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Chinese Nationalism and the “Gray Zone”: Case Analyses of Public Opinion and PRC Maritime Policy

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Abstract

This volume examines the role of popular nationalism in China’s maritime conduct. Analysis of nine case studies of assertive but ostensibly nonmilitary actions by which the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has advanced its position in the South and East China Seas in recent years reveals little compelling evidence of popular sentiment driving decision-making. While some regard for public opinion demonstrably shapes Beijing’s propaganda strategies on maritime issues, and sometimes its diplomatic practices as well, the imperative for Chinese leaders to satisfy popular nationalism is at most a contributing factor to policy choices they undertake largely on the basis of other considerations of power and interest. Where surges of popular nationalism have been evident, they have tended to follow after the PRC maritime actions in question, suggesting instead that Chinese authorities channeled public opinion to support existing policy.