My dissertation is currently entitled Rational Nationalism on the Rise: Chinese public opinion and foreign relations. Below is the abstract from the most recent version of my dissertation Full Dissertation Draft (Rasmussen Nov 18). You can also access my Dissertation Proposal (Rasmussen, May 2012).
The following dissertation evaluates the impact of emergent Chinese (PRC) “rational nationalism” on foreign relations. The study is rooted in the view that nationalism can both constrain and enable a state’s international affairs. Nationalism is both a positive and a negative for Chinese foreign relations. Necessarily, the study examines both the domestic emergence and international impact of Chinese nationalism. While this analysis focuses on the second image in international affairs, there is also a need to consider contending theories of international relations particularly the debate between material versus non-material sources of motivation in state behavior. That debate is captured in the term “rational nationalism”, which contains the contrast between the rational actor model and the constructivist perspective that ideational factors explain international behavior. Understanding how Chinese nationalism impacts its foreign relations allows for a unique window on state motivations, particularly that of a rising power.
Methodologically, I use comparative case analysis. Using the method of agreement, I show how instances of nationalistic fervor, which may appear different on the surface (protests of French businesses contrasting anti-Japanese sentiment), display the dual nature of domestic nationalism’s international impact on Chinese foreign affairs. In the process, I answer key questions such as: What are the ways in which the Chinese government uses nationalism but also is beholden to domestic public opinion? What are the responses to Chinese nationalistic upsurges? First, I will explain when nationalism emerges in response to an international incident with nationalistic protest as a dependent variable. After that, I will show through multiple cases when the Chinese government will support or limit protest. Finally, by focusing on the variable of nationalism, I will be able to isolate its impact on the Chinese international affairs as foreign audiences respond to protest.
I examine the historical origins of Chinese nationalism in order to understand salient current cases where nationalism plays a major role in foreign relations. In doing so, I show whether Chinese nationalism has an impact on its foreign relations and the degree to which it enables China’s foreign policies. The origin of Chinese rational nationalism is both government managed and grassroots. Nationalistic protest emerges domestically in China when there is 1) sensitivity on traditional security concerns (e.g. Taiwan, Tibet, Japan); 2) Chinese geopolitical ascendance in international affairs; and 3) historical tensions. I find that nationalism is not linked to economic forecasts as a ‘rally the troops’ effort during periods of economic decline nor to leadership change or potential periods of instability. While the Chinese central government has the ability to manage nationalistic protest, several cases show limitations in either mobilizing or quelling that protest. In fact, the complex government relationship with rational nationalism should not be characterized as perfectly unilateral but requires an approach that allows nationalistic protest to be perceived of as beyond the government’s control. Beyond the analysis of the emergence and government relationship with rational nationalism, I find that Chinese nationalism can serve to change the behavior of foreign audiences outside of China, enabling Chinese foreign relations. In this way, nationalism can be seen as a way for China to gain leverage in international affairs.