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Anti-Asian Racism and the Racial Politics of U.S.-China Great Power Rivalry


The recent dramatic surge in anti-Asian racial violence has exposed two under-examined, yet increasingly salient, dimensions of contemporary American politics. First, it demonstrates the persistence of old-fashioned racism against Asian Americans who have long been marginalized as “perpetual foreigners” in American society. Second, the concurrent rise of anti-Asian and anti-China sentiments amidst U.S.-China conflicts over the pandemic and other geopolitical disputes suggests that racial considerations may still play an important role in the formation and expression of mass foreign policy attitudes toward China – an Asian power that has historically been viewed through an explicitly racial lens. This three-paper dissertation focuses on anti-Asian racism in today’s American society and examines its far-reaching effects on the formation of foreign policy preferences among American and Chinese publics. The first paper introduces the theories of anti-Asian racism and proposes new measures of racialized views toward the minority group. Utilizing two original national surveys, I find that these new measures – the Asian American resentment (AAR) and model minority stereotype (MMS) scales – perform better than previous measures of racial attitudes in capturing the key constructs of Asian American racial tropes. The second paper expands the scope of inquiry by applying the new measures to predicting American foreign policy preferences toward China. Based on findings from two studies and multiple national surveys, I find that racialized views toward Asians significantly predict American mass support for hawkish China policies, sometimes even more so than conventional predictors of foreign policy preferences such as political ideology and party identification. The third paper turns the focus to the impact of anti-Asian racism on political discourses and foreign policy opinion in China. Through quantitative media analyses and a national survey experiment, I find that Chinese elites and masses have paid a great deal of attention to domestic racial violence in America and reacted with greater support for foreign policy aggression. By focusing on the foreign policy implications of domestic anti-Asian racism, the papers together highlight race and racism as important, yet largely overlooked, factors of international politics in general and contemporary U.S.-China relations in particular.

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