Leaders or "Guides" of Public Opinion? The Media Role of Chinese Foreign Policy Experts

2015 - 2016
Taiwan Fellowship 2015



Research Questions
This project explores the growing role of think tank experts in Chinese media coverage on international issues, and determines the degree to which voices in this community diverge from each other as well as the "official line" espoused by China's central media organs. It investigates the sentiment with which major international actors are described, and how this differs between sources. Finally, it also aims to identify general patterns, such as authorship and distribution among media outlets.

Contribution to International Research
Past research on Chinese think tanks has mostly focused on the sector's general development and attempts to trace policy influence. Media activity is a relatively new field that has seen the greatest increase in activity over the past decade, but has so far received very little systematic attention in English-language publications. Additionally, this project also examines how Chinese experts strive to build a consensus around the leadership's foreign policy choices and defend it against grassroots pressure, connecting it to the literature on domestic policymaking in China.

Research Design and Methods
The project combines quantitative and qualitative approaches, utilizing a large-n sentiment analysis of over 2,400 recent media commentaries and an in-depth discussion of selected pieces covering high-profile issues.

Preliminary Results
Although the Chinese government aims to employ experts as guides of public opinion, there is considerable variety in how different institutes and their staff cover international issues, and expert coverage is also systematically more even-handed than the "official line" when it comes to sensitive issues like China-Japanese relations. However, there are also enduring concerns, such as a near-total absence of critical assessments of China's own foreign policy, an overhang of hardline and nationalist views, and an overrepresentation of authors who perform pundit roles without having in-depth expertise on the wide range of issues they're commenting on.