Kill Protests with Kindness: Anti-China protests and China’s public diplomacy

International Studies Quarterly

Anti-China protests have been creating challenges to China’s global ambition to further expand its political as well as economic influence globally. How does Beijing respond to anti-China protests? How do anti-China protests affect Beijing’s use of public diplomatic resources? We address this question by examining the effect of anti-China protests on China’s public diplomatic engagement across low- and middle-income countries with different levels of democracy. We argue that anti-China protests lead to an increased level of non-financial public diplomatic engagement (e.g., elite visits) as well as financial diplomatic engagement through foreign aid. However, the increasing effect of anti-China protests on public diplomatic engagement is present only in autocracies. This is because China takes the anti-China message from autocracies more seriously given the higher political costs of participating in public protests in autocracies. Compared to democracies, authoritarian regimes are also in a better position to use anti-China protests as a means to signal their political constraints, compelling China to invest more on public diplomatic engagement for the countries.

Sanghoon Kim-Leffingwell
Sanghoon Kim-Leffingwell
Senior Lecturer and Assistant Director