Susan Shirk responds to readers’ questions

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Here’s Susan’s reply to questions and comments on her post. Thanks again to Susan for guest blogging.

I am very gratified that my debut as a blogger has stimulated such a lively and interesting discussion. It’s a terrific new opportunity for me to hear the direct and unvarnished views of people living all over the world – mostly Chinese people it would appear. I have been studying Chinese language, history, society, economy, and politics for many years. My first trip to China was in 1971, when China was still recovering from the Cultural Revolution. So I have seen with my own eyes the dramatic transformations generated by economic reform and opening. And yes, I do conduct research interviews and have discussions with Chinese officials, including Communist Party officials, PLA officers, etc.

What comes through in the comments is the justifiable pride that Chinese everywhere feel in China’s economic miracle and its revival as a major power in Asia and the world. But I also see in the anger and passions expressed in the comments that many people haven’t gotten used to the fact that China is no longer a humiliated weak country — today it is a highly respected major power. The responses also indicate just why nationalism is such a potent force in China today.

Of course nationalist attitudes are not merely the result of the Chinese Communist Party’s brainwashing of the population. The fact that so many Chinese living outside the country have strong feelings about Taiwan and Japan shows that these feelings weren’t just manufactured by the Communist Party. But I don’t think we can deny that China’s school textbooks and propaganda campaigns like the Patriotic Education Campaign of the 1990s also had an impact on popular attitudes within China. Nationalism within China is both a spontaneous result of China’s revival of its strength and the result of concerted efforts by the CCP to strengthen popular support for the Party at a time when people have lost faith in old fashioned communist ideology.

Some people referred to Western views of Germany which they compared to Chinese views of Japan. I certainly agree that Japan has never come to grips with its wartime history the way Germany has. But I also believe that the regional multilateral organizations like the EU that promote cooperation in Europe contributed to the reconciliation between countries like France and Britain with Germany – Asia lacked such organizations until very recently.

The notion that China’s foreign policy has a “split personality” does not mean that I believe China or Chinese to be mentally ill. It means that based on the domestic interests of China’s leaders it makes sense for them to act most of the time like a “responsible power” (this is the label that Chinese policymakers are using themselves, having adopted it from speeches by US policymakers articulating it as a goal of its policies toward China). But that some of the time, when they are dealing with Taiwan or Japan, their style of foreign policy is quite different, less pragmatic and more emotional, aimed more at the Chinese public than at Taiwan or Japan.

Sorry not to answer all the specific questions. Thanks for the great discussion.