A More Open-Minded, Tolerant and Patient Public?

— Guest Post by Kevin Lin —

An opinion piece originally published on the Chinese-language official paper, the Peoples’ Daily, on the 22 July 2011 and reprinted on Phoenix website (article link) on the South China Sea dispute is both interesting in what it says and in the reactions its publication generated among its online viewers on the Phoenix website that appears representative of sections of the public.

The piece, titled ‘The Time of Using Non-Peaceful Means to Resolve Territorial Dispute Has Passed’, seems to aim at addressing the sections of the public who have been angered by the dispute and insist on a more confrontational foreign policy approach and even military solution, and it is exactly this audience who have expressed their anger in their online comments.

The piece opens by saying that:

“We do not endorse transforming a bilateral dispute into a multilateral dispute, and we are opposed to the intervention of major countries from outside. This does not signify China is short of reason, nor is China afraid. We insist on this principle to avoid enlarging and complicating the problem.”

And it goes on to emphasise:

“The time of using non-peaceful means to resolve territorial dispute has passed. Sixty years ago, France and Germany settled their historical antagonism through the establishment of European Coal and Steel Community, based on which Europe gradually discovered the path to European integration.)”

“On the issue of South China Sea, China’s position is consistent and clear. In the 1980s, China proposed ‘Shelving Disagreement, Collectively Developing’. China has said and done so.”

Reiterating the familiar Chinese foreign policy line, it also signals to the public that on the specific issue of South China Sea, China is softening its approach. But what is most interesting about the piece is the following ‘assurance’:

“The monumental success of economic development has not only strengthened the Chinese nation, it also makes Chinese people more open-minded, tolerant and patient in dealing with complex issues. The regional policy of ‘Good, Safe and Prosperous Neighborhood’ has become an integral part of Chinese foreign policy thinking.”

In light of public opinions and particularly the comments following this very article, it is not difficult to conclude that the Chinese government is appealing to its own public to calm down and take a more moderate approach. While public opinions are not easily transformed into direct and tangent challenge to China’s foreign policy or the very legitimacy of the regime, the piece is nevertheless trying to persuade the public:

“What is needed now is to cool the temperature of South China Sea dispute and to comprehensively push the development of relations between China and ASEAN to create a good environment for the final resolution of the issue of South China Sea.”

Below are translations of selected comments:

2011/07/22 14:37 From Xinjiang – nukexj:
Or it should be changed to: wake up from the dream of using peaceful means to resolve dispute.
Recommends (2501)

2011/07/22 17:55 From Chengdu, Sichuan – nanmian:
“The time of using non-peaceful means to resolve territorial dispute has passed” is self-deceiving non-sense. Is People’s Daily people’s newspaper? It should rather be changed to World Harmony Daily. People’s Daily at this very sensitive and critical time expressed such thoughtless, stupid comment. Does it know how serious the consequences and outcomes will be?
Recommends (1571)

2011/07/22 15:24 From Xuancheng, Anhui – gudunanyan:
“The time of using non-peaceful means to resolve territorial dispute has passed”, then why do you need the military?
Recommends (1274)

2011/07/22 15:21 Chongqing – xifeng:
The so-called ‘restraining principle’ means while you are negotiating with them, they are holding joint military exercise. Who are you restraining? The so-called time of using non-peaceful means to resolve conflict has passed! Then why the US, France and UK do not sit and talk to Gaddafi?
Recommends (972)

2011/07/22 16:56 Longyan, Fujian – youzhikang
The Chinese Communist Party must not hand over our country’s islands which we inherited from our ancestors to others. That would make it an external sinner.
Recommends (685)

2011/07/22 15:26 Hexi, Tianjing – fenggong
Negotiation needs to be backed up by strong military strength.
Recommends (366)

18580 People Participated with 84 Comments – accessed on 13:44pm 23 July 2011, comment link.

It is possible that most of those who commented have neither read the article (apart from the title of the article, of course) nor given much thought to it. This is reflected in the very superficial engagement of these comments with the content of article. If the aim of the opinion piece is to cool the temperature as well as the temper of sections of the public, it does not appear to be too successful and is arguably achieving the exact opposite.

As China becomes more assertive on the regional and international stage, it has a lot to learn in terms of managing public opinions, as the public – at least some sections of it – is far from the ideal of being ‘open-minded, tolerant and patient’ when dealing with territorial issues. No doubt the Chinese state itself is to blame for inflating nationalist sentiments in the first place.

So the Chinese state is now forced to walk a fine line between cementing its legitimacy based on its role as ultimate protector of national territorial integrity and making necessary compromise and charting a more sophisticated approach in international affairs. This is not easy. And if online opinion is any guide – even after allowing the bias of online opinion toward expression of extreme views, it appears very problematic for the CCP state.

2 Comments on “A More Open-Minded, Tolerant and Patient Public?”

  1. […] Special Commentator announced that the era of resolving territorial disputes by non-peaceful means was over, but less than two weeks later “he” was on the front page warning the Philippines that […]

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