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Gong or Song from China’s Hong Kong?

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Following the recent abduction of five Hong Kong publishers, alleged to have edited books disclosing “inconvenient truths” about the Chinese government, thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong to protest and fight for their right to have Freedom of Expression, which had already been enshrined in the Fundamental Law of Hong Kong.

The post 80 generation wants to defend civil liberties and young people are concerned by the fact that the Chinese grip on the media could be the potential starting point for the end of the “1 country, 2 system” policy, agreed on between China and Great Britain for the transfer of sovereignty over this territory. Is it reasonable to believe that this territory could become a simple reproduction of China, as feared by the younger generation?

On the first of July, 1997, China resumed control of Hong Kong after 156 years of British colonial rule. The two countries had already agreed on the terms for the transfer of power back in 1984. Britain acquired Hong Kong Island in 1842, following the” Opium Wars” of the 19th century. It took possession of Kowloon Peninsula in 1886 and obtained a lease on The New Territories for a period of 99 years beginning in 1898. Lawmakers, appointed by Beijing, took over power in 1997, but promised to honor China’s pledge to maintain the Hong Kong way of life for at least another fifty years.

However, today idealism is being replaced very quickly by pragmatism in Hong Kong where official statistics show that this special administrative region is becoming more and more politically and economically dependent on China. The Closer Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) set up in 2003 aims at facilitating commercial exchanges between the partners, thus forcing Hong Kong to become more politically integrated into China. Beijing has managed to achieve its goal, because the volume of trade between Hong Kong and mainland China has multiplied by three over the last ten years. In addition, in order to influence the elite of Hong Kong, China has invested extensively there, particularly in finance and real estate. Kai Dai of the United Front of the University of San Yat, of Canton stated that “the CEPA could enable China to use its economy as an axe to reinforce political communication on the two sides and to reconquer the population of Hong Kong”. Beijing relies on Hong Kong’s economic dependence on China to tighten its control over the territory, indicating that the “one country, two systems” principle is more theoretical than real.

Back in 2012, in his luminary and farsighted policy paper ‘What China Wants for Asia?’ professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic accurately diagnoses: “To sustain itself as a single socio-political and formidably performing economic entity, the People’s Republic requires more energy and less external dependency. Domestically, the demographic-migratory pressures are huge, regional demands are high, and expectations are brewing… In effect, the forthcoming Chinese military buildup will only strengthen the existing, and open up new, bilateral security deals of neighboring countries, primarily with the US – as nowadays in Asia, no one wants to be a passive downloader. Ultimately, it may create a politico-military isolation (and financial burden) for China that would consequently justify and (politically and financially) cheapen the bolder reinforced American military presence in the Asia-Pacific, especially in the South and the East China Sea. It perfectly adds up to the intensified demonization of China in parts of influential Western media.”

When speaking with some of residents of Hong Kong during our recent visit there, we realized that many had adopted a fatalistic attitude towards their situation because of their economic dependence on China and their fear of the political powers of Beijing. People feel that China has reneged on its promises and freedom of expression is becoming severely jeopardized. The principle of the two systems framework, regards Beijing as being responsible for the city’s defense and foreign affairs while Hong Kong should be able to enjoy limited self-governance and avail of civil liberties, including an independent judiciary and freedom of the press. China promised that Hong Kong could elect its leaders through universal suffrage, but this is far from reality today when China is slowly but systematically tightening its grip over the territory. The people’s hope for a change in the political system, which would allow democratic elections and civil liberties, is quickly vanishing. Ben, a very pragmatic businessman whom we met, acknowledges that Hong Kong does not have the economic capacity to count without China, but China is not willing to make any concessions. Hong Kong is in a deadlock situation and seems to be doomed under the influence of China. According to Ling, a young activist of the Umbrella Movement, “the Hong Kong population will only protest in the case of a mass violation of the freedom of expression”.

