Liberals like Fang Fang are not the only ones who are alarmed by this neo-nationalism. It has caused worry among many of China’s neighbours and in the West since they regard it as a mirror of the Communist Party’s own mentality. Hence the concern whether the targeting of Fang Fang is a sign of China acting even more aggressively overseas.
Interestingly American officials try to avoid criticising China, and its hyper nationalism while on the subject of nationalism in states with authoritarian regimes. But from what is on record, like Biden-speak in March last year, they are thinking about it anyway.
“Nationalism is on the rise, and repression is spreading and attacks against the rules-based order are intensifying,” President Joe Biden told a virtual meeting of the UN Security Council, adding that America’s fate is “increasingly entwined with international events”. He had to be considering China.
The invasion of Ukraine by Russia seemed to validate some American concerns. Not only Washington, even other Western capitals are increasingly concerned that nationalism in China—held by Jinping regime and the people – could push Beijing in the same direction.
Frankly this concern is Taiwan centric, and its democratic future. Taking control of the island has been the goal of Chinese nationalism right from the day in 1949 when the Communist Party came to power in Beijing, forcing the defeated Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, to flee to Taiwan, a teardrop-shaped island, roughly the size of Maryland, located less than 100 miles off the coast of mainland China.
As President Xi is all set to get a third term as the helmsman of China, crops up the question: how much his judgment on whether to invade Taiwan will be influenced by nationalism? Or to use force militarily against nations China has territorial conflicts with?
The Senkaku Islands, often referred to as the Diaoyu in China, are under Japanese sovereignty and are located in the East China Sea. Beijing asserts sovereignty over areas of the South China Sea that five other nations also claim.
India and China have differences on the alignment of the long border they share in the Himalayas. The border dispute resulted in a war sixty years ago; there have been several skirmishes in recent years.
Chinese authorities occasionally mention public opinion on these issues as a factor they must take into consideration when formulating policy in discussions with overseas colleagues. Chinese nationalists are undoubtedly getting more readily stirred to call for harsh measures against their adversaries, particularly Taipei leadership, which is anti-China.
Sima Nan, a well-known Chinese nationalist with almost 3 million Weibo followers, asked whether it would be ethical to shoot Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen. He posed the question after former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated on July 8, while giving a campaign speech on a street in central Japan.
“All Chinese people want Taiwan to be liberated peacefully”, he wrote, remarking, “Wouldn’t people be thrilled if stabbing Tsai Ing-wen to death could bring about peaceful unification?”
It is against this background, the nationalist credentials of President Xi, who is also the General Secretary of CCP, have become a topic of animated discussion. He has been the paramount leader of China since 2012. He will be rewarded with a third term as the party’s leader at CCP Congress later this year.
This deviates from the general consensus that the general secretary would hold office for no more than two terms, and that there would be an orderly succession structure. Xi has thwarted these well laid ground rules, opposition, and has had his way.
Two questions pop up as a consequence on what he will be unto in the days to come.
One will Xi highlight his nationalist credentials to defend his prolonged rule.
Two will he assert that only he can achieve unification with Taiwan.
As of now, there aren’t many indications of impending danger despite repeated excursions by Chinese military planes into the Taiwanese airspace and Chinese warships sailing around Taiwan.
Some commentators say that since its founding in 1949, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government in Beijing has never had any sovereignty over Taiwan but that is beside the point. What is germane to the present discussion is the reality that diplomats, particularly from the West are nervously watching for any indications of a stronger stance.
However, China’s nationalism has gotten worse, and party conflict has long characterised the country’s politics of succession. It’s not implausible that Xi’s detractors or those anticipating the day he leaves the political scene may turn to more virulent expressions of nationalism.
Xi has fostered an ugly hyper nationalism dubbing it as patriotism with Chinese characteristics. It is an unpredictable force. And he might not always be able to manage it. Like riding a tiger!