Which economic and soft power tools do China, Russia, and the U.S. use, with whom, and towards what foreign policy objectives?
States use a variety of non-military instruments—including money, information, technology, culture, and education—to advance their national interests. Yet, translating the instruments of economics or soft power into realized influence with foreign leaders or publics is neither straightforward nor quick. Foreign aid, trade, and investment may have cascading effects in the political, social, and security spheres. Public diplomacy initiatives may stoke new relationships, norms, and institutions which, in turn, shape future economic trajectories and alliances between countries. Policymakers in the Global South seldom have reliable intelligence at their disposal to assess risks, increase resilience, and protect their interests in the face of foreign influence.
AidData has established itself as a leading innovator of new methods to quantify insights in the data poor environment of foreign policy influence. We have produced first- of-its-kind analysis to measure Beijing’s public diplomacy footprint in the Asia-Pacific and designed novel metrics to monitor the Kremlin’s ability to influence civic space, media resilience, and energy security in Europe and Eurasia. At William & Mary, we've convened scholars and policymakers to examine how best to strengthen U.S. strategic communications and foreign assistance in an era of great power competition.
U.S. Strategic Communications vis-à-vis China and Russia
What concrete actions can the United States take to reimagine its strategic communications capabilities in an era of intensifying great power competition with China and Russia?
This series of reports and novel datasets quantifies the imperative to reinvest in U.S. strategic communications capabilities. The research makes a rigorous assessment of lessons learned from America’s historical practice of international broadcasting and public diplomacy up to the present day, as well as blindspots and opportunities for the U.S. moving forward in light of the strategic communications playbooks in use by China, Russia, and Japan.
Last December, William & Mary's Global Research Institute (GRI) partnered with the Gates Global Policy Center to convene the inaugural Gates Forum, a meeting of high-level policymakers to distill insights from newly commissioned analysis by AidData and weigh options for U.S. foreign policy.
As part of a 3-year collaboration with the US Agency for International Development Europe & Eurasia Bureau and the State Department Office of the Coordinator of US Assistance to Europe and Eurasia, AidData has produced diagnostics and analysis to support civic space, media resilience, and energy security and counter Russian influence in 17 countries.
Policymakers have long been concerned about "eroding civic space" in light of a wave of rising authoritarianism and democratic backsliding. Yet, advocates for strengthening civic space rarely had reliable and comparable data to quantify and monitor country vulnerabilities, nor were US policymakers able quantify the best avenues for US assistance. AidData created 14 indicators to monitor trends in the health of civic space over time from 2015 to 2021 in a comparable way across 17 countries and 7 occupied territories. These indicators asses the domestic environment for citizens to assemble peacefully and to express their views without fear of retribution. They also assess the channels by which the Kremlin may exert external influence to skew or constrain civic space.
Due to the interconnected nature of energy markets and relative opacity of related investments, it is difficult to understand how countries in Eastern Europe and Eurasia govern energy resources, the influence of foreign energy suppliers like Russia, and the effectiveness of USG efforts to bolster energy security in the region. Although there are existing indices that monitor global energy trends, none of these tools adequately address energy security trends unique to Europe & Eurasia. Systematically track and analyze energy governance and security in the region over time with an eye towards informing how best to target assistance towards Eastern European countries to decrease their dependence on natural gas imports and strengthen the resilience of their institutions to avoid capture.
How well positioned are societies are to navigate inadvertent misinformation or intentional disinformation? AidData produced diagnostics and analysis to support media resilience in 17 countries in Eastern Europe and Eurasia. These measures overcome a critical shortcoming in existing data on media freedom and trust in media. Existing data focuses primarily on domestic rather than external threats, especially Russia. AidData's 31 indicators of media resilience provide a comprehensive, multi-faceted snapshot across countries and over time in order to gauge how the degree of resilience with which a media system responds to externally influenced narratives. We've also researched the presence of Russian state-owned media in these countries, along with the ownership breakdown of top media outlets in these 17 countries with known or suspected Kremlin ties.
In June 2018, AidData, in partnership with the China Power Project at CSIS and the Asia Society Policy Institute, released Ties That Bind, the first effort to systematically quantify four key dimensions of Chinese public diplomacy (financial, cultural, elite-to-elite, and exchange activities) across 25 countries in the East Asia and Pacific (EAP) region from 2000 to 2016. The report broke new ground to quantifiably measure a much broader range of activities than had been previously attempted, while informing and inciting discussion of China’s growing public diplomacy footprint in the EAP region and its effects.
One year later, AidData in December 2019 published new data and analysis capturing the results of China’s public diplomacy push in 13 countries of another region key to its strategic interests: South and Central Asia. Silk Road Diplomacy quantifies how these efforts are received by foreign publics and leaders to determine whether it is meeting Beijing’s objectives, including new numbers on China’s total financial diplomacy in the region for 2000 to 2017. Building on Ties That Bind, a second report, Influencing the Narrative, explores how China mobilizes students and media to promote its preferred narrative in the EAP region. Enabling readers to dive even deeper into the data, a new interactive dashboard on China's public diplomacy activities has also been launched, containing information from both reports focused on East Asia and the Pacific.