Since the anti-Japanese upsurge, Chinese media have repeatedly broadcast images of China's modern fleet - which as of September boasts its first aircraft carrier - proudly sailing the waves.

The People's Liberation Army, the largest military in the world, has seen its budget grow by double-digit annual rates over the past 10 years, far exceeding even China's rocketing GDP increases over the period.

The new leadership under Xi, the son of a revolutionary general who enjoys deep ties with PLA commanders, is expected to maintain the military's rapid pace of costly modernisation.

And as the Xi era beckons, Beijing has also taken an increasingly assertive stance over its claims to almost the whole of the South China Sea, risking confrontation with a number of countries, some of them US allies.

Appeals to nationalism have always featured in Chinese communist rhetoric. Official propaganda regularly reminds readers of the era of China's "humiliation" by foreign powers, from the 19th century until 1945.

But Hong Kong was transferred from Britain to China in 1997 and Macau, Portuguese-held for centuries, followed two years later, while the regime is utterly implacable in its hold on Tibet.

It proclaims the re-integration of Taiwan, ruled separately since the defeated Nationalists fled there in 1949 at the end of China's civil war, to be a "sacred cause".

But Roderick MacFarquhar, a Harvard-based British specialist in contemporary China, warned the rise of Chinese nationalism was a "double-edged sword" for the authorities.

"It is a very dangerous weapon, as Chinese governments have known since 1919," he said, referring to a nationalist furore after China was humiliated by Japan in the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I.

Speaking at an event in Hong Kong, MacFarquhar said China's rulers need to exercise "some caution, especially vis-a-vis Japan".

"If you stoke the fires of nationalism too much, then if you cannot fulfil what the nationalists who have been aroused want you to fulfil, then their anger will turn against the government of the day."

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