Rising nationalism casts shadow on China’s border disputes

China’s influential online community calls for Beijing to take harder position with New Delhi

On Monday, China’s new President Xi Jinping acknowledged that solving the border dispute with India “will not be easy.” Mr. Xi’s comment was hardly surprising: 15 rounds of talks have made little headway in moving the long-running and complex boundary question towards resolution. As Mr. Xi takes over, however, an already difficult dispute is facing further complications: recent months have seen an increasing number of comments from China’s increasingly influential — and nationalistic — online community, calling for China to take a harder position with India and to “take back” its territory.

The comments have coincided with renewed attention in China over a territorial spat with Japan and Mr. Xi’s increasingly frequent invocations of “a Chinese dream” centred around the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

In a microblog post written to coincide with the Chinese Parliament session that concluded on Sunday, Du Dacai, a scholar at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, wrote that “solving the problem of our territory of South Tibet [as China refers to Arunachal Pradesh]” should be China’s fourth pressing priority “to realise the Chinese dream and China’s unification.”

Top three priorities

The first three priorities, according to him, were: restoring Taiwan to China, regaining the Diaoyu or Senkaku islands from Japan; and “taking back sovereignty of the South China Sea,” which is disputed by more than 10 countries.

China claims around 90,000 sq km of land in Arunachal Pradesh – referred to by Chinese State media and bloggers as “south Tibet” – and a further 38,000 sq km in the western sector in Aksai Chin, which is currently under Chinese control and disputed by India.

Another article written this week by a graduate of Nanchang University said the people “living in South Tibet belong to China’s 56 ethnic groups.” “My motherland,” he wrote, “your wandering son wants to go home after 50 years of separation.”

The sentiments underscore the rising tide of nationalism among younger Chinese, which was recently on display in mass anti-Japanese protests that broke out in several cities last year over the disputed Diaoyu or Senkaku islands in the East China Sea. Tens of thousands gathered chanting anti-Japanese slogans. Many protesters were also seen carrying portraits of Mao Zedong – seen as an indirect rebuke to the current leadership, which has been criticised as being too “weak” in enforcing China’s territorial claims.

Mr. Xi begins his first overseas visit as President to Moscow on Friday, the Chinese government is also facing surprising criticism for what is being perceived as a weak stance on territorial disputes with Russia.

“Most important partner”

Only on Monday, Mr. Xi described Russia as China’s “major and most important” strategic partner. He pointed out that both countries had “solid” political ties, citing the fact that they had achieved the difficult feat of “completely settling the boundary issue.” Yet in the past couple of days leading up to Mr. Xi’s departure to Russia, hundreds of comments online “demanding the return of territories” inundated the Russian Embassy in Beijing’s official microblog on Sina Weibo, a Twitter equivalent used by 500 million Chinese.

“We want our land back, take away your Marxism-Leninism ideology!,” said one comment among more than 1,300 posted to the Russian Embassy, reported the South China Morning Post. China’s settlement of its boundary with Russia is seen by many in China as a deal that favoured Russian claims.

One Chinese scholar at the University of Agriculture wrote in a post last week to his 85,000 followers on Weibo that Russia was “the country that occupies the largest territory of China.” “The second is India,” he said, “and then it is Kazakhstan. We only give attention to Japan because of political factors, and that is the easiest way to annoy the angry youth. But when we speak of Russia, all the patriots suddenly go silent.”

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Printable version | Apr 5, 2020 9:36:01 AM |

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