Working Paper

Discourse Wars and ‘Mask Diplomacy’: China’s Global Image Management in Times of Crisis

Date Published

Jun 8, 2021


Stefan Müller, Samuel Brazys, Alexander Dukalskis



Müller, S., Brazys, S., and Dukalskis, A. (2021). Discourse Wars and ‘Mask Diplomacy’: China’s Global Image Management in Times of Crisis. AidData Working Paper #109. Williamsburg, VA: AidData at William & Mary.

Update: A revised version of this paper has been published as a new AidData Working Paper.


States try to influence how they are perceived abroad. Doing so helps them achieve foreign policy goals, alleviate pressure to change their domestic political systems, and influence international norms to be more conducive to their interests. In times of crisis the need to avoid a negative image may see states mobilize resources and networks to change the global narrative about a particular event. This paper tackles broader questions about authoritarian image management and the global response by investigating if, due to Covid-19’s origin in the country, China was blamed for the pandemic and if Beijing’s public “mask diplomacy” efforts mitigated this damage. Using novel data on the media tone of 1.3 million statements mentioning China and Covid-19, we evaluate how media tone in a country compares to periods of peak Covid-19 deaths before developing a further novel database of unique “mask-diplomacy” events from around the world. Using both fixed-effects and a multiperiod difference-in-differences approaches, we find that media tone on articles about China in the context of Covid-19 is significantly more negative during periods of higher deaths, but that mask diplomacy efforts offset, to some degree, these impacts.

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Samuel Brazys

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