China's Hu Jintao Wants Strong Legacy

China has been making a lot of noise lately about the sanctity of its territorial claims, and its bluster is getting louder by the month. The most recent manifestation: the opening ceremony of the Asian Games in early November. The celebration showed off an armada of Chinese ships and a fishing boat protected by hundreds of guards—a rather undiplomatic reference to the recent maritime incident with Japan. Beyond its unwillingness to compromise with Tokyo, Beijing has also been ruffling territorial feathers in India. In October, China released a map on a state-owned Web site labeling an Indian province as Chinese territory—a surprising provocation between two countries presumably on friendly terms.

So what's with the regime's increasing international aggressiveness, particularly in its own backyard? The answer lies not only in China's rise in global prominence, but also in President Hu Jintao's desire to appear stronger than his predecessor, Jiang Zemin. Jiang, who served as China's president from 1993 to 2003, weathered much domestic criticism for bungling relations with Japan and Taiwan, but also for signing a treaty over a territorial dispute with Russia, which critics say conceded too much territory. Hu, who served with Jiang in the '90s, has seen up close the dangers of appearing soft on territorial issues to his co-elites in the post-Mao era—and doesn't want to be seen as a traitor to his country when his term ends in 2013.