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News about China’s soft power in European media : a quantitative content analysis

Qi Jingwen (UGent) , Sarah Van Leuven (UGent) and Stijn Joye (UGent)
(2019)
Author
Organization
Abstract
The concept of soft power was introduced in 1990 by Nye who defined it as “the ability to affect others to obtain preferred outcomes by co-option and attraction rather than coercion or payment” (Nye, 2010, p.216), for example by means of educational programs, economic investments in other countries, or organizing the Olympic Games (Li, 2017). The notion and practices of soft power resonate with the official goal and strategy from the Communist Party to establish ‘China’s peaceful rise’ and a ‘harmonious world’ by reducing the international fear from a perceived ‘China threat’. Therefore, scholars have increasingly investigated China’s soft power in the foreign context. However, most of these studies are geographically focused on the US (e.g. Metzgar & Su, 2017; Peng, 2004), as well as on selected African or Latin American countries where China has gained substantial economic influence (e.g. Diakon & Röschenthaler, 2017; Estupinan, 2017) while Europe remains an under-researched area of study. Hence, with this paper we aim to close this gap by studying European news coverage of China and its strategy of soft power. We have conducted a quantitative content analysis on a sample of news items, selected for a representative period of six months (June-November 2018) as published by The Economist, Politico.eu, Euronews.com and The Financial Times. These news outlets were selected for their particular European scope, allowing us to fully examine the coverage of China’s soft power in a broad European context instead of national context. A coding guide and registration form were developed to ensure uniformity in the selection and analytical choices. Variables include (1) the number of stories on China; (2) the topic of the news stories (cf. McClory’s (2017) seven indexes of soft power: culture, digital, education, engagement, enterprise, government, and polling); (3) the news sources (e.g. Xinhua or Western news agencies); (4) the actors represented (Chinese, European or other); and (5) the tone of the stories (positive, neutral or negative). A critically composed sample of 28 articles was tested for coder reliability with an outcome of Cohen’s kappa values ranging from 0.65 to 1.00. In June, 253 news articles about China were retrieved. 52 articles published by Euronews, 40 articles by Politico.eu, 90 articles by The Economist, and the remaining 71 by The Financial Times. The results from June show that most articles just mention China on the side (N=168, 66.4%). 70 articles (27.7%) had China as the main subject of the article, whereas direct references to China’s soft power are rather scarce, accounting for only 15 articles or 5.9% of the whole sample. These latter articles mainly focused on the economy, business and development. This resonate well with previous soft power studies (e.g. Bailard 2016, Diakon & Röschenthaler 2017, Estupinan 2017) as these demonstrated that economic success attracts more attention of western media and is one of the strongest areas in which China is respected by other nations. Examining the actors mentioned in the articles from subsample which has China as the main subject and China ‘soft power as the main subject, we found a second confirmation of the particular economic perspective in the reporting on China and soft power as compared to the traditional cultural nature of soft power. The three dominant actors who appeared in the sample are the political actor (N=60, 30.1%), governments (N=40, 20.1%), economic actors (N=32,16.0%), while the least popular actors in the articles are the cultural actor (N=5, 2.5%), media (N=6, 3.0%) and education (N=8, 4.0%), all together constituting less than 9.5% of the whole sample. Regarding the tone of the coverage, our study contradicts the results from previous studies which indicated that foreign coverage on China mainly adopted a negative tone (Estupinan, 2017; Peng, 2004). Our findings show that a large section of the articles either state the pure fact and lack a clear tone of voice (N = 27, 31.8%), or adopt a neutral tone (N = 30, 35.3%). The remainder of the news stories feature a negative tone (N=20, 23.5%) or even a very negative (N = 3, 3.5%) while manifestations of a positive tone (N = 5, 5.9%) are very rare. Our preliminary findings suggest China’s soft power is highly underrepresented and is yielding only trivial influence in Western media representations, mostly related to economic considerations. European coverage on China mainly adopted a neutral tone, however, a biased approach can still be detected by comparing the proportion of negative and positive reports in the news items.
Keywords
China, news values, Europe, content analysis, soft power, news sources

Citation

Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:

