Colin Alexander: Public Diplomacy in Central America

The second part of this week’s PhD seminar was student led, with Colin Alexander presenting his research to us. The following is a summary of my notes from the presentation. Colin’s research analyses the tussle between China and Taiwan in public diplomacy in Central America. He first gave us the context of the research providing an overview of the political and diplomatic status of China and Taiwan, highlighting the critical nature of Central American countries as diplomatic allies of Taiwan and describing the diplomacy initiatives of China and Taiwan in the region. Colin then described his research – a media content analysis which measured media sentiment in Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala towards China and Taiwan over a period of time in which political change took place – which was designed to answer questions such as:

  • How successful are Chinese/Taiwanese diplomacy policies in affecting public opinion?
  • Is local (Central American) media a more powerful influence on  public opinion?

The research was based partly on a previous study which measured media sentiment in Europe before and after the introduction of the Euro as a single currency. In a specific example, Colin examined a number of newspapers (available online) that are popular in the region for six months prior to and six months after the point in 2007 when Costa Rica switched from recognising Taiwan as a nation to recognising China (a mutually exclusive pair of options in international diplomacy). Selecting articles that contained the word “China” in the title or opening paragraph, Colin manually assessed the sentiment towards China and aspects of Chinese life and policy by reading the article objectively and applying a seemingly very light evaluation framework, assigning a score from 1 (very negative) through to 5 (very positive) for sentiment towards China. The analysis showed that, while the number of articles varied largely throughout the study period, indicating increased interest and debate surrounding China, the overall sentiment of the articles did not vary markedly, an insignificant trend towards a more positive sentiment was recorded. There was, however,  noticeable and contrasting variations among articles grouped by topic. Articles with “political” and economic content became significantly more negative in sentiment towards China in the second half of the year (after the diplomatic change had taken place) while articles about foreign relations, Chinese society and human rights, amongst other topics, became significantly more positive. The research is not yet concluded but the methodology seems to be uncovering some interesting trends in media sentiment which may be of use when evaluating the public diplomacy efforts of China and Taiwan.

Colin acknowledged the need for objectivity in sentiment analysis of articles and the challenges presented by his approach in terms of consistency. No automatic, computer-driven method of sentiment analysis was employed, in contrast to some of the studies I have been looking at in relation to my own research. This did allow Colin to make decisions about the objectivity of the articles themselves, such as tangential comments about Chinese culture that were not related to the article but seemed to have been put in to increase the positivity or negativity of an article, without adding to the article itself. It would be interesting to apply some sort of evaluation framework to the sentiment analysis to see how successful the method was in producing accurate and consistent sentiment scores, particularly in contrast to other, possibly computer-driven methods – not simply to evaluate the manual method applied by Colin, but to see whether the latest automated sentiment analysis algorithms can perform at an accuracy level similar to that of the objective human mind.


About birchallchris

Research Associate in the School of Media and Communication, University of Leeds, teaching digital media practice and theory to students on the BA/MA New/Digital Media programmes. I research digital citizenship, using innovative digital methods; trying to bridge the gap between vary large scale phenomena and the individual human.
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1 Response to Colin Alexander: Public Diplomacy in Central America

  1. Colin Alexander says:

    Couldn’t have put it better myself.

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