China is one of the most influential actors in international relations and global trade. The country’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001 has served as an important prerequisite for this development. Western countries’ relations with China are usually characterized by a dichotomy of partnership and conflict, of rapprochement and demarcation. News coverage and media frames in particular assume a crucial role in this context, as they contribute to shaping public opinion by emphasizing certain aspects over others. In the case of China, research so far lacks longitudinal studies that examine how these economic and political tendencies become manifest in the image of China conveyed by Western media.
Taking Germany as an example, this study aims to shed light on the development of China coverage in print media between 2000 and 2019. Following a triangulating mixed-method approach, the results of computational topic modeling using Latent Dirichlet Allocation (N = 55.893) are validated by semi-standardized interviews with China correspondents. A framing analysis shows that China was majorly depicted as a valuable economic partner until a rivalry frame started to become dominant in 2016/17. This shift was accompanied by a significant overall increase in media interest.