The Recklessness of Nationalist Brinksmanship

So after a wave of rather violent anti-Japan protests I argued were state-supported, the madness has wound down — or rather, been wound down — by the same folks who drummed it up: the government. This is not an uncommon tactic at all, but it is an exceedingly dangerous one.

Let us take, for example, the attack on US Ambassador Gary Locke’s car that occurred near the end of this wave of protests. Chinese security stepped in fairly quickly and there was little damage to the car and no injuries to anyone involved. That’s fortunate, but just consider the ramifications if something had gone differently.

Say Chinese security reacted too slowly, being unprepared for a threat to the US Ambassador’s life at a time when everyone was busy destroying Japanese things. Say some overzealous protester in the crowd brought a molotov cocktail, or that Locke had been dragged out of the car and beaten or killed. It is certainly possible; while the vast majority of protesters would certainly never go this far, there were reported beatings in several areas during the protests and the ethnically Chinese US Ambassador could feasibly become a target of some rage if the US is perceived as opposing China’s claim to the islands. Anyway, let’s say things go badly and Locke is dragged out of the car and beaten, perhaps killed.

The damage to China’s international reputation would be immediate and severe. China’s government will claim that the protests were not government-supported and point out that Chinese security forces were attempting to protect and rescue the Ambassador, but these claims will be downed out as the international media reports on the many inflammatory articles and reports that appeared in state-owned media prior to the protests, and compares China’s approach to controlling anti-Japan protests to its approach to controlling pro-democracy ones ((I don’t have room to go into this here, but if you haven’t been following it, this is one of the interesting sub-stories from this round of anti-Japan protests. Many of the protesters who were arrested by security forces were people who were chanting slogans opposing corruption or advocating political reform, not people who were violently vandalizing Chinese-owned, vaguely “Japanese” businesses.)). It will point out articles like this one by Evan Osnos of the New Yorker, which says that police loudspeakers were blaring messages of sympathy and support even as they urged rationality and calm. The foreign media will come to the basically same conclusion I did: at best, China’s government could have done far more to control these protests; at worst, China’s government was actively encouraging them and supporting them until they got out of hand. Opinions of China will plummet internationally, and the incident will reinforce the stereotype that Chinese people are brainless nationalist drones. (To a certain extent, this has happened anyway).

China will condemn the attack, and find and punish the rioters responsible, but this will not sake the anger of the United States Congress, which will (because it is mostly full of idiots) be screaming for blood. Some will consider it an act of war. Chinese flags will be burned in the streets, and Chinese-Americans will start saying their parents are Taiwanese, at least for a little while. It will get ugly, and even imagining the best case scenario, it will impede any kind of development in the Sino-US relationship for years to come. Meanwhile, Chinese nationalists will be protesting the backlash, creating an echo-chamber of nationalist yelling and mutual flag-burning.

Of course, it’s possible that this will never happen. I’m not sure what the chances are. But the government is rolling the dice every time it encourages outpourings of nationalism like this with a media frenzy like the one we saw leading up to these protests. The media should be free to report whatever it deems newsworthy, and protesters should be free to protest whatever they want. But in China, where neither of those things are the case, the government must understand that it is going to be seen as ultimately responsible for what the press says and what protesters do. If it keeps allowing things to reach the brink of boiling point before pulling back, one of these times, it is going to be too late, and even though it wasn’t the government committing the crimes, the government will ultimately be left holding the ball.

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20 thoughts on “The Recklessness of Nationalist Brinksmanship”

  1. “So after a wave of rather violent anti-Japan protests I argued were state-supported, the madness has wound down — or rather, been wound down — by the same folks who drummed it up: the government. This is not an uncommon tactic at all, but it is an exceedingly dangerous one.”

    I hate to repeat myself. But I have to point this out: unlike the Islamic young men who had nothing to lose during the “Jasmine Revolution”, most Chinese protesters do have a boss in their company to respond to, or a school attendance record to take care of. That is the real reason why the whole thing is winding down once 918 has passed.

    “The damage to China’s international reputation would be immediate and severe.”

    Some Western media have attempted for a long time to portray China as at the same level of Nazi Germany, “the lowest of the low” as some fellow commentator mentioned. How do you knock out someone who is already laying on the ground?

    “It will point out articles like this one by Evan Osnos of the New Yorker, which says that police loudspeakers were blaring messages of sympathy and support even as they urged rationality and calm.”