Shortly after the transfer of power from Great Britain to Beijing, the post 80 generation could foresee that freedom of expression was going to be threatened. According to Mai Hai, a woman in her fifties, who is politically involved and very concerned about the lack of civil liberties in Hong Kong, “1997 was the beginning of a head-on confrontation with the CCP” and resistance to the government of Beijing has strengthened in Hong Kong. In 2005 Citizen Radio was launched in order to “bravely speak out” and defend the freedom of expression. However, the authorities of Hong Kong, under the command of Beijing, began acts of repression against the radio station. Szeto Wah, and seven of his colleagues were prosecuted for having dared to speak about the Tianamen Square protests on his radio program.

Over recent years the situation regarding universal rights has not improved in Hong Kong. In 2014, the journalist, King Lau, was prosecuted for having sharply criticized Beijing. This created public indignation and outraged the newly politicized generation who began protests in Hong Kong to defend the freedom of the press and demand “true universal suffrage”. The Umbrella Revolution, a pro-democratic movement, began in 2014 when students boycotted class in order to protest outside city government headquarters in favor of the restoration of civil liberties. More and more Hong Kongers of all ages and backgrounds joined in these peaceful street protests, eventually paralyzing the city’s central business district for weeks and even months. The humble umbrella became the key symbol of this protest as it was used not only to protect demonstrators from the tear gas and pepper spray used by the police and as a shelter for the night but it was also a symbol of resistance. Unfortunately, it would be naïve to think that these protests, filmed by the cameras of the entire world would have been enough to frighten and threaten the Chinese government. Beijing went from strength to strength in its relentless repression and opposition to the movement. The Umbrella Revolution was no exception to Chinese severe censorship procedure. Lok Yee, one of the remaining protestors who still slept outside under his yellow umbrella several months later, explained how information was controlled and falsified by the authorities in Beijing. At first any “inconvenient truths” related to the Umbrella Movement were either deleted or modified. When this became impossible due to the huge influx of information the government decided to lie by saying that Hong Kongers were only showing support for the CPC. When these first strategies failed they always found new methods of covering over, such as falsifying videos by cutting scenes where policemen launched tear gas. They even paid both Chinese and Hong Kong people to help boost the government’s popularity. These “soft warriors” also known as “50 cents” were paid fifty cents for each positive comment twitted about the government or for each comment against the demonstrators. They even received more money if they demonstrated against the Umbrella Movement.

The ten-year judicial sentencing of Yiu Manting, a Hong Kong editor and the recent disappearance of five staff members of the Mighty Current Publishing House (known for frequently criticizing China) shows that Xi Jinping is more determined than ever. Opposing the government and defying censorship is becoming more and more dangerous in Hong Kong. Freedom of expression is severely jeopardized and journalists have no option but to rely on self-censorship in order to avoid retaliation.

All types of communication including the state media and social media are strictly controlled on the mainland of China. A lot of information is censored or falsified or in many cases completely deleted if certain words such as ‘democracy’ are detected. The aim of the government is to try to hide information concerning its political policies and its methods of dealing with political dissidents or those who do not yield to the power of censorship. Baidu, the most popular search engine in China, has very limited resources on any subjects which are considered as sensitive by the Chinese authorities. Lence, a twenty-year-old student studying in Hong Kong, explained this to us and showed us that with a Chinese search engine it is impossible to find any facts about Liu Xiabo, the imprisoned human rights activist and Nobel Prize winner, who was absent from Oslo and unable to receive his award because he was kidnapped by the Chinese government.

According to Lence, the Chinese government is more and more concerned about the fact that Hong Kong students could bring their ”dangerous ideas” to the mainland of China. On his recent visit there, his newspapers and all his academic papers were confiscated at the Chinese border. However this severe treatment is nothing compared to that of some of the leaders of the movement. During demonstrations secret agents are sometimes sent by the Chinese government to follow and list the names of those who are prone to upset the stability of the communist regime. These activists are blacklisted and not allowed reach mainland China.

