The Chinese leadership is trying to reframe what China stands for on the world stage, by pushing state and private actors to “tell China’s stories well” and counter threat perceptions of China abroad. At the same time, the authorities have insisted that their state-led nationalism should serve as the framework for understanding China’s role in the world, and this creates tension. Chinese diplomats and officials now frequently default to nationalist statements, often in the hope of legitimating their causes at home and improving their career prospects.
Such statements are staged for domestic audiences, and so they are both outcomes of, and further fuel for China’s digital nationalism. The result does not gel with the government’s soft-power goals. In fact, it feeds into the very same China threat perceptions the authorities were trying to counter, leading to a great deal of frustration among more liberal-minded Chinese diplomats.