News June 3, 2020

Nationalism in the Wake of COVID-19 Hurts China’s International Appeal, Says Cornell University Professor Jessica Chen Weiss

On May 15, the APARC China Program hosted Cornell University associate professor of Government Jessica Chen Weiss for a virtual seminar entitled “U.S.-China Relations in the Era of COVID-19.” Professor Weiss tackled the Chinese government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, what this response says about the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) ambitions, both domestic and international, as well as what the future may hold for US-China relations. She also noted an important distinction in China’s strategy: While China may be attempting to “make the international system more hospitable to the Chinese Communist Party,” they are not trying to export autocracy to other countries, argued Weiss. Nonetheless, she acknowledged that their increased nationalistic propaganda on the international stage has had a negative impact on the country’s image: “… I think there are growing signs of recognition from Chinese scholars and senior policy experts that this aggressive diplomatic style is backfiring globally.”

Professor Weiss wrapped up her successful program by cautioning restraint and warning against overreaction on the part of the United States. While many Americans may see China’s increasingly nationalistic foreign policy as a threat, Weiss argued that it should instead be viewed as a sign that the country is currently preoccupied with ensuring domestic support and stability. Furthermore, an outsized negative reaction from the United States could jeopardize the pockets of cooperation and collaboration that still exist, even in this challenging time. “When China goes low,” Weiss concluded, “I think we ought to consider going high.” Watch: