Jessica Chen Weiss - Public Opinion and Escalation in the East and South China Sea: Survey Evidence from China
Department:China and the World Program
Audience:Open to the Public
Does popular nationalism over the East and South China Sea pose a net benefit or liability to the Chinese leadership? How do mass political pressures affect the incentives of authoritarian leaders in international crises? In two national survey experiments, we find that Chinese Internet users or “netizens” approved of symbolic expressions of government resolve, even when tough action did not follow tough talk. And those netizens who were primed with reminders of China’s “national humiliation” by foreign powers between the 1840s and 1940s were also more likely to approve of the government’s current foreign policy performance. This survey evidence suggests that the Chinese government’s bluster and patriotic propaganda can be effective at rallying popular support. But by fanning nationalist sentiment, the Chinese government has also amplified the domestic risks to the regime. Disapproval of the government increased when netizens were reminded that the United States had sent B-52 bombers through China’s air defense identification zone in the East China Sea and defied Chinese warnings against close-in reconnaissance flights, a pattern that escalated with the EP-3 collision and death of a Chinese fighter pilot in April 2001. By rolling out our survey in real time, we found that public approval dipped after each of the U.S. military’s freedom of navigation patrols through the South China Sea on Oct. 27, 2015 and Jan. 30, 2016.
Jessica Chen Weiss is Associate Professor of Government at Cornell University. She is the author of Powerful Patriots: Nationalist Protest in China’s Foreign Relations (Oxford University Press, 2014). The dissertation on which it is based won the 2009 American Political Science Association Award for best dissertation in international relations, law and politics. Her work appears in International Organization, China Quarterly, the Journal of Conflict Resolution, and Security Studies. Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, Uppsala University East Asia Peace Program, Cornell University Einaudi Center for International Studies and Institute for the Social Sciences, Princeton-Harvard China & The World Program, Fulbright-Hays program, and University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation. Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, she received her Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego in 2008. Before joining Cornell, she was an assistant professor at Yale University and founded FACES, the Forum for American/Chinese Exchange at Stanford, while an undergraduate at Stanford.