Foreign Policy Revisionism in the Era of COVID-19: Theory and Evidence from Chinese Public Opinion
55 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2021
Date Written: January 8, 2021
Political commentary in the era of COVID-19 often takes for granted that the pandemic will transform China’s approach to great-power competition. But implicit in this concern are untested assumptions about the ways in which the pandemic is shaping widespread foreign policy attitudes within America’s foremost geopolitical rival. This study uses original public opinion surveys fielded in China during the first six months of the global pandemic to evaluate these assumptions. We find that ordinary Chinese citizens today are conspicuously optimistic about China’s future position in the global balance of power, and that this optimism corresponds well with the widespread perception that the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating China’s rise relative to the United States. And crucially, “COVID-19 optimism” reliably predicts increased support for a wide range of revisionist foreign policies, including the use of force against the U.S. and its allies as well as the pursuit of regional hegemony in the Asia-Pacific. That said, there is also evidence that public support for revisionist policies is qualified in important ways. Overall, our findings suggest that the perceived impact of the COVID-19 pandemic can function as a heuristic that profoundly shapes America’s reputation for power abroad.
Keywords: Power Shifts, COVID-19, Revisionism, Chinese Public Opinion, U.S. Foreign Policy
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