Philippines radar station plans spark outragePosted: September 12, 2011
Just a few days ago the Philippines military announced its intention to purchase another second-hand US warship to patrol its South China Sea claims – on the very day President Aquino left China after a successful state visit. Combined with exaggerated state media accounts of China’s beneficence in agreeing to billions of dollars of new investments in the Philippines, this left many Chinese “netizens” feeling that China had been humiliated.
Today we saw an ideal follow-up, from the perspective of China’s commercial media:
The Philippines government announced yesterday that US$117 million in licence fees from the country’s Malampaya gasfield in the South China Sea will be used to upgrade military installations.
According to reports, the money will be used to purchase helicopters and warships and build radar stations to strengthen “defence” of oil and gas resources in the sea, where disputes exist with China.
The Chinese government has not yet expressed its view of these developments.
Although the story originated with provincial website Zhejiang Online (link now broken), it was among the top headlines on the front pages of major web portals NetEase, Sohu and Phoenix Online, and remained on prominent display throughout the course of September 8.
Predictably, the response from readers was a storm of indignation. The following responses are the most popular among the NetEase discussion, which involved 45,505 participants and 1,356 comments:
Anonymous (Taiyuan, Shanxi): China is going to provide RMB 20 million of free technological assistance to the Philippines. I can only laugh [8153 recommends]
Anonymous (Shanghai): They just sign a deal worth hundreds of millions, go home and use the money to build radar stations…..
qqlzl (Shanghai): Before when I saw this kind of news I would be majorly angry, but today I’m just indifferent. 
qzm196505 (Fujian Province): A few days ago Philippine president Aquino visited my hometown, Zhangzhou, to pay respects to his ancestors and see the locals in his family’s village. The locals were as happy like it was Spring Festival, and Aquino said to them: “Fellows, my ancestral home is in China, in Jiaomei, Longhai County, Zhangzhou, in the village where I am standing! The Philippines wishes to learn from China’s development experience, invest more, extract more oil, and support local people!” The villagers were moved to tears— 
iamkangroo (Foshan, Guangdong): Should . . . must . . . 
Anon. (Changchun, Jilin): Nothing to do with me 
The wits-end tone of these comments, and in particular the popularity of the third comment, might suggest that “nationalists” are accepting that their (possibly GFC-inspired) hopes for a more muscular foreign policy were unrealistic. If so, this could be a positive trend in the sense that hardline factions within the state who might want to mobilize public pressure in favour of militaristic goals or their own ascendancy within the Party will have a hard time making that happen. A case of the Hawks Who Cried “Wolf!” perhaps?
It is also interesting to find the view that the South China Sea issue is irrelevant finally find expression. Of course, this comment could be (and probably was for at least some of the 1600+ readers who indicated agreement) an ironic, indirect way of disowning the CCP government’s weak actions (i.e. that the CCP’s weak policies have nothing to do with the commenter, not that the South China Sea issue is irrelevant), but it should be assumed, despite all the anger and ranting online, that indifference may well represent the views of a usually silent but overwhelmingly large majority.
More generally, this latest episode adds further weight to the conclusion that the Communist Party’s often-touted “nationalist legitimacy” may in fact be largely irrelevant. If people care at all, they seem to think the party-state is acting in their own interests, as distinct from the national interest.