Reactive Nationalism & Its Prospects for Conflict: The Taiwan Issue, Sino-US Relations, & the 'Role' of Nationalism in Chinese Foreign Policy

by Brittingham, Michael Alan

Abstract (Summary)
Although nationalism is often posited as a cause of interstate conflict, few scholars have addressed why such a connection might exist. Using the constructivist approach in IR theory to rethink the usual perspectives on nationalism, the author argues that nationalism is as much a product of international politics as it is a product of domestic political forces. In essence, nationalism is constituted by the social structure of the international system. As such, the conflict propensity of nationalism is largely dependent on the nature of the social relationships that develop between states and the distribution of ideas that provide these relationships with meaning. Specifically, this dissertation argues that nationalism can be seen as both a macro- and micro-structural phenomenon, each having different implications for understanding nationalist conflict. At a macro-structural level, nationalism is an expression of a particular type of state (a nation-state) with explicitly 'national' interests which sets the parameters on behavior by informing the state what it wants, and what is worth fighting for. At a micro-structural level, nationalism is the result of a conflict between the role that the state seeks to enact and the counter-role that an Other seeks to impose on it, and thus is a reaction to perceived threats to its identity that can lead to a downward spiral in relations and (potentially) to interstate conflict. This theoretical framework is then used to examine Chinese foreign policy, particularly the Taiwan issue and Sino-US relations, in order to address the common claim that the growth of nationalism makes China more prone to interstate conflict. This analysis yields three conclusions. First, Chinese nationalism was a product of China's interaction with the West and represents a transformation in identity from cultural-state to a nation-state. Second, this transformation forced China to redefine its relationship to territory and to interpret its territorial losses as a legacy of national humiliation, setting parameters on its behavior. Third, China's 'new nationalism' is a reaction to a perceived identity threat from the United States that has led to a marked deterioration in Sino-US relations since Tiananmen Square.
Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Wenfang Tang; Ilya Prizel; Evelyn Rawski; Charles S. Gochman

School:University of Pittsburgh

School Location:USA - Pennsylvania

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:political science


Date of Publication:03/23/2006

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