High Risk, high reward: Anti-Foreign protests as a strategy of Tide Hands

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This study examined the influence of anti-China protests on Vietnam’s foreign policy discourse vis-àvis China in the South China Sea dispute during the period of 2011 to 2018. I draw on Jessica Chen Weiss’ (2008, 2013) theory, which argues that autocratic regimes can use anti-foreign protests as an international bargaining strategy. Additionally, this study includes an alternative hypothesis which states the influence of pro-democracy voices on anti-foreign protest management by autocratic regimes. This study used a process tracing analysis to research foreign policy discourse surrounding the anti-China protests in Vietnam between 2011 and 2018. The data was collected from international and Vietnamese newspapers that reported on the foreign policy statements by Vietnamese officials. This study finds evidence suggesting that Vietnam made use of anti-foreign protests as an international bargaining tactic. In 2011, Vietnam allowed anti-China protests and seems to have used this when taking an aggressive stance in diplomatic negotiations with China. In 2018, Vietnam repressed anti-China protests, signaling that they wanted to maintain good diplomatic relations with China. Although evidence of Weiss’ theory was found, this study finds that other factors, such as power dynamics, can potentially influence Weiss’ mechanism. This study found no concluding evidence supporting the effect of pro-democracy voices on protest management in Vietnam.
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