MLA
Jingwen, Qi, Sarah Van Leuven, and Stijn Joye. “News About China’s Soft Power in European Media : a Quantitative Content Analysis.” 2019. Print.
APA
Jingwen, Q., Van Leuven, S., & Joye, S. (2019). News about China’s soft power in European media : a quantitative content analysis. Presented at the Etmaal van de Communicatiewetenschap.
Chicago author-date
Jingwen, Qi, Sarah Van Leuven, and Stijn Joye. 2019. “News About China’s Soft Power in European Media : a Quantitative Content Analysis.” In .
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Jingwen, Qi, Sarah Van Leuven, and Stijn Joye. 2019. “News About China’s Soft Power in European Media : a Quantitative Content Analysis.” In .
Vancouver
1.
Jingwen Q, Van Leuven S, Joye S. News about China’s soft power in European media : a quantitative content analysis. 2019.
IEEE
[1]
Q. Jingwen, S. Van Leuven, and S. Joye, “News about China’s soft power in European media : a quantitative content analysis,” presented at the Etmaal van de Communicatiewetenschap, Nijmegen, The Netherlands, 2019.
@inproceedings{8598684,
  abstract     = {The concept of soft power was introduced in 1990 by Nye who defined it as “the ability to affect others to obtain preferred outcomes by co-option and attraction rather than coercion or payment” (Nye, 2010, p.216), for example by means of educational programs, economic investments in other countries, or organizing the Olympic Games (Li, 2017). The notion and practices of soft power resonate with the official goal and strategy from the Communist Party to establish ‘China’s peaceful rise’ and a ‘harmonious world’ by reducing the international fear from a perceived ‘China threat’. Therefore, scholars have increasingly investigated China’s soft power in the foreign context. However, most of these studies are geographically focused on the US (e.g. Metzgar & Su, 2017; Peng, 2004), as well as on selected African or Latin American countries where China has gained substantial economic influence (e.g. Diakon & Röschenthaler, 2017; Estupinan, 2017) while Europe remains an under-researched area of study. Hence, with this paper we aim to close this gap by studying European news coverage of China and its strategy of soft power.

We have conducted a quantitative content analysis on a sample of news items, selected for a representative period of six months (June-November 2018) as published by The Economist, Politico.eu, Euronews.com and The Financial Times. These news outlets were selected for their particular European scope, allowing us to fully examine the coverage of China’s soft power in a broad European context instead of national context. A coding guide and registration form were developed to ensure uniformity in the selection and analytical choices. Variables include (1) the number of stories on China; (2) the topic of the news stories (cf. McClory’s (2017) seven indexes of soft power: culture, digital, education, engagement, enterprise, government, and polling); (3) the news sources (e.g. Xinhua or Western news agencies); (4) the actors represented (Chinese, European or other); and (5) the tone of the stories (positive, neutral or negative). A critically composed sample of 28 articles was tested for coder reliability with an outcome of Cohen’s kappa values ranging from 0.65 to 1.00. In June, 253 news articles about China were retrieved. 52 articles published by Euronews, 40 articles by Politico.eu, 90 articles by The Economist, and the remaining 71 by The Financial Times.

The results from June show that most articles just mention China on the side (N=168, 66.4%). 70 articles (27.7%) had China as the main subject of the article, whereas direct references to China’s soft power are rather scarce, accounting for only 15 articles or 5.9% of the whole sample. These latter articles mainly focused on the economy, business and development. This resonate well with previous soft power studies (e.g. Bailard 2016, Diakon & Röschenthaler 2017, Estupinan 2017) as these demonstrated that economic success attracts more attention of western media and is one of the strongest areas in which China is respected by other nations.

Examining the actors mentioned in the articles from subsample which has China as the main subject and China ‘soft power as the main subject, we found a second confirmation of the particular economic perspective in the reporting on China and soft power as compared to the traditional cultural nature of soft power. The three dominant actors who appeared in the sample are the political actor (N=60, 30.1%), governments (N=40, 20.1%), economic actors (N=32,16.0%), while the least popular actors in the articles are the cultural actor (N=5, 2.5%), media (N=6, 3.0%) and education (N=8, 4.0%), all together constituting less than 9.5% of the whole sample.

Regarding the tone of the coverage, our study contradicts the results from previous studies which indicated that foreign coverage on China mainly adopted a negative tone (Estupinan, 2017; Peng, 2004). Our findings show that a large section of the articles either state the pure fact and lack a clear tone of voice (N = 27, 31.8%), or adopt a neutral tone (N = 30, 35.3%). The remainder of the news stories feature a negative tone (N=20, 23.5%) or even a very negative (N = 3, 3.5%) while manifestations of a positive tone (N = 5, 5.9%) are very rare.

Our preliminary findings suggest China’s soft power is highly underrepresented and is yielding only trivial influence in Western media representations, mostly related to economic considerations. European coverage on China mainly adopted a neutral tone, however, a biased approach can still be detected by comparing the proportion of negative and positive reports in the news items. },
  author       = {Jingwen, Qi and Van Leuven, Sarah and Joye, Stijn},
  keywords     = {China,news values,Europe,content analysis,soft power,news sources},
  language     = {eng},
  location     = {Nijmegen, The Netherlands},
  title        = {News about China’s soft power in European media : a quantitative content analysis},
  year         = {2019},
}