China's Nationalist Foreign Policy in a Globalized Era: Historical Logic, Confident Insecurity, and Domestic Politics

By Zhizhen Lu


On 12 July 2016, the South China Sea arbitration reveals a dangerous relapse of the country’s nationalist tendencies in foreign policy. Cultural topography, an intelligence analysis technique, allows us to integrate existing findings into a systematic analytical framework from a fresh perspective. Three cultural elements are juxtaposed in our study: historical logic, the “confident insecurity” mentality, and the problematic domestic political situation. We conclude that protecting national pride through nationalist diplomacy is stereotyped in a positive way in Chinese historical logic; the power of ancient Chinese empire and the Century of Humiliation jointly created the country’s misguided obsession with national dignity and its ingrained distrust of foreign countries; and nationalist foreign policy as an extension of domestic political propaganda has facilitated economic and political capital tradeoff, which has maintained social stability. Our findings indicate that a departure from the reliance of nationalism as the only integrative ideology is strategically beneficial for China in the long run. For the international community, the cultural topographic analysis of China’s nationalism can enrich understanding of China’s underlying foreign policy motivations, so as to make better decisions according to their own strategic outlook.

About the Author:

Zhizhen Lu is a graduate student in the International Trade and Investment Policy program at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University. He is passionate about the international political economy of trade and globalization, with regional focuses on China and the US. He is also experienced in the research of IR theories and foreign policies. He has extensive experience in working with major international organizations and think tanks in both China and the US, such as the European Union Delegation to China, European Union Chamber of Commerce and the World Resource Institute.

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