Selected Working Papers


Chapter 1

Angel M. Villegas-Cruz. 2023. “The Effect of Economic Ties on Digital Diplomacy: A Sentiment Analysis of the Twitter Accounts of Chinese Diplomatic Missions.” (Under Review)

Abstract I examine how economic ties between host and guest countries affect the emotional valence in the social media content published by digital diplomats (DD). Strong economic ties will lead DD to adopt a positive tone because strong economic ties raise the potential costs of verbal aggressiveness online. A positive emotional valence on social media also serves to cultivate good public perceptions of the guest and its economic activities. To evaluate these claims, I analyze 53,601 original tweets published by 88 Chinese diplomatic Twitter accounts from 2014 to 2020. I find economic ties have a strong positive effect on the tone adopted by DD. As the host’s trade dependence with China increases, Chinese diplomatic missions are more likely to adopt a positive tone on Twitter, especially when talking about politics and business. This research contributes to the study of how countries use social media to conduct diplomacy.

Chapter 2

Angel M. Villegas-Cruz. 2023. “Public Diplomacy and Social Media: Testing the Effectiveness of China’s Wolf Warrior Diplomacy.”

Abstract In the second chapter, I conduct a survey experiment exposing American internet users to Chinese diplomatic tweets. To date, there has been surprisingly little research on the influence of Chinese digital diplomacy. My findings show that it does not significantly alter general perceptions of China. However, it has a strong backlash effect in terms of increasing support for anti-Chinese policies. Exposure to Chinese diplomatic tweets with competing information, verbal aggressiveness, and even, to a lesser extent, a friendly tone increases support for tougher policies toward Beijing, such as recognizing Taiwan as an independent country. Subgroup analyses also reveal that the effect of exposure to Chinese diplomatic tweets also varies based on participants’ social media use, education, ideology, and race. This finding is quite novel, as previous studies on the influence of online propaganda or public diplomacy have assumed a uniform effect among individuals.

Chapter 3

Angel M. Villegas-Cruz. 2023. “An unusual application of Chinese digital diplomacy: Reflecting diplomats’ career aspirations.”

Abstract In the final chapter, I explore whether Chinese diplomats’ personal backgrounds influence the way they use social media. I argue that diplomats with a non-traditional background (e.g., did not graduate from an elite diplomatic school) have a higher incentive to burnish their reputation at home through the use of digital diplomacy. To investigate this, I scrape tweets by Chinese diplomats and combine them with an original dataset of biographical information about the Chinese diplomatic elite, which I collected with the help of an undergraduate research assistant. The dataset contains information on approximately 500 high-level Chinese diplomatic elites, including Ministers, Vice-Ministers, Director-Generals, Deputy Director-Generals, Ambassadors, and Consuls. I collect information such as age, birthplace, gender, ethnicity, educational background, professional experience, language skills, etc. Through statistical analysis, I subsequently examine which individual-level factors influence their online political behavior.

Other research

Chinese foreign policy

Angel M. Villegas-Cruz. 2023. “Communicating state repression to the international community: A Case Study of How Chinese Diplomats Frame their Actions in Xinjiang.” (R&R Foreign Policy Analysis)

Abstract Regimes and their proxies seek to legitimize overt state repression abroad to avoid economic and reputational costs. Yet, few scholars have studied the international dimension of repression image management. I examine how countries communicate their repressive actions to the international community depending on the audience. Framing repression as a legitimate response to a credible threat (threat strategy) is more likely when communicating with countries facing higher levels of domestic threat. But due to in-group favoritism, when addressing in-group audiences of the repressed, governments are more likely to frame repression as necessary to protect the repressed (benevolent rule strategy). To test these claims, I collect 88,011 tweets about activities in Xinjiang published by 88 Chinese diplomatic accounts from 2014 to 2020. The results suggest that regimes change their repression image management strategies depending on the audience. Chinese government accounts in countries with higher levels of domestic conflict are more likely to use the threat strategy than those in countries with lower levels of conflict, while those in countries with a similar in-group to Xinjiang (Muslim countries) are more likely to use the benevolent rule strategy than those in out-group states. This expands our understanding of the communication strategies of human-rights-abusing regimes.

Angel M. Villegas-Cruz. 2023. “Nation Branding and COVID-19: An Empirical Investigation of Self-Reports of Medical Donations in Chinese Digital Diplomacy.” (R&R Journal of East Asian Studies)

Abstract This research examines how Beijing uses social media to publicize donations and engage in nation branding as it responds to the global backlash sparked by COVID-19. It argues that self-reports of medical donations aim to enhance China’s national brand, and therefore, reports about donations are expected to target countries harder hit by the virus. To test its claims, the research analyzes over 55,000 tweets published by Chinese diplomatic missions. The results show —controlled for Chinese donation exports— a positive and significant relationship between self-reports of medical donations and the host’s spread of COVID-19. Conversely, political or economic partners tend not to be mentioned as recipients. A comparison of government (CCP, ministries, etc.) and non-government donors (immigrants, firms, etc.) shows that only tweets about government donors are positively correlated with the spread of the virus. This research advances our knowledge of Chinese diplomats’ online political behavior.

