Places for Identification in the Blame Game: An Exploration of Rhetorical Diplomacy in a U.S.–China Twitter Clash

Lassi Rikkonen, Pekka Isotalus, Hiski Haukkala


This article explores the concept of rhetorical diplomacy in understanding public diplomacy on Twitter. Recent years have witnessed the growing importance of Twitter in the field. In 2020, with its uncertainties, the United States and China plunged into diplomatic clashes and blame-shifting on the social media platform as they fought over the hearts and minds of global publics. In this article, we define rhetorical diplomacy as state leaders’ and diplomats’ attempts to influence global publics, manage change, and cultivate legitimacy. We use Burkean identification as the guiding concept as we focus on the U.S.–China Twitter clash and analyze 495 tweets from American and Chinese top diplomats. The results indicate that they employ a wide array of identification strategies, which often appear simultaneously in combinations of common ground and antithetical strategies. Twitter also seems to offer a platform for more ambiguous identification through an assumed “we” or “we as the world.”


rhetorical diplomacy, public diplomacy, identification, social media, Twitter

Full Text: