Most of my research agenda has focused on Chinese foreign policy. Specifically I study China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and tease out MOFA’s empirical and theoretical significance in the field of Chinese foreign policy. I seek to answer questions such as China’s diplomacy and what role MOFA and its diplomats play in signaling, defending and advancing China’s interests in the world. To that end, I study diplomatic discourse, body language and technological practices and the consequent political effects. Questions that I seek to continually address include: What role does China’s MOFA play in domestic and international politics? How has diplomacy evolved in China? How does image-building work through diplomacy? Why (and how) has diplomacy taken a more ‘assertive’ turn?
From these questions, I try to gain a better understanding of broader phenomena such as China’s rise, Chinese identity, the South China Sea disputes and the Belt and Road Initiative. My publications on China reflect the above research interests:
My 2017 article – Defending China’s National Image and ‘Defensive Soft Power’: the Case of Hong Kong’s ‘Umbrella Revolution (Journal of Chinese Political Science) – for instance, examines how Beijing made use to state media to project a particular, defensive, self-image during the 2014 ‘Umbrella Revolution’. Specifically, I argue that China promoted three particular images: a victim, a reasonable rising power and as a benign and tolerant leader in the China-Hong Kong context in response to criticism to her image during the protests
Focusing on the South China Sea dispute, my 2015 co-authored book chapter analyses China’s policy in the South China Sea – It traces the trajectory of Chinese behaviour in the South China Sea dispute and argues that China’s policy could be characterized as ‘fluid assertiveness’ where Beijing can selectively choose to display heightened assertiveness and/or closer cooperation.
More recent publications include my 2018 article – Diplomatic Control, Foreign Policy, and Change under Xi Jinping: A Field-Theoretic Account published in the Journal of Current Chinese Affairs – where I tease out the ways President Xi has re-asserted control over diplomatic institutions in China. Inspired by Bourdieu’s notion of ‘fields’, I suggest that inter-field interactions can create ‘transversal disruptions’ that help introduce change and innovation. I illustrate this process through three cases of field encounters: the multilateral Track II diplomacy field; the transnational fields of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); and, the China–Malaysia bilateral diplomatic field.