Working Paper

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

Date Published

Jan 27, 2022


Stefan Müller, Samuel Brazys, Alexander Dukalskis



Müller, S., Brazys, S., and Dukalskis, A. (2022). Discourse Wars and ‘Mask Diplomacy’: China’s Global Image Management in Times of Crisis. AidData Working Paper #113. Williamsburg, VA: AidData at William & Mary.

Note: This working paper was first published on June 8, 2021. That version is archived here.


To achieve foreign policy goals and boost domestic prestige states try to influence how they are perceived by foreign publics. Particularly in times of crisis the need to avoid a negative image may see states mobilize resources to change the global narrative about events or policies. This paper engages broader questions about states’ image management and strategic narratives by investigating if China’s “mask diplomacy” efforts helped mitigate any reputational damage resulting from Covid-19’s origins in Wuhan. We validate and apply a semi-supervised scaling method to 1.5 million English statements in newspapers mentioning China and Covid-19. Multi-period difference-in-differences models reveal that media tone improves significantly after the onset of mask diplomacy efforts in a given country. Using its Covid-19 White Paper to determine China’s preferred narratives, we also find that a country’s independent media reproduced these key terms much more after having received support from China.

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