtaposition of chaos elsewhere with heroic images of Chinese soldiers and weaponry.

It’s worrying stuff, and continues a trend we’ve had our eye on for some time. The piece has many more examples too, and you should read the whole thing to get a feel for just how heated the rhetoric has become.

Anderlini fears that China’s rising jingoism signals an end to the openness that enabled China to grow, and it certainly looks that way. But it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that even though a hostile and xenophobic attitude isn’t good for investment and the economy, it’s also a consequence of slowing growth. As China’s economy enters rougher waters, Xi Jinping and his allies are looking for a new grip on power. Since at least the 1980s, sustained economic growth has formed the basis for Communist leadership. But as growth slows, the old springs of popularity are drying up. No longer can the Party promise higher wages and more jobs, better living accommodations and faster trains. So China’s leaders are looking to tap into other sources: nationalism, rather vague paeans to Marxism, and certain “traditional” variants of Confucianism.

In order to stem the nationalist tide (and avoid the temptation to ride it), China would have to fix its economy. The problem is that no one seems to know how to do that.

It’s no wonder the Party is playing up anti-Americanism and national identity as it seeks to strengthen the basis for Communist rule in a period of economic turmoil.

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  • FriendlyGoat

    Well, some of our politicians are spewing a similar rhetorical line. While China is medium-generic in blaming “the West”, some voices here are mega-generic in blaming “globalism”—-or essentially EVERYBODY BUT America. We are told to be mad at China, and mad at the NAFTA countries (Canada and Mexico), and mad at the potential TPP countries across the Pacific, and mad at the potential TTIP countries across the Atlantic, and mad at Central and South America for matters related to borders and immigration, and mad at NATO countries for not spending enough on defense, and mad at countries with a prevalence or growing presence of Islam—-all at once.

  • TheBlueStormtrooper

    There’s a great quote about what China’s doing right now from Andreas Kuersten: “If waning economic success begins to cause stirrings of discontent within the populace, why not blame others and commiserate in victimhood? Accordingly, a very reliable base upon which the Party can rest is nationalism: ‘It’s someone else’s fault, and we are standing up for our glorious homeland against those wicked others! Keep your faith in us, because we are the only ones who can protect you!’ The ‘us versus them’ mentality has incredible political pull.”

  • JR

    Sure, it seems problematic. But have they tried confiscatory taxation rates above a certain level of income? What’s that you say? They have and it failed spectacularly? Well, it’s clear that they didn’t have the right people in charge. They should try it now.

  • Observe&Report

    Fun fact: the video they describe was produced by a Chinese PhD student studying at Australian National University.

  • KremlinKryptonite

    Mainland Chinese with means LOVE the U.S., and are the largest source of birth tourism as well as immigrants in general.
    The unelected regime in Beijing viciously persecutes critics and pro-democracy advocates, and censors thousands of books and websites…so the feelings of mainland China are basically meaningless when they have little alternative and have a hard time accessing information from the outside world.

    • Alex Mercer

      Newsflash, loser: even your masters recognize the Chinese leaders, not unimportant plebs like you. It’s pretty funny how you’re so miserable that you can’t do anything that you just have China living in your head and following news about them to speculate whatever you want. Go crawl back to National Interest now.

  • Kevin

    “A hostile and xenophobic attitude isn’t good for investment and the economy”

    I think the evidence for this is VERY weak – its more a happy thought that Western liberals tell each other to imagine they are on the right side of history, sort of like Democratic Peace Theory. Imagining that all good things must be packaged together and that evil or undesirable behavior can never be effective is just wishful thinking.

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