FT: China’s pride and paranoia are a dangerous mix

From The Financial Times:

From Hong Kong to Taiwan and from the South China Sea to the Indian border, the Chinese government, led by President Xi Jinping, is pursuing more aggressive policies. There is growing concern about Beijing’s behavior, not just in Washington but in Delhi, London, Tokyo and Canberra. The Chinese government may feel that coronavirus makes this a good time to act, while the world is looking away. The turmoil on the streets of America has further divided and distracted the west. But democracies cannot afford to lose focus on east Asia. A new global crisis could easily break out there, with even graver long-term consequences than the pandemic.

Beijing’s growing assertiveness reflects both pride and paranoia. After 40 years of rapid economic growth, China is now — by some measures — the world’s largest economy. Its navy has more warships and submarines than that of the US. Its internet bubbles with nationalistic chatter about the inexorable rise of the nation. The biggest grossing film in Chinese history is Wolf Warrior 2 — a Rambo-style action movie, released in 2017, that features heroic Chinese soldiers battling against mercenaries, led by a racist American. A promotional poster for the film featured the slogan, “Anyone who insults China — no matter how remote — must be exterminated”. When Chinese diplomats respond to criticism of Beijing with threats and insults, they are often said to be practising “wolf-warrior diplomacy”.

…All of this seems to be creating a siege mentality in government. In response, Beijing has intensified its appeal to nationalism. The propaganda goal is to rally the people against external threats and deflect anger about Covid-19 outwards, to the world beyond China. Beijing’s external and internal policies are increasingly bold and aggressive. A new national security law is to be imposed on Hong Kong, which threatens to inflict mainland-style censorship on a free city.

Military exercises and rhetoric aimed at intimidating Taiwan have been stepped up. Confrontational naval activity in the South China Sea has also increased, aimed at rival claimants such as Malaysia and Vietnam. Thousands of Chinese troops have skirmished with the Indians at their disputed border — albeit without known fatalities. Some hawks in Delhi claim China has seized some 40-60 square kilometres of Indian territory. Countries that dare to criticise China over Covid-19 are getting a dose of wolf-warrior diplomacy — Beijing even imposed tariffs on some Australian exports, after Canberra called for an international inquiry.

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