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Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

- "Authoritarian Propaganda Campaigns on Foreign Affairs: Four Birds with One Stone" (w/ Andrew Chubb), accepted, International Studies Quarterly

Post-PrintPre-Print (SSRN)

Why do authoritarian states sometimes play up international crises and diplomatic incidents in domestic propaganda, and sometimes use information controls to minimize public attention to such events? Scholars of authoritarian regimes have offered an array of theories to explain authoritarian public opinion management decisions, and empirically validated each in particular cases. China specialists have applied and enriched this literature with case studies of the propaganda behavior of the most powerful and technologically sophisticated contemporary authoritarian state. However, such works have often mistakenly framed theories that are logically compatible, or even mutually reinforcing, as alternative explanations. This paper demonstrates the logical and empirical compatibility of many supposedly competing theories of authoritarian propaganda practices. It distinguishes four sets of explanations for authoritarian states to run domestic propaganda campaigns on foreign policy issues: mobilization, signaling, diversion, and pacification. Next, it identifies their simultaneous operation within a single case, the PRC’s propaganda campaign over the 2016 Sino-Philippines arbitration case.

- Barking Without Biting: Understanding Chinese Media Campaigns During Foreign Policy Disputes, Security Studies 2021, 30:4, 517-549, DOI: 10.1080/09636412.2021.1979843.

Post-PrintPre-Print (SSRN).

What motivates Chinese media campaigns during foreign policy disputes and how are they carried out? “Influence campaigns” are often recognized as highly pertinent to international security, yet they remain understudied. This paper develops and tests a theory that explains these media campaigns as strategic actions to align domestic public opinion when it deviates from the state’s preferred foreign policy, exploiting the media’s mobilization or pacification effect. These divergent media effects correspond to two types of media campaigns respectively – the mobilization campaigns and the pacification campaigns. The pacification campaigns are particularly important because they indicate that hawkish rhetoric may counterintuitively pacify the public, and hence its adoption implies a moderate foreign policy intent. A medium-n congruence test of 21 Chinese diplomatic crises and process-tracing of the 2016 Sino-Philippines arbitration case offer strong support for the theory and demonstrate how a pacification campaign works and how it differs from a mobilization campaign.


- Jawing through Crises: Chinese and Vietnamese Media Strategies in the South China Sea, (w/ Brantly Womack), Journal of Contemporary China 2019, 28:119, 712-728, DOI: 10.1080/10670564.2019.1580429.

Post-Print. Pre-Print (SSRN).

Winston Churchill once said, ‘it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war.’ However, negotiations are particularly difficult when they are enmeshed in public opinion precommitments. The sharpest crisis between China and Vietnam in the last 30 years concerned the placement of a Chinese oil rig into contested waters in 2014. This study analyses the Chinese and Vietnamese propaganda efforts surrounding the crisis as examples of the instrumental use of propaganda in managing domestic public opinion on diplomatic crises. The article argues that despite very different approaches to public diplomacy during the crisis, both states were primarily concerned with avoiding escalation and ending the confrontation. The authors show how propaganda function as a pacifying device in dealing with rising domestic nationalism when executing a moderate foreign policy.

Book Reviews:

- H-Diplo Article Review of Kosal Path. "The Politics of China's Aid to North Vietnam during the Anti-American Resistance, 1965-1969," Diplomacy & Statecraft, 27:4 (2016):682-700. [Link]

Working Papers:


- "Music to the Ear: Effectiveness of Media Manipulations on Public Opinion during Diplomatic Crises" 