    Citing police crowd control tactic as an example of government malevolence, did the Osnos guy try to misinform or dis-inform his readers?

    “Chinese flags will be burned in the streets, and Chinese-Americans will start saying their parents are Taiwanese, at least for a little while. It will get ugly, and even imagining the best case scenario, it will impede any kind of development in the Sino-US relationship for years to come.”

    Well, the worst scenario actually already happened to Asian-Americans: the Chinese exclusion law, the WW2 Japanese-American internment, the McCarthyism in the 1950s that saw the exile of Chinese-American rocket scientist and nuclear physicist, the killing of Vincent Chin, etc. I can only hope the U.S. has progressed over those stages, but I suspect it has not completely.

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  2. “I hate to repeat myself.”
    —do you really? Cuz it’s more of the same, just like on the other thread.

    “That is the real reason”
    —if you say so, Sherlock.

    “Some Western media have attempted for a long time to portray China as at the same level of Nazi Germany,”
    —OMG, do you see any of that “western media” around here? If not, then why bring it up here? No one here is comparing CHina with Nazis except you…and you might want to start thinking about why that is so.

    “did the Osnos guy try to misinform or dis-inform his readers?”
    —you can simply say you don’t believe Osnos. Maybe the cops on the megaphone were simply uttering crowd control statements, with no attempt to egg the crowd on, and Osnos is full-on lying. But if Osnos isn’t completely fabricating it, then you have to ask yourself why the police would be behaving that way. Though in your case, I suspect you will not want to ask yourself such difficult questions.

    “the worst scenario actually already happened”
    —you do realize Custer was forward-looking in giving his perspective, right? So what do you do? You drag up stuff from 70+ years ago, and one example of a hate crime/beating death. Also hilarious that, when you need help trying lamely to make a point, reaching for some help from the Japanese-american experience during WW2 isn’t beneath you, despite the recent brouhaha with Japan protests. Ah, forget it, logic is simply a lost cause for you people.

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  3. @ KT: Agreed that China is in negative values already. But if you don’t think it can go any lower, wait for something like this to happen. This is not the bottom. It can go lower.

    @ scl: For all your claims about the “Western media” comparing China to Nazi Germany, the only person I’ve ever seen do that is you. If you have some evidence that this happened, prove it. Post links. Otherwise, shut up.

    @ ALL: I am thinking of adding a section to the comments policy that requires any claims people make be cited with links or book citations from respectable sources. Thoughts?

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  4. You’re probably right Custer. Here in Australia public and governmental opinion/defense policy is undergoing a bit of a sea change re PRC. And this is in spite of the fact that our extractive mineral industries are making a bundle, and in so doing raising the price of the Oz dollar.

    Huawei got a short shift in its attempt to tender for the national broad band scheme. Espionage concerns. The only folk wanting to cosy up to the PRC are a couple of mining titans who wish to import cheap chinese labour on 357 (?) visas. Also widespread concern about PRC farm purchases, despite the fact that China lags behind buyers from the Emirates.

    Finally, defense policy shifts.

    http://www.watoday.com.au/national/australia-counters-chinese-threat-20120921-26c6j.html

    I like the descriptor “autistic”.

    There you are. A link.

    An okay suggestion, but it could kill the commenting traffic.

    What the hell. Trolling wears thin after awhile.

    And while on the subject, despite all the lame brained kudos awarded to Chinasmack by yesterdays weblords, the western comments section is beyond the pits. Comments by Chinese posters appear intelligent in comparison.

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  5. “@ scl: For all your claims about the “Western media” comparing China to Nazi Germany, the only person I’ve ever seen do that is you. If you have some evidence that this happened, prove it. Post links. Otherwise, shut up.”

    I usually avoid countering other commentator’s counterpoints, because it would be a never ending story with some of them. But since it was so easy to find what you want to see, I picked up a few examples for you:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/chipping-away-at-chinas-state-capitalism/2012/04/01/gIQA3rObpS_story.html

    http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/echoing-nazi-germany-china-liu-xiaobo-family-pick-nobel-peace-prize-article-1.452932

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hGwtkRhFObWIId-yzpVVlCm2lpmg?docId=CNG.185c429e4cf5ad15f14ff3629cb82c86.381

    There are many more examples. But I do have something better to do.

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  6. Re your examples:

    Washington Post: This does not compare China to Nazi Germany; it’s just making a historical point about the way Americans, historically, react to economic downturns.

