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Defending China’s National Image and ‘Defensive Soft Power’: the Case of Hong Kong’s ‘Umbrella Revolution’

T his study examines the pro-democracy protests of Hong Kong in 2014 and how the protests became sites for Beijing’s representations of Chinese national image(s). It argues that ‘defensive soft power’ can be used to understand the process through which Beijing made such representations and projections. ‘Defensive soft power’, extending on Nye’s soft power is operationally defined as the reactionary activities taken in response to actions that harm or potentially harm a country’s national image. Based on an analysis of the data drawn from three mainland news media, several perceptions of China emerge – China as a victim; China as ‘reasonable’ power; and China as benign and tolerant leader in the China-Hong Kong relation. This research highlights the ‘Umbrella Revolution’ as an instance where ‘defensive soft power’ was used to (1) fend off negative national images and (2) project positive national images. Mapping out the process of national image defence will enable readers to better understand a sovereign state’s strategies to defend attacks on and promote positive perceptions of its national image.

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