How does media affect public opinion during diplomatic crises? States, democracies or autocracies alike, frequently resort to media manipulations to influence public opinion on foreign policy issues. But how the public reacts to the manipulations and when these manipulations are the most effective, especially in diplomatic crises, are not clear. By simulating divergent media messages in a hypothetical crisis situation in the South China Sea and randomizing on individual respondents in a cross-national survey experiment in China, Vietnam and the Philippines, this study examines the effect of four types of media manipulation on the public’s foreign policy preferences and their tolerance of a deviant government policy. I find that censorship (the appearance of deleting a news article from public access) and delegitimizing propaganda (delegitimizing irrational public responses) moderate public opinion, while delegitimizing also increases public tolerance of a deviant government policy. The effectiveness of censorship is not only conditional on the regime type of the country where censorship is applied, but on whether the opponent country is also autocratic. Mobilizing propaganda hardens public opinion and reduces public tolerance. Posturing propaganda, in which the state postures with active measures in safeguarding the nation’s interests yet does not deviate from peaceful means to resolve the dispute, operates differently in democracies and autocracies and between doves and hawks, resulting in overall null results. These findings refine existing theories about media manipulation in foreign policy crises.  

- "Unveiling China's Behavioral Patterns of Maritime Incursions into the Disputed Waters of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands" (w/ Chen Wang)


What and who drives China’s maritime behavior in its offshore disputes such as the South China Sea dispute and the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute? We argue that Chinese maritime patrols within twelve nautical miles and beyond twelve nautical miles but within the contiguous zone, because of their divergent international legal implications, are determined by two separate causal processes. The former is of high stakes likely decided by senior officials at the central state level, whereas the latter is of low stakes likely determined by local to mid-level operational offices based on operational factors. We test these hypotheses on the weekly frequencies of Chinese maritime patrols near the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands since 2012. We find that the concurrence of major national diplomatic events has a significant pacifying effect on Chinese maritime patrols within twelve nautical miles of the Islands, while the imposition and the lifting of China’s fishing ban increase Chinese maritime patrols in the contiguous area. These statistical findings lend strong support to our theory. This study has important implications for understanding the bureaucratic processes in Chinese foreign policy-making on territorial disputes.

- "Charmers or Wolf Warriors? How Aggressive and Combative Is China’s Diplomatic Twitter Presence?" (w/ Stephanie Kang)


In recent years, the Chinese diplomatic community has become increasingly active on social media platforms to address politically sensitive issues such as the US-China trade war, conflict in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and the origin of Covid-19. Chinese diplomats are using social media to engage in a type of public diplomacy characterized by an aggressive defense of China's position on contentious issues, dubbed "wolf warrior diplomacy" by some observers. This diplomatic style contrasts with the previous Chinese strategy of "charm offensive," which aimed to use soft power to promote a positive Chinese global image. How has China's public diplomacy strategy evolved over time with its increasing presence on social media? What frames do Chinese diplomatic social media accounts adopt and what emotions do they seek to provoke in foreign audiences? We use social media data from over 100 unique Chinese diplomatic Twitter accounts to conduct text and network analyses to identify the Chinese foreign-oriented propaganda's target audience, key topics, and frames, as well as key information brokers and the manner in which information is spread within the Chinese diplomatic Twitter network. This study seeks to shed light on the objectives of Chinese public diplomacy and the means by which Chinese political leaders intend to shape the contemporary information space to achieve their political goals.

Click here to see a poster of this study presented at the 11th Annual Conference on New Directions in Analyzing Text as Data (TADA 2021).

- "Racial Stereotypes toward Chinese and Foreign Policy Preference toward China" (w/ Boliang Zhu)


Do Americans’ racial stereotypes toward Chinese affect their foreign policy preference toward China? Further, do foreign policy preferences toward China affect their attitudes and behavior toward ethnic Chinese? With the deterioration of US-China relations and the rising violence against Chinese around the world, these are realistically urgent and important questions. We study the relationship between racial attitudes and foreign policy preference related to Chinese and China through two survey experiments in the US. We hypothesize that there is a circular relationship between the two, that is, racial attitudes do affect one’s foreign policy preference, and foreign policy preference further affects one’s racial attitudes, causing a mutually reinforcing pattern. 

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