Working Papers

We Hear You: How do State-run Media Pay Attention to Online Public Opinion? Evidence from China [Under Review]

Winning citizens’ hearts and minds has long preoccupied autocrats, but thus far how they communicate with their citizens in an informational age remains elusive. This study examines the communication strategies of Chinese state-run media on social media and their effectiveness in harnessing public support. In contrast to the conventional wisdom where the media set the agenda, using original data from Weibo, I explore that state-run media let the public set the agenda, and shape the flow of news. I find their dominant strategy is to engage with viral events originating from the West. They engage in two ways, reproducing fact-based news reporting and citing anti-foreign elite opinions, and the former is more effective in evoking the public’s positive evaluations of the Chinese government. This paper contributes to the media effect research by presenting state-run media’s new engagement strategy on social media, and their ability to win approval than previously thought.

Who Gets More Money, Attention and Handshakes: Chinese Overseas Developing Financing, Xinhua and Diplomacy (with Miles Williams) [Under Review]

Absent formal avenues of transparency, how does China publicize its foreign aid and debt allocation efforts? We bring a novel perspective to this issue by considering its international recognition efforts through public diplomacy and news. Chinese. We propose that Beijing’s foreign policy tools, Xinhua media coverage of developing countries and bilateral diplomatic activities, are associated with its overseas financing allocation decisions. We expect greater media coverage and bilateral diplomatic activity of a developing country to correlate with more foreign aid giving, but not so much with its debt. It is generally believed that foreign aid is motivated by a country’s developmental needs, hence perceived to be conducive to constructing a positive image of being a donor than lending interest-based debts. To test this expectation, we leverage (1) AidData’s Chinese development finance datasets and (2) the meta-data of millions of Xinhua news articles in the Cline Center for Advanced Social Research. We find that China pays more media attention to aid recipients but engages more in diplomatic visits with debtors. Aid-recipient countries disproportionately get more media coverage on the state of their economy and developmental needs. Meanwhile, China is more likely to provide loans to diplomatically aligned countries. Our results dispel the myths that China is a “rouge donor” or a designer of “debt-trap diplomacy.” Instead, we provide suggestive evidence that, much like traditional donors, China’s foreign aid and debt allocations present a versatile foreign policy tool in international politics.

To Repress or Not to Repress: Repressive Leaders are Lenient to First-time Street-level Dissent (with Dennis Lu-Chung Weng) [Under Review]

When protesters express their dissatisfaction in the street, some states employ violence against civilians, while others make concessions. If state leaders do not always repress dissidents, how do leaders decide to repress one time but not others? We argue that state leaders treat the first-time challengers, those they have little information about, differently. The first-time challengers send the strongest signal of high resolve to iron-fist leaders that commit high preventive repression aiming to deter challengers. Repressive leaders are concerned about the backlash effects of further repressing this group. They instead wait and observe the first-time challengers. We find empirical support in multi-level modeling in the ACLED data set in African states between 1997 and 2016. Leaders are more likely to repress violent riots across regime types, but they differentiate the first-time challengers from the repeated-time challengers. Repressive leaders are most lenient toward challenging groups’ first violent move.

Information for Inspiration: The Roles of Local News in Civil Conflict Diffusion in DR Congo (with Tianhong Yin)

Existing studies show that civil wars are often contagious. One important mechanism explaining this phenomenon is that an outburst of civil conflict can inspire rebel groups in neighboring regions to follow suit. However, this mechanism does not explain how potential rebel groups gain relevant information, especially when there is no formal link between different rebel groups in different regions. In this study, we examine an understudied mechanism of civil war contagion by focusing on an informational mechanism – news reporting. News articles inspire and inform would-be rebel groups so that groups in the same or neighboring regions are more prone to conflict onset. Using an original data collection and analysis of local news reports on a national broadcast in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 2010 to 2020, we find that more news coverage of lethal conflicts leads to more frequent conflict diffusion. The effects are most pronounced in the same or neighboring cities. This project sheds new light on understanding sources of civil war contagion by integrating research in civil war and communication studies where the news coverage as a source of information and inspiration can possibly conflict diffusion within a border.

Work in Progress

Spin Shaming: When do Naming and Shaming Face Local Resistance?

Symbolic or Substantive? Codes of Conduct in Political Science Conferences (with Nora Webb Williams)