«Forthcoming, Security Studies 25:4 (2016) While the existing literature emphasizes that elites often have incentives to pander to nationalist ...»
The 2012 standoff ended when both sides withdrew in mid-June because of an impending storm. 184 Despite the mutual withdrawal of ships in June, China later established a permanent presence and control over access to the shoal. In July 2012, China also announced the establishment of Sansha City, with jurisdiction over the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Anti-China protests in Manila neither prevented the Aquino government from de-escalating the standoff, nor did they appear responsible for the government’s 2013 decision to adopt a tougher diplomatic posture by taking the case against China to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) against Beijing’s wishes. In January 2013, Manila declared that it would unilaterally The BBC said reported that about 500 people participated, whereas Reuters put the number at 200.
“Protest in Philippines”; “Anti-China protest in Philippines ends peacefully,” Reuters, 11 May 2012.
中国多家旅行社暂停赴菲律宾旅游, Xinhua, 10 May 2012, http://china.cankaoxiaoxi.com/2012/0510/36525.shtml.
“Feilvbing fanhua shiwei huigu: fa hefan shi ren zui duo,” Tengxun News, 12 May 2012, http://news.qq.com/a/20120512/000415.htm.
According to Bonnie Glaser: “Manila and Beijing reached an oral agreement to withdraw vessels from the area.” Bonnie Glaser and Alison Szalwinski. “Second Thomas Shoal Likely the Next Flashpoint in the South China Sea,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief XII, no. 13, 21 June 2013. However, Taylor Fravel notes that China never publicly acknowledged such an agreement. Taylor Fravel, “China’s Island Strategy: ‘Redefine the Status Quo,’” The Diplomat, 1 November 2012.
ask ITLOS to rule on the validity of China’s “nine-dashed line.” In May 2013, Manila lodged an official protest concerning Chinese actions near a second shoal, Second Thomas Shoal, accusing a Chinese flotilla, including two surveillance ships and a naval frigate, of surrounding a small group of Filipino marines and blocking their access to supplies.
On July 24, 2013, to mark the anniversary of China’s establishment of Sansha City, worldwide protests against China were held once again, this time organized by the West Philippine Sea Coalition. Along with the Akbayan party, the coalition was led by numerous former senior officials, including from the military. 185 Although Chinese commentators speculated on their government backing, foreign ministry spokesman Raul Hernandez denied any role, stating: “These are not sanctioned by the government, but being in a democracy, people have a right to voice out their position on different issues.” 186 Chinese media again focused on the relatively small turnout in Manila, particularly in contrast with the thousands of protesters who had turned two days before against Aquino’s State of the Nation address. As the independent news magazine Caixin asked sardonically: “People who are anti-China are only a tenth of those who are anti-Aquino?” 187 Protests returned in May 2014, with roughly 200 Philippine and Vietnamese demonstrators marching together in Manila, and riot police guarded the entrance to the Chinese Zachary Keck, “Philippine Group Plans Global Anti-China Protests,” The Diplomat, 18 July 2013; Hua Yi, “谁是菲律宾反华游行推手,” Cankao Xiaoxi (Reference News), 25 July 2013, http://ihl.cankaoxiaoxi.com/2013/0725/245080.shtml.
“Gov’t disowns anti-China rallies to be held worldwide,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 19 July 2013.
“Feilvbing 500ren fanhua naobie; fan ajinuo ren duo 10bei,” Caixun, 25 July 2013, http://international.caixun.com/wkp/20130725-CX03bvtf.html.
consulate to prevent violent attacks akin to those in Vietnam. 188 However, the protests remained peaceful, as did similar Philippine demonstrations in June, and again they had little substantive effect on government policy or Sino-Philippine relations.
This paper has sought to provide a more nuanced portrait of the relationship between popular nationalism, regime type, and risks of interstate escalation. Although leaders are sometimes tempted to fan the flames of nationalism, our analysis demonstrates that many incumbents also fear the domestic and international consequences of allowing popular protests.
The case of Vietnam shows that even where feelings of historical victimization run deep, authoritarian leaders often see protests more as a threat than a convenient source of popular legitimacy or safety valve for domestic pressures. The same has often been true in Cambodia, though opposition challenges add to the incentives to manage protests or tolerate them in certain instances—and to suffer their domestic and international hazards. Thai incumbents have feared hostile nationalist protests as well; in general, leaders have allowed rallies to continue due to the high costs of repression rather than a desire to stir nationalism for political gain.
The evidence also supports our hypotheses on the international effects of nationalist protests. The Thai case illustrates that weakly institutionalized democracies are particularly susceptible to nationalist pressure to take or maintain hardline foreign policy positions, as Thailand did after its abrupt about-face concerning the temple of Preah Vihear in 2008. By contrast, protests did not force leaders to act aggressively abroad in Cambodia or Vietnam, where protests could be repressed at an acceptable cost, or in the Philippines, where demonstrations “Hundreds join anti-China street protests,” Agence France Presse, 16 May 2014.
posed little threat to the government. As expected, we also see that foreign observers perceived the Thai protests as credibly constraining and offered occasional concessions, as Cambodia did in 2008 and 2013. Conversely, Thai officials held Cambodia responsible for fomenting nationalist demonstrations, while Chinese observers largely dismissed the challenges and constraints that protests posed for autocratic leaders in Vietnam or the leaders of the democratic Philippines. This comports with our expectation that foreign rivals will discount protests or threaten retaliation when they believe the government incited demonstrations or could easily subdue or ignore them.
Our findings have important theoretical and policy implications. They support the notion that popular nationalism presents special risks to international security in states where governments have neither robust democratic legitimacy nor firm authoritarian control. However, our analysis suggests that the high cost or difficulty of repressing demonstrations is often as important as elite efforts to stir nationalism in generating risks of interstate conflict. As such, leaders of weakly democratic states may be pushed more easily toward belligerence abroad, while their more authoritarian peers may have additional leeway to seek interstate peace due to their willingness and capacity to use repression domestically.
Understanding the domestic context surrounding popular nationalism is essential for grasping its international significance, since the impact of protests on interstate disputes hinges largely on beliefs about the constraints governments face. As our study suggests, divergent perceptions can lead to conflict, particularly when a government perceives itself as severely constrained but international rivals are incredulous. In such cases, the government may see aggressive action abroad as a matter of necessity, while rivals see it as a matter of choice and respond in kind. The risk of foreign incredulity is one reason why “crying wolf”—exaggerating the threats that protests pose—is a dangerous strategy in an iterative dispute. The hazards of conflicting perceptions also reinforce the importance of learning about when and why protests present serious challenges to incumbent leaders. Among other things, future research should explore further how opposition groups use nationalism to undermine rather than buttress incumbents’ legitimacy and how the strength of opposition parties and composition of security services impact incumbents’ incentives and capacity to abet or subdue popular nationalism.
Our analysis also complicates the existing literature in another important way. We find that nationalist protests can diminish the risk of interstate conflict when foreign rivals believe the government is credibly constrained and elect to back down or compromise. This suggests something of a paradox. Nationalist protests have the greatest potential calming effects on interstate disputes precisely when they pose the greatest threats to domestic stability. By contrast, protests sometimes exacerbate risks of interstate conflict when they present little evident domestic risk, because protests that a government can easily repress or ignore are more likely to be met with foreign anger or retaliation. This only reinforces the need for scholars and policymakers to delve into the domestic dynamics of popular nationalism to understand its implications for international conflict.