Digital technologies and politics

Kevin Munger, Angel M. Villegas-Cruz, Jorge Gallego, and Mateo Vásquez-Cortés. 2023. “‘Reenviado Muchas Veces’: How Platform Warnings Affect WhatsApp Users in Mexico and Colombia.” (R&R Political Communication)

Abstract Digital literacy affects how people use the internet. However, we argue that the concept of ”digital literacy” cannot usefully be applied to all internet users; there is simply too much heterogeneity across devices, platforms, and social contexts. We conduct surveys in Mexico and Colombia to understand how these people use the internet. We find that WhatsApp is by far the dominant platform across all sectors of society. In contrast to evidence from the US, we find that education is a better predictor of two measures of digital literacy than is age. We then conduct a survey experiment to test how people understand news shared on WhatsApp. We find that the inclusion of a link to source material increases respondents' trust in a message shared on WhatsApp, but that the platform-supplied note that a message has been shared many times has no such effect.

Angel M. Villegas-Cruz. 2023. “Online Infrastructure and Bot Followers: A Quantitative Description of African MFAs’ Diplomatic Strategies on Social Media.” (Under Review)

Abstract The use of social media in public diplomacy, or digital diplomacy, can be a tool for low-level information warfare to shape public opinion and serve political interests. Despite the focus of existing literature on great powers, African MFAs have embraced the digital revolution. This article traces the emergence of African digital diplomacy by exploring its online infrastructure, including its presence, determinants, bot followers, and more, through cross-platform and cross-country comparisons. It employs a quantitative descriptive approach to analyze an original dataset of all African MFAs on social media. Findings reveal that African MFAs are more active on Twitter despite having a larger presence on Facebook. The key determinants of African digital diplomacy are a large population, English as an official language, democratic governance, and widespread internet access. Furthermore, 38% of Twitter followers in African digital diplomacy are bots, with African MFAs in democracies having more bots than those in non-democracies. This research has implications for diplomatic communications in Africa and beyond.

U.S.-China trade war

Boliang Zhu, Aubrey Waddick, Yilang Feng, and Angel M. Villegas-Cruz. 2023. “Firms Caught in Crossfire: International Stakes and Domestic Politics in Corporate Positioning on De-Globalization.”

Abstract There has been a rise of protectionism and a move toward de-globalization across the globe. It is puzzling why businesses have not been more vocal opponents of protectionist policies. We examine U.S. firms’ public position taking in the U.S.-China trade war. After collecting a comprehensive dataset of firms’ public positions on the trade war, we show only 1.73 percent of large and very large U.S. firms have openly voiced opposition. One the one hand, we find larger and more productive firms, multinationals, and those more integrated in global supply chains are significantly more likely to openly oppose the imposition of tariffs. On the other hand, firms located in Republican districts are significantly less likely to do so. Our study is among the first to document firms’ positioning in a high-profile trade war. We demonstrate a critical role of domestic politics in silencing firms’ public opposition, which has important implications for globalization.

Boliang Zhu, Angel M. Villegas-Cruz, and Aubrey Waddick. 2023. “Liberalization for Sale: The Politics of Tariff Exclusions.”

Abstract We propose and test an argument of liberalization for sale, akin to “protection for sale” (Grossman and Helpman 1994). In a new world where protectionism is the status quo, trade liberalization becomes a highly valuable private benefit, and it is targetable to specific constituents for political gains. Empirically, we examine the tariff exclusion process in the high-profile U.S.-China trade war. We build a novel data set of firms’ tariff exclusion requests and exemptions for the universe of large and very large U.S. firms. We show that firms’ decisions of submitting tariff exclusion requests are both economically and politically motivated. Yet, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative’s tariff exclusion process is highly politicized and its decision of granting a tariff exclusion is primarily politically driven. Tariff exclusions are used to shore up political support in pivotal swing districts and to reward firms that are politically connected to the president’s co-partisans.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Angel M. Villegas-Cruz. 2022. “Who Is Writing and What Are They writing About? Text Analysis and Publication Patterns in The Journal of Asian Studies, 2000-2020.”

Abstract This research examines publication patterns in Asian studies by using The Journal of Asian Studies (JAS) from 2000 to 2020 as a case study. Employing computational text analysis, I collect and analyze data about JAS authors and research articles. The findings reveal interesting patterns, in particular about authors’ gender, academic rank, affiliation, discipline, and geographic area of study. The results show an imbalance in publication rates for men and women in the JAS. The number of male authors is 414 (60%), while the number of female authors is 276 (40%). We also see a significant gender imbalance for female authors in all tenured and tenure-track positions. Furthermore, the analysis shows that historians and China scholars make up the bulk of JAS authors. Historians represent 42% of published authors (288 authors). Mainland China is the most studied geographical area, accounting for 199 (29%) of articles. JAS publication patterns in the 21st century have not been written about elsewhere. This essay is a first step in understanding gendered patterns of publications in Asian studies. It can help Asianists prioritize publishing articles about under-represented authors, disciplines, and geographic areas in the field.