Announcing the Winners: 2022 Young Scholars Forum on U.S.-China Relations

On September 27-29, 2022, the Carter Center China Focus hosted the Seventh Annual Young Scholars Forum on U.S.-China Relations. First hosted by the Carter Center and its partners at Xi’an Jiaotong University in 2014, the forum invites young scholars (including doctoral candidates, postdoctoral students, assistant and associate professors, and professionals under the age of 45) to present their research on U.S.-China relations and Chinese foreign policy.

This year’s forum featured papers and presentations from young scholars representing institutions around the world, including Princeton University, Tsinghua University, University of Southern California, Georgia State University, University of San Diego, University of California at Los Angeles and Berkeley, Harvard University, Nanyang Technological University, University of Oxford, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, and more. Panels covered a range of critical topics related to the U.S.-China relationship, including public and political opinion, technology and economic statecraft, grand and Indo-Pacific strategy, and global development.

Prior to the conference, each paper went under a rigorous selection process and was reviewed by at least two leading scholars in political science or international relations. The Carter Center’s China Focus is pleased to confer three awards and three honorable mentions for this year’s conference. This year’s award is named after former President Jimmy Carter, who normalized U.S. diplomatic relations with China in 1979. Titled the 2022 Jimmy Carter Award for Best Paper on U.S.-China Relations and Chinese Foreign Policy, each comes with a $1000 USD financial reward for the young scholars’ contributions to the study of what is widely considered to be the most influential bilateral relationship in the world. Honorable mentions received a $500 USD financial reward. 

This year’s winners

Kacie Miura – Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of San Diego.

Title: ‘Explaining China’s Assertiveness in the Xi Era’.
Why has China’s foreign policy become more assertive since Xi Jinping took office? This article provides insights to the domestic political drivers behind the intensification of China’s foreign policy assertiveness under Xi. I examine the foreign policy implications of Xi’s efforts to centralize policymaking, as well as the political environment that he has cultivated as he has consolidated his power. Drawing on a case study on China’s maritime actors, I argue that Xi’s nationalistic appeals and anti-corruption campaign have created career incentives and opportunities for foreign policy actors to behave more assertively. I also show that increased bureaucratic coordination has not had a tempering effect on China’s behavior in the South China Sea, as existing arguments that attribute China’s assertiveness to policy fragmentation would lead us to expect.

Zenobia Chan –  PhD candidate in the Department of Politics at Princeton University.

Title: ‘Affluence without Influence? The Inducement Dilemma in Economic Statecraft’.

When can economic inducements—such as foreign aid, investment, and especially large-scale development initiatives—buy influence abroad? Countries often use financial favors to induce foreign policy concessions from other countries. The effectiveness of such inducements hinges on whether the sender can credibly threaten to halt or withdraw the inducements when the target does not concede. I examine a substantial set of development initiatives that are lucrative not just for the target but also for the sender. I argue that when the sender profits from the inducement it gives, it will not cut off the inducement, even if the target does not concede. I test this inducement dilemma in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Using over 200 elite interviews, official documents published by the Chinese government, and original datasets on China’s overseas project contracts, I show that Beijing’s dual goals of the BRI are to (1) tackle domestic economic and environmental problems by encouraging Chinese companies to construct infrastructure abroad, and (2) gain international acceptance of China’s development and governance models. Consistent with my argument, the economic motive undercuts the foreign policy goal. These infrastructure projects promote international support for China’s governance and development models only when these projects do not serve China’s domestic goal of exporting excess industrial capacity.

Jackie Wong – PhD candidate in Political Science and International Relations at the University of Southern California.

Title: ‘Don’t Say It is Not Predictable: Chinese Official Rhetoric and Crisis Escalation’.

Does China vary its official rhetoric before crisis escalation? Or is all China’s talk cheap? China’s recent hawkish diplomacy has re-kindled both the scholarly and policy debate on the intentions of China. I argue that in foreign crises, China’s propaganda apparatus systematically inflates the salience of crises for legitimation to different audiences before escalation compared to deescalation. Using an original dictionary for measuring the salience level of foreign crises defined in Chinese official rhetoric, I analyzed more than 10,000 People’s Daily news articles published before 30 foreign crises and disputes from 1949 to 2021. I find systematic evidence that the more salient China defines a foreign dispute, the more likely that it will escalate. I complement this analysis with a comparative case study between the Sino-Vietnamese and Sino-Philippine South China Sea disputes. I find that after China defined the dispute with Vietnam as merely a “friction,” diplomatic actions were closely followed. In contrast, after China interpreted the dispute with the Philippines as an “invasion,” China immediately conducted costly military actions against the Philippines. My research challenges the mainstream materialist view that talk is cheap, and theorizes China’s rhetoric as an early warning signal of its strategic actions. It also has clear policy implications – western policymakers should pay more attention to Chinese rhetoric in managing various ongoing disputes with China amidst growing U.S.-China power competition.