There seems to be no hope today for a better future in Hong Kong, a sensation felt even among the younger generation. What will the implications be for the people who are being progressively denied their civil liberties? Will Hong Kong find democracy? Probably not, because Beijing fears that the election of any pro-democracy candidate could destabilize communist ideology and bring down the regime. A group of students from the University of Hong Kong, that we had the opportunity of speaking to, confessed that they did not think Beijing would change its attitude towards the people of Hong Kong nor loosen its control over the press.

Is this fatalism definitive or could the situation in Taiwan bring hope to the people of Hong Kong? Thanks to Taiwanese activists the Umbrella Movement influenced the election of the pro-independent president, Tsai Ing-Wen. Could this in turn bring new energy to Hong Kong in its battle to continue its fight for fundamental rights?

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East Asia

The Demise of a French Sub Deal: Is China a Threat?

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The conflict between emerging and existing powers is almost as old as time.  Labeled the Thucydides Trap, it first recounted the 5th century BC Peloponesian war and its inevitability as Sparta, the dominant power, feared the rise of Athens.  Is something similar about to transpire between the US and China?

The latest war of words is about nuclear submarines.  When armed with ballistic missiles, they become a hidden mortal danger.  So the US also deploys nuclear attack submarines which shadow rival nuclear ballistic submarines … just in case.

Australia was in the process of acquiring 12 French conventional attack submarines (a deal worth $37 billion) when the US and UK stepped in with the AUKUS deal.  Intended to counter China, it offers Australia  advanced nuclear propulsion systems and an opportunity to construct nuclear subs of their own with the technology transfer.  Australia will then become the seventh country in the world to build and operate nuclear submarines.

The fear of the ‘yellow peril’ is ingrained in the Australian consciousness from the days when they were afraid of being swamped by Chinese immigrants.  It led to restrictive immigration policies for non-whites. 

Much of the concern with China is due to the forceful nature of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s policies.  In Xinjiang the Uyghur population is a minority in its home province due to the influx of Han Chinese.  Moreover, Uyghurs feel discriminated against, in jobs and the progress they can make.  Some have rebelled causing many to be put in re-education camps where there are tales of torture although denied by Chinese authorities.  Biden has declared it a genocide and introduced sanctions on leading Chinese officials there. 

China’s proactive foreign policy, renewed interest in Afghanistan, its warships patrolling all the way across the Indian Ocean to Africa are further evidence.

The new Afghan leaders, at least many of them, spent their exile in Pakistan giving the latter influence with the new government.  And Pakistan is effectively a Chinese client state.  The mineral wealth of Afghanistan, if it is to be developed, is thus likely to include Chinese help.

The UN General Assembly holds its first debate of the new session on the third Tuesday of each year; the session then runs through to the September following.  As leaders converge, one of the questions being asked of those involved in AUKUS is how they are going to pacify an angry France.  It has recalled its ambassadors from Australia and the US — in the latter case a move without precedent in almost 250 years of diplomacy.

If the French feel the Australians have been duplicitous, the Australians for their part claim they are obligated to do the best for the people who elected them.  The new deal brings jobs, technology and a greater role for Australia in dealing with an increasingly powerful China

It would be a great shame if the West in trying to shore up its interests in the Indo-Pacific region loses a crucial ally — France — at the very least in wholehearted support.  Is Mr. Xi smiling and quoting some ancient Chinese proverb, perhaps Lao Tzu, to his colleagues?   

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Japanese firms’ slow and steady exit is sounding alarm bells in Beijing

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Last year in March, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had indicated Japan would initiate measures to reduce the country heavily relying on China for factory production. Since July 2020, Japan has rolled out subsidies totaling over 400 billion Yen to move its enterprises out of China to Southeast Asia and beyond. It is yet to be seen if the scale of incentives has actually triggered a major change in where Japanese companies relocate production.  On the other hand, experts in China continue to wonder why would Japanese companies which are on average making 17% profit diversify into the ASEAN nations, where in 2019, their rate of return on direct investment was a mere 5%?

