Current Research

Book Project: “Foreign Policy Discourse in Contemporary China”

My current book project centers on public opinion on the Chinese internet over foreign policy events. I ask when the public is more or less likely to challenge official positions, and in turn how agents of the state respond to such “divergent” public discourse. To answer these questions, I have gathered a sample of data from Chinese social media covering approximately 20 months and totaling hundreds of millions of individual posts. I combine large-scale computer-aided analysis of this data with qualitative reading of individual posts and media articles to argue that nationalist narratives and the initial response of the propaganda apparatus lie at the core of both public mood and the larger political response to such dissent.

Committee chair: Prof. Bruce Dickson, GWU

Working Papers

Hard to Say: Selective Media Repression and Authoritarian States’ Foreign Policies

Why might authoritarian states repress public discourse around some sensitive foreign policy events but allow discussion of others to continue? China’s authorities possess great capacity to censor, infiltrate, shout down, or otherwise manipulate public discourse. Nonetheless, repression is not omnipresent, even on sensitive events that may affect national security. What explains this variation? This paper uses case studies of Chinese behavior during foreign policy disputes with neighboring countries to address this question. It argues that specific characteristics of each individual event, such as an event’s nationalist salience and the opportunity for preparation which it affords Chinese authorities, is likely to be a better guide to predicting overall media repression during a crisis. The paper also considers two alternative explanations derived from prior literature: that Chinese authorities suppress discussion based on an event’s collective action potential, and that the Chinese state allows public expressions of nationalist sentiment when such expressions serve the state’s bargaining interests vis-à-vis the foreign country involved. I argue that while both explanations have merit, each is insufficient for understanding how Chinese authorities respond to particular foreign policy crises. This article demonstrates that the characteristics of the events to which Chinese leaders must respond are equally important as, if not more important than, any general strategies for repression that different facets of the Party-state pursue.

#NotAllMuslims: Authoritarian Values in China after the Kunming Terrorist Attacks. With Allison Quatrini, GWU.

This paper examines online public discourse toward minorities in China in the wake of terrorist attacks. To what degree do such events alter public sentiment not only toward minorities related to the attack, but toward unrelated minority groups? Existing political science theory suggests that as security concerns rise, formerly tolerant citizens will close ranks against perceived outsiders. We use data collected from Chinese social media to test whether such a shift can be observed in public discourse concerning social minorities. This research helps illuminate both the current state and likely trajectory of majority-minority relations in China.

Survival Politics: Regime Security and Alliance Institutionalization on the Korean Peninsula. With Inwook Kim, Singapore Management University.

Why do countries in similar situations create diverse types of alliances? What determines varying levels of alliance institutionalization? Despite similar material and informational conditions, the US-ROK and China-DPRK alliances forged during the Korean War have evolved along divergent paths since the war’s end. The former’s integrated command continued in existence with US troops remaining in the ROK. In the latter, China returned operational command and left the DPRK by 1958. Moving away from traditional realist explanations, we examine the interaction between domestic politics and alliance politics. We argue that contrasts in the effectiveness of the Soviet and American state-building strategies during the 1945-1948 occupation period, and the occupiers’ distinct relationships with elite factions, determined the Korean regimes’ later predisposition for certain types of alliance relationships. In the north, a chaotic and unresolved power consolidation process forced Kim Il Sung to be cautious in tightening relations with China, which supported his political rivals. In contrast, rapid consolidation in the south left Rhee Syngman more room for diplomatic maneuver. 


In addition to my primary research agenda concerning China’s public opinion, nationalism, and foreign affairs, I have been pleased to collaborate with Singapore Management University Assistant Professor and GW Ph.D. Inwook Kim on other research in the field of international relations. While we have jointly developed our research questions and theory, my primary empirical contribution has been the quantitative analysis of relevant data. Our first published paper is linked below.

Gas on the Fire: Great Power Alliances and Petrostate Aggression
Inwook Kim; Jackson Woods
International Studies Perspectives 2016;
doi: 10.1093/isp/ekv004