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Title: DIVERSIONARY FOREIGN POLICY IN CHINA A Study of Public Opinion Via Weibo & China As A Responsive Authoritarian
Authors: Wu, Shirley
Advisors: Flaherty, Martin
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2015
Abstract: This paper explores the relationship between escalatory shifts in China’s foreign policy rhetoric and public opinion trends suggesting domestic discontent. Specifically, the goal is to examine whether the government’s concerns about domestic and regime stability factor into decisions about how belligerent China should be in the international arena. Various scholars have proposed that states may employ diversionary foreign policy strategies in order to divert public attention away from internal problems in order to consolidate political power. Through a multi-method approach, this paper examines five “key pivotal moments” or shifts in China’s foreign policy rhetoric: (1) Belgrade embassy bombing in 1999, (2) U.S. announcement of arms sales to Taiwan in 2010, (3) Japan’s announcement of the purchase of disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in 2012, (4) creation of China’s Air Defense Identification Zone in 2013, and (5) the 77th anniversary of the Second Sino- Japanese War in 2014. Descriptive quantitative analysis of Weibo post data related to the second key pivotal moment reveals that China closely monitored posts containing anti-Japanese sentiments, and alternatively tolerated and repressed nationalist messages as it suited the government’s policy priorities. The data shows that after the government’s foreign policy rhetoric escalated in aggression, discussion of anti-Japanese sentiments overshadowed discussion of the domestic Bo Xilai scandal. This suggests the Chinese government is able to strategically manage public discussion on Weibo and is acting as a responsive authoritarian. Evidence gathered in qualitative case studies of all five key pivotal moments suggests the Chinese state has developed a greater appreciation for the political power of social media, particularly Weibo, in recent years. The state has at times capitalized on ready-made international incidents, responding very aggressively, in order to channel public discussion towards foreign policy. These findings support the theory that China has learned to use Weibo and other social media platforms to manipulate the focus of public discussion, and thus is able to use foreign policy diversions when politically convenient, in order to divert public attention and ensure regime stability. The studies’ have implications for policymakers, civil society actors, and scholars alike. They offer evidence of an authoritarian state using diversionary foreign policy to help maintain regime stability, and also highlight important considerations for policymakers, given the growing power of social media and a shifting Internet landscape.
Extent: 118 pages
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Woodrow Wilson School, 1929-2017

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