    NY Daily News: Really? The Daily News? OK, yes, this compares China to Nazi Germany. However, this is a shit paper that is respected by no one. The front page stories right now are something about a supermodel’s dog and a speculative piece about whether Kanye West has a sex tape. I could find similar comparisons in crap Chinese publications too, I’m sure, but that wouldn’t be a fair representation of the Chinese media would it?

    AFP: US Congressmen, not “the media”, made this comparison. As you may be aware, most of the US Congress is quite stupid; however, since they’re in power the media is sort of obligated to report when they say things.

    So yeah, feel free to try again. You may want to actually read the articles you link next time. And let’s try to keep it to respected publications here; you can find examples of anything depending on what you decide to call “media” but condemning the “Western media” for bias because of something in the Daily News is like condemning all Chinese people as idiots just because Kong Qingdong is an idiot.

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  7. “China will condemn the attack, and find and punish the rioters responsible, but this will not sake the anger of the United States Congress, which will (because it is mostly full of idiots) be screaming for blood. Some will consider it an act of war. Chinese flags will be burned in the streets, and Chinese-Americans will start saying their parents are Taiwanese, at least for a little while. It will get ugly, and even imagining the best case scenario, it will impede any kind of development in the Sino-US relationship for years to come. Meanwhile, Chinese nationalists will be protesting the backlash, creating an echo-chamber of nationalist yelling and mutual flag-burning.”

    Of course, if you are right, I don’t know why you are expecting the Chinese government to be less idiotic than the US Congress.

    Are you suggesting that Nationalist kneejerk (and idiotic) reaction would be natural and justified in US, whereas it wouldn’t be in China?

    Well, at least you admit US Congress might also react stupidly. Like throwing US into yet another war.

    I for one, am glad that China is not reacting by screaming for war, just for “votes”.

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  8. Good grief, scl. One wonders if you have the capacity to move beyond Google keyword searches of things like “Nazi Germany China” based on those brilliant links you offered up (btw, #3 result of that search is your fantastic link to NY Daily News…you really are a talented guy). You might also want to actually read your own links to ensure that they are contextually applicable to the topic of discussion, so that you don’t end up being a laughing stock the next time. That would be something better for you to do. Please do better with your next examples, cuz even you can’t do any worse.

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  9. What Han Han says here makes a lot of sense.

    The CCP lets protests spiral out of control, just to demonstrate what a vital role she plays in maintaining control and preserving…you guessed it…”stability”. Of course, the protests could’ve occurred under enough control so as not to descend into vandalism and hooliganism, but that would not have helped the CCP in demonstrating that false dichotomy. ‘the CCP: either you’re with us, or you’re for anarchy’.

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  10. A shame about having to crank down further on nonsensical commenting.

    @SKC
    Nice article. I actually had a paranoid flash a couple days ago along the lines of CCP justifying their enforcement of stability. The anti-japan demonstration/parades do sound very ordered for the most part with a small number of hooligans mixed in. What if some are actually government agents to make otherwise peaceful rallies examples of chaos? Really takes government instigated protests to a whole other level doesn’t it?

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  11. To cephaloless,
    are you suggesting that the CCP might plant people in the field to behave as agitators to light the fuse and get the party started? Nah…say it ain’t so…

    Seriously though, as far as I know, the CCP kept their sponsorship activities confined to providing free eggs and busing municipal government workers in to join the protest party.

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  12. Can I just voice my utter disgust at the attack on Charles Custer posted over at Hidden Harmonies? No sane person could read this post and think that Custer was making a threat. Full stop.

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  13. Creative reading and lack of intelligence are HH prerequisites. Didn’t know you still bothered with those people. The warped perspective of Americans of Chinese descent who have chips on their shoulders (which is about all HH is good for) would not be of much interest to me.

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  14. I had read what you guys said about HH earlier, so I went to check it out and saw that latest post. I was purposefully very respectful, non-troll like and offered an alternate perspective on this here blog post, using facts from this here post as evidence. I just looked in again today and see that all my posts (5 or so in total) have been taken down. That right there tells you exactly what kind of blog it is.

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  15. We know the islands themselves are useless, since they’re uninhabitable. I previously thought that gaining control of them would merely allow a country to lay claim to the sea-floor resources in the area. Turns out that’s a non-starter too. Which is all just a long way of saying the whole display was nationalism run amok but without purpose.

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  16. police loudspeakers were blaring messages of sympathy and support even as they urged rationality and calm.”

    Are there any audio or video files of these messages around? I’m curious about the language used to convey such duplicity.

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