The rising tensions in the Asia-Pacific between China, Japan and the US are ominously reminiscent of the run-up to the First World War, observers suggest.
Will China’s ruling Communist party follow the Kaiser’s example and respond to growing pressure to democratize by stoking aggressive nationalist sentiment?
“The analogy with Germany before the first world war is striking – as the adept leadership of Otto von Bismarck gave way to much clumsier political and military leadership in the years before war broke out,” notes the FT’s Gideon Rachman:
The German ruling elite felt similarly threatened by democratic pressures from below – and encouraged nationalism as an alternative outlet for popular sentiment. China’s leaders have also used nationalism to bolster the legitimacy of the Communist party.
The “hard” form often reported by the foreign media tends to be centered in Beijing’s military circles and the upper echelons of the party. ….Since few believe in Marxism anymore, the Chinese “Communist” Party seeks legitimacy by invoking a form of nationalism that assumes an antagonistic and competitive relationship with the rest of the world. In other words, hard nationalism is often put to use to make people serve the government, not the other way around.
But there is another form of nationalism – let’s call it “soft” nationalism – that makes moral sense in contemporary China…. [and] takes pride in Confucian values – a humanitarian outlook and self-improvement by learning from others – and both values are highlighted in Nanjing.
“Most Chinese intellectuals and political reformers recognize the need for a softer form of nationalism,” Bell suggests. “We will know that soft nationalism has reached Beijing when Confucius returns permanently to Tiananmen Square.
The current party leadership “must break with their predecessors in finally acknowledging the inherent tension that exists between cultivating blind nationalism at home while embracing globalization abroad,” argues Zheng Wang, a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
“They should be aware that patriotism can easily become nationalism, and an overly nationalistic foreign policy will antagonize China’s trading partners and undercut economic development,’ he cautions, writes Zheng, the author of Never Forget National Humiliation: Historical Memory in Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations:
The Chinese are pursuing the dream of rejuvenating the nation in the 21st century. In this process, however, China must not only modernize its financial system and infrastructure, but also strengthen its political institutions and education system. Chinese elites should recognize that their dream of restoring China’s long lost glory should actually be geared toward a realistic, less nationalistic goal of nation building.
Many analysts believe that the resilience of the PRC’s authoritarian regime is approaching its limits, as a result of deep changes that have been taking place in China. The state apparatus is still strong, but it must deal with an increasingly contentious, nimble, and resilient civil society.
But does this mean there will be a “tipping point” away from authoritarianism in the near future?
Andrew J. Nathan and Louisa Greve, who are among the contributors to a set of eight articles on China appearing in the January 2013 Journal of Democracy, and Maochun Yu will examine whether the evidence points to a coming period of significant political change in the PRC.
The International Forum for Democratic Studies
cordially invites you to a luncheon presentation entitled
China at the Tipping Point?
Andrew J. Nathan, Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science, Columbia University
Louisa Greve, National Endowment for Democracy
Maochun Yu, U.S. Naval Academy
Thursday, February 7, 2013 12 noon–2:00 p.m. (Lunch served 12:00–12:30 p.m.)
1025 F. Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004 Telephone: 202-378-9675
RSVP (acceptances only) with name and affiliation by Tuesday, February 5.