China's national identity discourse and foreign policy

National identity can have substantial political implications, particularly if the state can successfully manipulate “National Othering” to advance a certain political agenda. National Othering can be selective and local, targeting specific political and ethnic communities. Dr. Yinan He described national identity discourse as a manifestation of the state’s changing strategy to deal with internal enemies, in some cases amplifying existing historical grievances and cultural biases. This phenomenon occurs in both liberal and illiberal states, as seen in the European reaction to immigrants, the Zainichi in Japan, blacks in South Africa, and Donald Trump’s views on Muslims and Latinos. Internal Othering in China is crucial to state-led nationalism, especially when facing a perceived crisis. The fusion of external and Internal Othering allows the state to paint certain domestic events with the brush of foreign collaboration. Individuals and communities may be accused of acting against the motherland and siding with foreign countries (just as Turkey blamed Fethullah Gulen for orchestrating the July 15 coup attempt).

During the Hu presidency, disorder and unrest led to an apparent urgency in stability maintenance 维稳 discourse in state media, particularly in 2008 and 2009. Dr. He noted that public dissatisfaction with various social and economic problems such as food and drug safety, crime rates, inflation, income disparity, political corruption, and pollution all heightened the state’s response to the rights defense movement 维权 as well as ethnic conflict on the volatile periphery (Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Inner Mongolia). The government appears to view appeasement as a particularly unattractive option, given the fragility of other states after the Color Revolution and the Arab Spring. Instead, China has opted to combine intimidation with persuasion. China has successful control of the media as an important component of its efforts to convince the public to accept its agenda, and although many citizens are well aware of its biases, the state media is generally trusted. State media has tapped into historical grievances such as the century of humiliation and the Unequal Treaties除不平等条discourse; alleged dissidents are now fueling modern-day American imperialism.

The Chinese media in many cases negatively frames the West in order to disgrace domestic dissidents, claiming that they are conspiring with foreigners to hurt China and blindly follow Western values. The China model is distinguished from the Western model, which uses dissidents as “tools” to wound China. In response, the concept of National Othering may be utilized after the possibility of compromise or discreet repression is ruled out. Hu singled out small groups who had incited ethnic riots as separatist leaders who used help from the West to destabilize Chinese authority, and accused liberal dissidents such as Liu Xiaobo, Hu Jia, Xu Zhiyong, Ai Weiwei, and Chen Guancheng as being foreign pawns.

Dr. He’s research identified that campaigns against political threats generally align with corresponding anti-Western articles throughout Chinese state media. Data from the Xi administration, known for its hard authoritarianism, generally appears to follow similar trends of the Hu administration. This form of National Othering discourse can significantly influence foreign relations, and the West may view the aggression at face value and respond accordingly.


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