Authoritarian states try to present a positive image of themselves abroad. They invest in foreign-facing media, hire public relations firms, tout their popular celebrities, and showcase their successes to elite and popular foreign audiences. There is also a darker side to these efforts. Authoritarian states try to obscure or censor bad news about their governments and often discredit their critics abroad. In extreme cases authoritarian states intimidate, physically attack, or even assassinate their opponents overseas. My research agenda, currently being written as a book under contract, is a comparative study about how authoritarian states control their image abroad using both “positive” tactics of persuasion and “negative” tactics of repression.
China as a rising authoritarian power has especially pressing incentives to manage its image abroad. My Wilson Center project focuses on bringing systematic evidence to one aspect of China’s authoritarian image management portfolio, namely its efforts to convince foreign audiences to view its political system positively via external print propaganda. Specifically, the project involves survey experiments in which participants are exposed to Chinese government-sponsored “advertorials” in foreign media sources, such as when The Economist includes paid-for content from the Beijing Review or when the Washington Post includes a paid-for China Daily insert. This research will help us begin to understand the individual-level effects of China’s global propaganda push.
Alexander Dukalskis, Ph.D. (University of Notre Dame), is an Assistant Professor in the School of Politics and International Relations at University College Dublin. His research and teaching interests include authoritarianism, Asian politics, and human rights. His work has been published in several leading political science journals, including Government & Opposition, Review of International Studies, Chinese Journal of International Politics, Journal of Peace Research, and Democratization. His first book, The Authoritarian Public Sphere: Legitimation and Autocratic Power in North Korea, Burma, and China, was published in 2017. His next book, which is about how authoritarian states try to make themselves look good abroad, is under contract with Oxford University Press.