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Clinton’s Task in China Just Got Tougher

Good luck to Hillary Clinton on her visit to Beijing to try to cajole the Chinese leadership into settling through negotiations their disputes with the Philippines, Japan, and other nations over potentially mineral-rich islands in the South China Sea and East China Sea. She will need it, because the Chinese leadership has no interest in amicably resolving these disputes, because then it would lose a grievance it can exploit to fan nationalist sentiment. And why is the Chinese leadership so interested in building up nationalist resentment? The answer is not hard to find—see for example the latest article on the hijinks of a Communist princeling.

This one concerns a car crash that occurred earlier this year in Beijing—the driver of a Ferrari was killed and two women who were traveling with him were badly injured. All three were apparently in various states of undress. Turns out the fabulously rich driver was the son of Ling Jihua, former head of the General Office of the Communist Party Central Committee and a close ally of outgoing president Hu Jintao. The news of the crash only leaked out, it appears, because he had fallen from official favor, being demoted to a less powerful position.

The leadership realizes that such scandals, which seem to emerge daily, undermine their legitimacy and their lucrative hold on power. So they are positioning themselves as champions of a China supposedly embattled by numerous surrounding enemies who are said to be plotting to take over what is historic Chinese territory. Thus it is no surprise to see that Clinton’s arrival has gotten a harsh reception in the Chinese media, with, for example, the state-run Xinhua news agency writing: “The United States should stop its role as a sneaky troublemaker sitting behind some nations in the region and pulling strings.”

This is the voice of the new Chinese nationalism, built up over the past century by reformers of both the left and the right including the Kuomintang that the Communists deposed. Now the Communists have abandoned claims of international revolution to justify their hold on power in favor of Chinese nationalism. This is hardly a reassuring development (there are echoes here of Wilhemine Germany), and nor is it one that any amount of diplomacy by Clinton or anyone else is likely to fundamentally change. We will just have to learn to live with—and try to deter and contain—a resurgent China which is increasingly using the proceeds of its booming economy to fund a strong and growing military.



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