In This Review

Powerful Patriots: Nationalist Protest in China's Foreign Relations
Powerful Patriots: Nationalist Protest in China's Foreign Relations
By Jessica Chen Weiss
Oxford University Press, 2014, 360 pp

Are Chinese policymakers driven to take more assertive foreign policy positions by the pressure of nationalist public opinion, or do they merely use that opinion as a tool to strengthen their hand in negotiations with other powers? Weiss presents a nuanced but clear answer in favor of the latter position. Her study of 92 protest attempts from 1985 to 2012 finds that authorities restrained or prevented more demonstrations than they allowed but shows that some flexibility proved useful for diplomatic signaling. For example, in 2001, the Chinese government repressed a nascent anti-American protest in order to indicate its willingness to negotiate a solution to the crisis generated by a collision between a Chinese fighter jet and a U.S. spy plane. In 2005, on the other hand, Beijing added muscle to its campaign against the proposal to grant Japan a permanent seat on the un Security Council by allowing anti-Japanese protests. Weiss argues that attempting to exploit protests in this way also poses risks: it can cheapen the desired signaling effect, and it can provide useful cover for demonstrators who actually want to criticize the Chinese government itself.