Susan Shirk, a political science professor at the University of California San Diego, says something interesting in this WSJ podcast. The discussion is undoubtedly a result of her new book, Overreach: How China Derailed Its Peaceful Rise. I have been following the power struggle for the South China Seas from outlets, in particular via Walter Russel Mead’s articles, also in the WSJ. China has been pushing the limits of its authority with the seeming intent of antagonizing its neighbors.
My perception is that an international power play would come from the very top, Xi Jinping. But Dr. Shirk indicates other government agencies inflamed nationalist sentiment and initiated a build-up in the struggle over the South China Sea (6:45min). Lower-level bureaucracies such as the “Fishery Bureau, Coast Guard, Marine surveillance… started pursuing the defense of China’s claims in the South China Sea, and as far as I can tell, the main objective was to get bigger budgets for themselves.”
Economic pressures contribute to dynamism in government agencies as well as the private sector. The various maritime agencies compete against each other for resources and will adjust the levers at their disposal to extract sources of revenue. If nationalism provokes a supply of public funding, then it is a good they have an interest in producing.