Territorial Disputes and Nationalism: A Comparative Case Study of China and Vietnam

Hannah Cotillon


In autocracies, nationalism appears to have merged with geopolitical thinking. In light of this geopoliticisation of nationalism, it is surprising that the literature has paid virtually no attention to the role of territorial disputes as a conditioning factor. The present study seeks to further enhance the field by factoring in the role of territorial disputes in triggering different expressions of nationalism. It develops an analytical framework for typologies of nationalism according to four territorial disputes: China’s dispute with Vietnam over maritime territory in the South China Sea, China’s dispute with Japan over maritime territory in the East China Sea, Vietnam’s dispute with Cambodia over territorial border demarcations, and Vietnam’s dispute with China over maritime territory in the South China Sea. The respective disputes of China and Vietnam are analysed and tested against criteria of expressions of nationalism in autocracies. We find that territorial disputes and therefore external context are important conditioning factors of nationalism in autocracies.

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