Constructing threat: How Americans identify economic competitors

Shelley D Wick, Florida International University


China's emergence as an economic powerhouse has often been portrayed as threatening to America's economic strength and to its very identity as "the global hegemon." The media's alarmist response to an economic competitor is familiar to those who remember US-Japanese relations in the 1980s. In order to better understand the basis of American threat perception, this study explores the independent and interactive impact of three variables (perceptions of the Other's capabilities, perceptions of the Other as a threat versus as an opportunity, and perceptions of the Other's political culture) on attitudes toward two different economic competitors (Japan 1977-1995 and China 1985-2011). Utilizing four methods (historical process tracing, public polling data analysis, social scientific experimentation, and content analysis), this study demonstrates that increases in the Other's economic capabilities have a much smaller impact on attitudes than is commonly believed. It further shows that while perceptions of threat/opportunity played a significant role in shaping attitudinal response toward Japan, perceptions of political culture are the most important factor driving attitudes toward China today. This study contributes to a better understanding of how states react to threats and construct negative images of their economic rivals. It also helps to explain the current Sino-American relationship and enables better predictions as to its potential future course. Finally, these findings contribute to cultural explanations of the democratic peace phenomenon and provide a boundary condition (political culture) for the liberal proposition that opportunity ameliorates conflict in the economic realm.

Subject Area

International Relations

Recommended Citation

Wick, Shelley D, "Constructing threat: How Americans identify economic competitors" (2013). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3567368.