This year’s honorable mentions

Philip Rogers – PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley’s Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science.

Emma Hsu – Master’s student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa pursuing a degree in Asian International Affairs and a Graduate Certificate in Conflict Resolution.

Title: ‘There is No Entities List for Patent Filings: The Policy Implications of Huawei and ZTE as Patent Powers’.


While U.S. policy toward China has included tariffs, export controls, and more stringent reviews on inbound investment, filing for U.S. patents remain an open avenue for Chinese companies that have received even the most intense scrutiny. Focusing on the cases of Huawei and ZTE, this report assesses the policy nuances of Chinese patenting activity in the United States. Patent data for these companies’ filings in conjunction with the Patent Cooperation Treaty system indicate persistent effort in the U.S. market in both relative and absolute terms even as geopolitical tensions have mounted. Because of opportunities to monetize intellectual property through licensing, persistently building patent portfolios may make it possible to impact U.S. markets even when directly selling hardware is not possible. Data on granted patents declared as standard essential in the United States and filed in conjunction with the PCT system show that, at least on paper and in aggregate terms, Huawei and ZTE have standard essential patent portfolios that are qualitatively comparable to major competitors not subject to constraints in the U.S. market. Though the protection of U.S. intellectual property in China understandably dominates policy discourse in the United States, this report calls for attention to Chinese intellectual property in the United States to better inform responses to the technological rivalry between the two powers. It recommends U.S. policy that addresses the rise of Chinese patenting power by building windows to understand the capabilities of a competitor while upholding the values of a global innovation system that benefits the world at large.

Shing-hon Lam – PhD candidate in Political Science and International Relations at the University of Southern California.

Title: ‘Trade and Preferences: When Does the Public Support Trade War?’

How do trade policies affect electoral support and issue positions? Existing theories suggest concentrated losses from trade so that anti-trade voters would strongly oppose pro-trade policies. In contrast, I argue that that leaders gain more support from pro-trade voters for pro-trade policies than from anti-trade voters for anti-trade policies. Conservative-styled persuasion attacking free trade is attractive to people facing status anxiety. They are open to policy substitutes other than anti-trade policies. Using two original survey experiments, I find evidence for my prediction and also several other implications. First, anti-trade voters and Republican voters focus more on identity-based policy messages than on policy substances. Leaders gain more support from them when delivering conservative messages. Second, Democratic pro-trade respondents are motivated by the journalists’ knowledgable pro-trade arguments, while Republican pro-trade respondents might be motivated by Trump’s argument that trade will be good after anti-trade policies. When leaders’ trade policies deliver good performance, they gain more support from Democratic pro-trade voters for pro-trade policies and from Republican pro-trade voters for anti-trade policies. Third, some anti-trade respondents oppose anti-trade policies because “politics are bad,” they “really don’t know” about “things” and “tariffs raise goods” prices; they support pro-trade policies because “one always deal” and “negotiating.” These findings imply that the Biden administration may face huge voter backlash if it escalates the trade war.
Mallie Prytherch – Schwarzman Scholar (Class of 2022) at Schwarzman College, Tsinghua University.

Title: ‘Current and Future U.S.-China Relations Through the Eyes of Chinese Youth at Top Universities.

Relations between the United States and China have grown increasingly strained over the past few years due to a variety of ideological, political, and economic issues. The U.S. government’s aggressive rhetoric beginning under the Trump administration, China’s rising prominence on an international level, land disputes regarding Taiwan and the South China Sea, the growing popularity of nationalistic politics, and the responses to and consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have all contributed to deterioration of the U.S.-China relationship. Consequently, conducting fieldwork within China has become increasingly challenging for Western academics and research over the past two to three years is sparse. This project uses the author’s rare situation, as one of few international students in China, to examine the views of students at China’s top two universities, Peking University and Tsinghua University.
A dual-track approach was used to learn about students’ perceptions of the American government, the American people, the U.S.-China relationship, future relations, and the ways in which they are influenced by news media: a quantitative survey of 88 students was run alongside a set of 22 semi-structured interviews. Analysis showed that, contrary to several prominent studies in the field, this specific subset of Chinese students’ opinions is relatively measured and not prominently defined by nationalism, although their views have become increasingly negative due to the events of the past few years. They clearly differentiate between the American government and the American people. They are disillusioned with American ideology, but recognize many things that China can learn from America. They are heavy users of social media but also recognize that much of what they read is unverified. They hope for a future of cooperation, but are cynical about the likelihood of peace.
This project provides a window into the environment in which China’s future leaders are forming their opinions. It also creates a foundation upon which further analysis and research into opinions of young Chinese can be built