Why China rarely escalates US provocations

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In recent years, there has been a prevalent discourse which suggests that nationalism has emerged as a key driving force behind China’s foreign policy, particularly in international incidents and crises.

But China’s actions on the global stage exhibit a range of responses to nationalism in different incidents – at times embracing it and at other times adopting a more detached approach.

Policymakers, academics and the general public lack a clear understanding of the role Chinese nationalism truly plays. Why and under what condition would the Chinese government choose to escalate as nationalists require in some state-to-state international incidents, but not in others?

When the Chinese government responds to international incidents, its primary concern lies in garnering public support while safeguarding national interests. Policy formulation is significantly influenced by legitimacy concerns, of which economic development and nationalism hold paramount importance.

When decision-makers perceive nationalist sentiments are likely to bring political and social instability, external escalation measures will be taken to safeguard China’s interests and pacify domestic discontent.

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