Nationalism and Its Impacts on Conflict Resolution: The South China Sea Dispute and Vietnam-Sino Relations
The research largely examines the theoretical influences of contemporary nationalism on conflict resolution of the territorial dispute in South China Sea between Vietnam and China. It can be seen clearly that in the last few years, anti-Chinese sentiment has been dramatically surging in Vietnam, especially after the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation moved its giant oil rig into waters where the two countries’ exclusive economic zones overlap in May 2014. It followed violent riots when hundreds of protesters attacked factories seen as under Chinese control in several Vietnam’s provinces. At the same time, Vietnamese Government dispatached its own coast guard vessels and fishery boats to prevent the rig’s placement which later resulted in several collisions. Although the tension between the two countries was defused, the possibility of a future military confrontation cannot be overlooked. As a reminder, in the past, both Hanoi and Beijing did succeed in managing territorial disputes over the land border and the Gulf of Tonkin in 2000 and 2004, respectively. A question can be asked why the two countries cannot peacefully solve territorial dispute in South China Sea in the same way as they did in the past. Does nationalist sentiment hamper conflict settlemment?
It is believed that with the decline of communist ideology as a unifying force during the 1990s, Vietnamese government has exploited nationalist feelings to mobilize people and legitimate its power. Indeed, over the last decade, emerging domestic obstacles such as the separatist movement of the Montagnard ethinic group; public opposition to bauxite mining in the Central Highlands; or the revival of political dissent by pro-democracy activists and bloggers which have threatened its unity and challenged the state’s claim to political legitimacy. Put differently, provoking nationalist sentiment would help Vietnam Communist party divert public attention from domestic problems and strengthen its ruling power. However, nationalism is a double-edged sword that could easily turn against the government in their attemtp to handle international conflicts. While Hanoi agreed with Beijing to cooperate in preserving and exploiting the marin resources, even to create joint fishing areas in the Gulf of Tonkin, it seems skeptical of a Chinese offer to ‘set aside dispute and pursue joint development’ in order to solve the South China Sea issue. In other words, the resurgent nationalist sentiment plays a significant role in prohibiting rational response of the government to conflict resolution.
This research will not approach nationalism simply as a rational ideology to legitimate the state’s authority and strengthen national loyalty, but emphasize the emotional aspect of nationalism. It will address questions of how national sentiment impacts on the policy-making process and of why emotion/ sentiment plays a role in solving international conflicts.
My thesis is supervised by Prof. Sven Gareis and Prof. Doris Fuchs. I take part in the reseach group ‘International Relations and Sustainable Development’ managed by Prof. Doris Fuchs.