Resolving or intensifying crisis? Examining public perceptions of crisis public diplomacy in foreign and domestic contexts

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


This paper focuses on public diplomacy efforts during crises that involve multiple, transboundary, and often hostile publics. Traditionally, public diplomacy is employed to resolve crises (Zaharna, 2004) and bring about understanding from foreign publics (Pamment, 2012). Recently, some studies point to a new style of public diplomacy that intentionally causes and intensifies crises for the purpose of strengthening the support among the domestic public while alienating the foreign public (e.g., Putnam, 1988; Zaharna, 2004). The present study addresses this new type of public diplomacy and the tension between the public's perceptions of crisis public diplomacy in foreign and domestic contexts. As a particular case in point, it examines China’s so-called wolf-warrior diplomacy, characterised by a more aggressive combat form of public diplomacy (Zhu, 2020), undertaken during the Chinese ambassador Gui Congyou's office in Sweden between 2017 and 2021.
The tension between China and Sweden escalated during Gui's office time. The study contrasts public perceptions in Sweden and China by investigating the news media coverage on Gui's public diplomacy efforts during crises. A qualitative content analysis (Mayring, 2004) is employed to examine news articles in order to understand the following three research questions: 1) What type of crisis events emerged in Chinese public diplomacy efforts in Sweden? 2) How were the crisis events negotiated in the opinion pages of Swedish and Chinese newspapers? 3) Which unintended consequences can be identified as a result of the public diplomacy effort and its elaboration in the public in both countries?
The findings illuminate tensions between the wolf-warrior diplomacy discourse and the discourse in news media in Sweden and China. More specifically, two types of crises, explicit and implicit, are identified. First, the wolf-warrior style of public diplomacy explicitly addresses crisis events, which are less conflictual, but related to Chinese domestic interest. Second, implicit crisis, emerge in news media opinion pages and interviews, which concern ideological differences between the countries. These tensions are more difficult to reconcile as they are embedded in historical political tensions. In conclusion, the study advances the understanding of crisis public diplomacy by shedding light on communication efforts that intensify crisis to attract domestic support instead of winning the hearts and minds of international publics.

Cull, N. J. (2021). From soft power to reputational security: Rethinking public diplomacy and cultural diplomacy for a dangerous age. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, 1-4.
Mayring, P. (2004). Qualitative content analysis. In Flick, U., Kardoff, E. V., & Steinke (eds.) A companion to qualitative research (pp. 266-270), London: Sage.
Pamment, J. (2012). New public diplomacy in the 21st century: A comparative study of policy and practice. New York, NY: Routledge.
Putnam, R. (1988). Diplomacy and domestic politics: The logic of a two-level game. International Organization, 42(3), 427–60.
Zaharna, R. S. (2004). Asymmetry of cultural styles and the unintended consequences of crisis public diplomacy. In Slavik, H. (ed.) Intercultural communication and diplomacy (pp. 133-42), Malta and Geneva: DiploFoundation.
Zhu, Z. (2020). Interpreting China’s ‘wolf-warrior diplomacy’. The Diplomat, 15, 648-658.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Oct
EventECREA 2022: 9th European Communication Conference: Rethink Impact - Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark
Duration: 2022 Oct 192022 Oct 22
Conference number: 9


ConferenceECREA 2022: 9th European Communication Conference
Abbreviated titleECREA 2022
Internet address

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Media Studies
  • Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)


  • crisis
  • China
  • wolf-warrior
  • publics
  • public diplomacy


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