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Title: The Impacts of International Human Rights Pressure on Public Opinion in Authoritarian States
Authors: Gruffydd-Jones, Jamie Gruffydd-Jones
Advisors: Bass, Gary J
Contributors: Public and International Affairs Department
Keywords: China
Human Rights
International Relations
Subjects: Political science
International relations
Public policy
Issue Date: 2017
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Why do international attempts to improve the human rights of oppressive regimes fail? Why, in the case of China have twenty-seven years of intense efforts from the international community to advance respect for human rights resulted in conditions that appear even worse than the early 1990s? In this dissertation I examine the impacts of human rights pressure on citizens’ preferences in authoritarian states. I develop a theory for when pressure is most likely to have counterproductive effects in the public, and then test this theory through an in-depth examination of the case of China. A central assumption of transnational human rights activism is that pressure on the offending regime from abroad and bottom-up pressure from domestic activists will work in tandem, in a mutually beneficial path to change. I show on the contrary that authoritarian regimes like the Chinese Communist Party may even use international pressure for their own propaganda purposes, strengthening their ability to carry out illiberal policies without complaint from the population. This is because under certain circumstances, international human rights pressure and diplomacy may in fact make members of the public more satisfied with their human rights conditions, and less likely to support efforts to change government behaviour. I argue that this kind of ‘recoil effect’ is most likely when the information makes the idea of a threat to the nation’s standing in international competition particularly salient, such that people respond to pressure by defending their collective self-esteem rather than by updating their grievances about the issue itself. When regimes can ensure that this is the only information about human rights pressure that reaches their public, and are able to successfully cement a strong link between the ruling elite and the nation in the eyes of the public, the recoil effect will result. I conclude that Western pressure on the Chinese government over its human rights may have set back the progress of human rights in the country, increasing public support for authoritarianism. Cases like China should not just be seen as ‘failures’ of models of human rights pressure, but actively modelled and investigated in their own right. The findings also direct our attention to the impact of human rights diplomacy and transnational activism on the views of members of the public. Even in authoritarian states, citizens are essential to the success or failure of the human rights system, and as this project shows, neglecting how they respond to activism may overstate how successful that activism really is.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Public and International Affairs

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