Mapping the online discourse on the BRI in social media: general context and religious factors

This data mining project investigates the changing and contested narratives of the BRI in social media, focusing on sentimental and networking characteristics in online communication platforms. In an interim outcome, this work has firstly framed a systematic approach to analyse the discourse on the BRI in social networking platforms; with further studies to focus on conversations related to the BRI’s transnational circulation of personnel, religion and cosmological values.

The targeted data period spans seven years between 1st Jan 2013 to 31st April 2020, exemplified by the worldwide social media platform Twitter. This work has retrieved more than 400,000 tweets with BRI related keywords mentioned in content or hashtags, applying the Boolean logic “OR” for following terms in Twitter’s advanced search mode: Belt and road, one belt one road, New silk road, silk road economic belt, maritime silk road, OBOR. Tweets are then documented with the name of the user, content, hyperlink, posted time, number of likes, retweets, replies, sentiment level of tweet, and geographical location provided by the user.

The methodology for data mining and sentiment analysis is based on the Python programming language with data scraping module to retrieve tweets from Twitter and VADER sentiment module (Hutto & Gilbert, 2014) to further classify the emotional level of each tweet within the range of -1 to +1 from most negative to most positive. The search language of terms is in English, which can be further expanded to other languages such as Chinese, Arab, Urdu, to cover a wider context of the BRI in different languages.

 

Until now, this sub-project has worked on five aspects of the BRI discourse in the Twittersphere:

  1. Infrastructural and religious related postings
  2. Trending topics/conversations of the BRI at different times
  3. Sentimental dynamics of the BRI’s dialogue in global and local frames
  4. Key opinion leaders and their networking characteristics
  5. Comparative studies on the opinion field: China, United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong

 

(1). Postings about the BRI with terms related to religions, sects or sacred scriptures in Twitter reveal the general focuses on religious issues relating to the BRI.

(2). Topic modelling was employed to summarize tweets of the BRI from 2013-2020 into ten topics. which are generated by the Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) algorithm in Python topic modelling coding (Blei et al., 2003).

(3). Visualizing the sentiment level of tweets on the BRI in monthly average.

(4). Ranking and networking the top 20 opinion leaders in a given year and in different countries by the number of retweets. Accounts include state media, research institutes, think tanks, news organizations, and individuals

(5). Comparison between users’ postings on the BRI in different countries.

The Belt and Road Initiative in Social Media: Investigating the Discursive Landscape of International Relations through Sentiment and Social Network Analysis

Edward Man, Qian Junxi and David A. Palmer

 

ABSTRACT

Since the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was launched in 2013, diverse arguments and sentiments are growing online, concerning a promising but latently coercive Sino-centric order in future. In 2020, the discourse of the BRI has been prominently associated with Sinophobic opinions, correlated to the deterioration in Sino-American relations and suspicious transmission of COVID-19 through China backed overseas infrastructures. This brings into question how the shifting sentiments are driven by stakeholders’ engagements in dissemination of information online. This article quantified the communal cyberspace of the BRI as found on the social media platform, Twitter since 2013 to the third quarter of 2020. Text mining analytics are employed to spotlight the evolving discourse on the BRI in trending topics and sentiments; and to build upon the shifts in narrative to investigate Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs)’ online behaviours and influence by mapping out their social networking patterns. Using computational approaches to identify the evolution of the BRI narrative on social media, this work offers a vantage point to understand the online public opinion field in temporal dynamics and how different actors behave in reacting and adapting to changes in international affairs.

Sacralizing The Works, Engaging Inter-Cultural Relations: Stories Of Indonesian Female Muslim Workers In Hong Kong

Alhamdulillah (thanks to God), I made my hijrah (literally migration, from sinful to righteously pious -better- Muslim). I had intended to do so for years, but finally made it since last year. It's been a year now," said a niqab-ed Indonesian female Muslim worker in her monthly religious gathering at victoria Park of Hong Kong, in October 28th,...

Back To Jerusalem: The Missionary Movement Of The Chinese Protestant House Church

Chinese Protestant Christianity has grown exponentially in the last few decades. China has become a missionary-sending country at the same time as its political and economic importance in the world has grown. Many Chinese Christians believe that God has been calling on them to undertake the great mission of converting Muslims to Christianity. The...

Alternative Networks In Southeast Asia: One Sea One Temple, And The City Of A Thousand Temples

In response to the slogan One Belt One Road a small temple in Sibu, Sarawak came up with an alternative slogan – One Sea One Temple. They then built a network of over 100 Dabogong (Tudigong) temples in ports along the South China Sea and into the Indian Ocean. This covers much of the same territory as the BRI’s “Maritime Silk Road.” But rather...

Parallels And Paradoxes: New Religious Formations In Response To The BRI In Sri Lanka

Since the end of the civil war in 2009, Sri Lanka has attracted significant volumes of foreign investment. The vast majority of this investment has come from Chinese companies, which have committed loans amounting to over US$ 7 billion so far. Much of this investment has been used to finance large-scale infrastructure projects, including the...

Building Inter-Asia New Age Networks: Balancing Heterodoxy And Patriotism In Chinese Spiritual Tourism To India

The recent military clashes between India and China in the Galwan Valley resulted in the Sino-Indian border heating up to levels unseen in recent years. Meanwhile, India continues to downplay China’s Belt and Road Initiative and refuses to sign a BRI Memorandum of Understanding. In June 2020, parallel to the reports on these tensions, Chinese...

Between A Rock And A Hard Place: Sinophobia And Religious Nationalist Sentiments In Vietnam

President Xi Jinping’s launch of the One Bell One Road Initiative (OBOR or BRI) was met with a negative reaction in the Vietnamese public sphere, although the speedy development of infrastructure connecting Vietnam and China would stimulate a number of trade sectors. The discussion focused on whether part of Vietnamese sovereignty should be given...

Buddhism At The Borders Of Trade: Colonial And Post-Colonial Discourses On Trans-Himalayan Economic Networks And Connectivity

The expansion of international trade exerted and continues to exert considerable influence on the negotiation of nation-state borders and on the formation of cultural, social, and religious identities. While the relationship between religion and trade is undeniably complex and multifaceted, it has been suggested that commercial connectivity has...

Religious Circulation, Transportation Routes, And Urban Space: Christianity In Late Imperial And Modern China

This project studies the intricate and largely overlooked relationship between religious circulation, transportation routes and urban space in the historical context of state building and global connection in mid-eighteenth to mid-twentieth-century China. Focusing on the case of Christianity, it examines three cities and regions that have played...

Alternative Healing Methods And China’s Health Silk Road: Chinese Muslim Medical Enterprises And Practitioners In Dubai

China has gained more prominence in terms of its global health leadership during the coronavirus pandemic. The state dispatched medical teams and supplies to many Belt and Road countries in the last six months. Sinopharm, a large state-owned Chinese pharmaceutical company, established its first overseas COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial program in...

State-Building In Religious Society: A Comparative Study Of Religious Control In Belt And Road Countries

This research aims to study state policies of the religious control in Belt and Road countries in Central Asia, including China (Xinjiang province), Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan. Through a comparative study of the religious policies in these countries, this study seeks to reveal how the socialist or post-socialist...