Thomas Friedman is visiting from Beijing and writes today about nationalism in China’s blogosphere, and the reaction to a speech by Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi at the ASEAN meeting this summer about China’s claims over the South China Sea:
As negative feedback from the Yang lecture rippled back to Beijing, China’s leaders seemed to play down the affair for fear that after a decade of declining U.S. influence in the region they were about to drive all their neighbors back into America’s embrace.
How much China’s leaders will be able to cool it, though, will depend, in part, on a third party: the Chinese blogosphere, where a whole generation of Chinese schooled by the government on the notion that the U.S. and the West want to keep China down, now have their own megaphones to denounce any Chinese official who compromises too much as “pro-American” or “a traitor.”
…“China for the first time has a public sphere to discuss everything affecting Chinese citizens,” explained Hu Yong, a blogosphere expert at Peking University. “Under traditional media, only elite people had a voice, but the Internet changed that.” He added, “We now have a transnational media. It is the whole society talking, so people from various regions of China can discuss now when something happens in a remote village — and the news spreads everywhere.” But this Internet world “is more populist and nationalistic,” he continued. “Many years of education that our enemies are trying to keep us down has produced a whole generation of young people whose thinking is like this, and they now have a whole Internet to express it.”