Here’s what China’s people really think about the South China Sea

 / July 14 / WashingtonPost

What’s the next step for China after the international tribunal’s July 12 ruling on the South China Sea?

As anticipated, the Chinese government declared the ruling “null and void,” and without any “binding force.” Along with Chinese strategic interests in the South China Sea, the popular pressures on President Xi Jinping to respond are likely to be influenced by the words and actions of the rest of the world.

What’s the next step for China after the international tribunal’s July 12 ruling on the South China Sea?

As anticipated, the Chinese government declared the ruling “null and void,” and without any “binding force.” Along with Chinese strategic interests in the South China Sea, the popular pressures on President Xi Jinping to respond are likely to be influenced by the words and actions of the rest of the world.

T05chinacongress-web1-master675he Chinese government’s bluster and patriotic propaganda can be effective at rallying popular support, as I note in a working paper with Allan Dafoe. In two national survey experiments we ran between October 2015 and March 2016, we found that Chinese Internet users or “netizens” approved of symbolic expressions of government resolve, even when tough action did not follow tough talk on China’s maritime and territorial disputes. And those netizens who were primed with reminders of China’s “national humiliation” by foreign powers between the 1840s and 1940s were also more likely to approve of the government’s current foreign policy performance.

But by fanning nationalist sentiment, the Chinese government has also amplified the domestic risks to the regime. In a parallel paper, we find that disapproval of the government increased when netizens were reminded that the United States had sent B-52 bombers through China’s air zone in the East China Sea and defied Chinese warnings against close-in reconnaissance flights, a pattern that escalated with the EP-3 collision and death of a Chinese fighter pilot in April 2001. By rolling out our survey in real time, we found that public approval dipped after each of the U.S. military’s freedom of navigation patrols through the South China Sea on Oct. 27, 2015, and Jan. 30, 2016. These patrols were both innocuous and legitimate to Washington and its allies, but Chinese state media denounced the “provocative attempts to infringe on China’s South China Sea sovereignty.” Read more…

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