Authoritarian Propaganda Campaigns on Foreign Affairs: Four Birds with One Stone
Andrew Chubb, Frances Yaping Wang, "Authoritarian Propaganda Campaigns on Foreign Affairs: Four Birds With One Stone?" upcoming in International Studies Quarterly
37 Pages Posted: 9 Nov 2022
Date Written: October 28, 2022
Why do authoritarian states sometimes play up dangerous international crises and embarrassing diplomatic incidents in domestic propaganda? Is it to mobilize, threaten, divert or pacify? Recent studies in comparative politics have focused on regime legitimacy and stability as key drivers of authoritarian propaganda practices, overlooking other possible motivations such as mobilization of the regime’s domestic allies or strategic signaling aimed at foreign audiences. Foreign policy analysts, meanwhile, have emphasized international dimensions of the propaganda behavior of China — the contemporary world’s most powerful and technologically sophisticated authoritarian state — but have often mistakenly framed complementary theories as competing alternative explanations. Paying attention to the multiple domestic and international audiences for authoritarian propaganda, this article demonstrates the logical and empirical compatibility of four supposedly competing explanations for propaganda campaigns on foreign policy issues: mobilization, signaling, diversion, and pacification. After elaborating the theoretical and observable implications of these four explanations, the article illustrates their simultaneous operation within the single case of China’s high-intensity propaganda campaign over the 2016 South China Sea arbitration.
Keywords: propaganda campaigns, China, authoritarian states, international conflicts
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