If the aggressive protesters in London, Paris and San Francisco have achieved anything significant by disrupting the Olympic torch relay, it has less to do with what they intended. They hoped to highlight China's human rights record, its recent crackdown in Tibet , religious freedom and its association with the Sudanese government that is responsible for atrocities in Darfur. Many people in the west may well believe that since the Chinese leaders pay so much attention to the Beijing Olympics and regard it as their 'coming out party', this represents a rare opportunity to punish the mainland and force it to capitulate to their demands. Instead, the protests have produced a nationalist backlash on the mainland, the implications of which will last well beyond the Games in August. The vast majority of mainlanders appear to have sided with Beijing in seeing a plot by the west to humiliate China and damage its image as a rising economic power. Those westerners who can read Chinese and browse postings on internet chat rooms will find mainlanders' indignant anti-foreign feelings are genuine and running high nationwide. They are blaming foreign politicians and the 'biased' overseas media reports, and strongly suggesting a conspiracy by forces in the west which stand to lose from China's rising political and economic influence. The rising nationalist sentiment will no doubt make it impossible for China's leaders to even consider the western activists' demands. Over the weekend, President Hu Jintao gave a forceful defence of the mainland's stance on Tibet in his meeting with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Hainan, saying the unrest was aimed at 'splitting the motherland'. He said the issue was not ethnic, religious nor about human rights but a problem of either safeguarding national unification or splitting China. On the sovereignty issue, no Chinese leader can afford to be seen as weak because of the country's long and humiliating history of being carved up and colonised by western countries in the 19th and early 20th centuries. On a broader note, mainlanders' strong resentment against what are perceived as anti-China protests are most likely to widen the gulf of understanding between the Chinese people and those in the west. This is particularly true for young mainlanders as they are the ones who are mostly vocal in expressing their anti-foreign sentiment while young westerners are on the frontlines of the protests. It is a sad thought to ponder that many of those people will one day become political and business leaders in China and the west. Mainland leaders need to be careful when dealing with this rising nationalist sentiment. While the swelling anger against the anti-China protests can rally mainlanders around Beijing's policies, the anti-foreign sentiment, if it gets out of control, can work against the best interests of the country. Last week, some mainland consumers launched an internet campaign to boycott French goods in response to the disruptions on the Paris leg of the torch relay. They singled out France because the mainland media reported that some politicians had openly supported protesters including their actions of draping a banner in support of human rights outside Paris city hall. So far, the mainland authorities and the state media have wisely stayed away from the subject. But as the foreign activists are most likely to ratchet up pressure in the run-up to the Games, this will swell the nationalist sentiment and force the leadership to respond.