Abstract: To steer public opinion, autocracies prioritize state media reports of political news while marginalizing commercial and foreign media. Can this dominance guarantee people’s trust in state media news? We contend that rumors, circulated via informal channels and resistant to state information control, present a formidable challenge to public trust in state media news. Our two survey experiments in China pitted news of varying information quality (e.g., informative/detailed reports vs. cursory mentions of events) from state media sources against rumors, showing that state media news can retain high levels of trustworthiness only if its information quality is high; however, low-quality state media news resulting from information control diminishes its trustworthiness and prompts people to believe rumors. Low-quality rumors have more negative effects than high-quality rumors on news trustworthiness and citizens’ satisfaction with government policies. Thus, information control can paradoxically erode trust in state media, which often represent the government in autocracies.
Abstract: This study examines how Chinese authorities distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable diplomatic discourse within China’s cyberspace. Using computer assisted text analysis, we analyze a unique dataset comprising US Embassy social media posts on Chinese platforms between 2010 and 2020. Our findings challenge prevalent assumptions, revealing a degree of tolerance for posts that promote Western social life, human rights, and liberal democracy. Instead, the focus of the Chinese authorities is to curtail the US Embassy’s public engagement in discussing politically sensitive topics, particularly those related to China’s regime security. We contend that the hierarchical security framework can provide a more thorough understanding of China’s information control practices. This study extends previous research on China’s information control beyond the domestic context and provides a fresh examination of China’s domestic politics and foreign policy. It also highlights the potential and limitations of foreign public diplomacy in China’s cyberspace.
Abstract: Governments around the world, particularly authoritarian ones, often deny inconvenient or unfavorable information, calling it fake news or a false rumor, and yet what was denied often turns out to be true eventually. How will citizens react when the initial “fake news” is verified to be real? What are the consequences of false government denials for government credibility and citizen satisfaction? Using a survey experiment in China and a follow-up survey, we find that citizens can be persuaded by the authorities’ denials and reduce their belief in a piece of news that has been declared “fake.” But when the denied news turns out to be real, citizens will reduce their belief not only in the denial at hand but also in a similar denial in the future and reduce their satisfaction with the government. Thus, false denials have both immediate and lasting effects on government credibility and can erode citizen satisfaction with the government.
Abstract: How do people address the information gap that authoritarian regimes' strict information control causes? We argue that there exists an internally oriented information compensation approach through which people can glean extra information from official messages sent domestically. This approach does not violate state regulations directly and allows people to retrieve information not explicitly publicized by the government. We delineate the circumstances of internally-oriented information compensation using the case of China. We conducted trend and text analysis on the data of millions of individual-level actions of Chinese Internet search engines and social media users during a large anticorruption campaign that conspicuously claimed to crack down on influential corrupt leaders without naming them exactly. We show that some Chinese netizens were able to identify the unnamed high-ranking officials targeted by the campaign based on negative official reports about their family members. Some of the netizens even correctly predicted the downfall of the officials months before the government’s announcements. As the existing literature is increasingly concerned about the threat of digital authoritarianism throttling the free flow of information, our findings indicate that some authoritarian citizens, instead of passively accepting the government’s information control, acquired their own arts of information self-salvation. This, though not directly challenging the government, constitutes everyday politics under digital authoritarianism.
Abstract: In recent years, some Chinese elites have started to rethink the strategies and tactics of China's rise on the global stage. Some scholars see the problems in the West as strategic opportunities for China. However, others worry that Beijing might have taken bold steps too soon. This article aims to provide an updated analysis of the Chinese scholarly debate on strategic overstretch. Similar to the economics of cost-benefit analysis, strategic overstretch occurs if the cost of maintaining the existing system exceeds the benefits. Most Chinese scholars agree that China's policy community should pay more attention to the topic of strategic overstretch, while they disagree on the extent to which China already has such a problem. Designing and implementing a prudent grand strategy is an enduring challenge for great powers, and Chinese scholars have taken different positions on the goals, means, and time horizon of China's grand strategy. We can't say that the Chinese scholarly debate has completely changed China's foreign policy, but there is a clear link between the rise of a cautious voice in the academic world and the moderation of China's foreign policy, even though China is still pursuing an ambitious foreign policy in a new era.