The mid-August protests in Chinese cities and accompanying media and internet commentary against Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea put pressure on Chinese officials to be firm in countering Japanese "intrusions".
They followed calls by prominent Chinese commentators and other constituencies for Beijing to adopt a tougher approach on territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Beijing in that case employed extraordinary measures including repeated use of security forces, economic sanctions, fishing and oil ventures, administrative fiats, diplomatic warnings and other intimidating means short of military force in thus far successful efforts to cow Southeast Asian claimants and preclude Asean from taking a united stand.
Foreign commentators are correct that a good deal of the impetus for popular and elite pressure for a tougher Chinese approach on territorial issues rests with the type of nationalism that has been fostered with increased vigour by the Chinese authorities since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of communism. The nationalistic discourse emphasises that since the 19th century, China has been treated unjustly and its territory and related sovereign rights have been exploited by other powers; China remains in a protracted process of building power sufficient to protect what China controls and regain disputed territory and rights. On the whole, the nationalistic discourse leads to a sense of "victimisation" by Chinese people and elites, who are seen having greater influence on China's foreign affairs decision-making now that the strongman politics of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping have given way to a collective leadership that is more sensitive to popular views.
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