***

In less than ten days, Japan is going to have a third prime minister within a short span of twelve months. On September 1 last year, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigned on health grounds, Yoshihide Suga was chosen as Abe’s successor. At the time, China’s leadership did not show any worrying signs as the new Japanese leader was expected to continue with the foreign policy of the previous government. But one year later, Suga’s unexpected departure is leaving Japan’s diplomatic relations with China considerably strained over Taiwan. Yet the leadership in Beijing is not going to lose sleep over the next prime minister’s public stance on the Japan-Taiwan “alliance.” What China will be closely watching is how many more billions of Yen and for how long a new leader in Tokyo will carry on with rolling out subsidies to lure away Japanese businesses out of China?

Interestingly, on assuming office Prime Minister Suga had promised continuity in domestic policies and that he will respect Abe’s foreign policy. However, Suga’s promised commitment to further improve relations with China was viewed differently in the People’s Republic. Writing in an article on the day Yoshihide Suga took office in Tokyo, Zhou Yongsheng, professor of Japanese studies at Beijing’s China Foreign Affairs University, observed: “[Under Suga] Japan will continue to align with the US as far as international relations and security affairs are concerned, and continue to back the US policy of containing China It is under these preconditions that Japan will seek cooperation with China.”

In sharp contrast, reviewing Suga’s foreign policy performance after two months, NIKKEI Asia’s foreign affairs analyst Hiroyuki Akita wrote in November 2020: “Suga has not said much publicly about his views on diplomacy but he has urged his aids to continue Abe’s diplomacy as it is at least for one year.” Akita gave a thumbs up to this approach and recalled a Japanese saying to describe it: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, not everyone agreed with Akita praising Suga’s brief record in diplomacy as flawless. Having spent seven years in the Abe cabinet as Chief Cabinet Secretary, Suga’s image was that of “a fixer, not a leader.” Suga did everything in diplomacy in his early phase as the prime minister what Abe had been espousing for the past seven years.

But as Toshiya Takahashi, professor of IR at Shoin University in Japan had predicted within a few weeks of Suga becoming the top leader, “Abe’s shoes were too big for Suga to fill.” Why so? Mainly because unlike Abe, not only Suga was not ideological, he was also far less diplomacy driven. “Suga is not an ideologically driven revisionist — he is a conservative politician, but his attitude has no relation to ideology. He does not seem to hold any specific cherished foreign policy objectives that he is willing to push with all his political capital in the way that Abe did in 2015 with the passage of the security-related bills,” Takahashi had commented.   

To observers and experts in both Japan and China, Prime Minister Suga’s (he will relinquish office on September 30) non-enthusiastic approach to foreign policy might have much to do with the current state of strained relationship between Japan and China. Asahi Shimbun opinion poll last year claimed foreign policy and national security as among the two most popular elements of Abe’s legacy. No wonder, critics in Japan have been pointing out that Suga’s cabinet did not have the luxury and support Abe enjoyed in foreign affairs of having in the government someone like Shotaro Yachi – the former secretary general of the National Security Secretariat. In China too, reacting to Suga’s first policy speech after taking office, scholars such as Lü  Yaodong, Institute of Japanese Studies, CASS in Beijing had observed, “Suga seems not to be as enthusiastic about China-Japan ties as Abe. Compared with Abe’s administration, Suga may walk back China-Japan ties.” (Emphasis added)

Remember, as already mentioned, the LDP had succeeded in pursuing policy of (economic) cooperation and avoiding confrontationist diplomacy with China under Abe. But Suga government’s failure to effectively fight coronavirus pandemic and its perception that China was increasingly becoming aggressive in SCS, are being cited as reasons why Japan was compelled to take strong steps against China. It is too well-known by now how Tokyo angered Beijing by referring to the importance of Taiwan to regional security in the recently released 2021 Defense White Paper. In fact, a Chinese scholar had warned as early as within a month of Suga taking over as prime minister from Shinzo Abe, saying that “Japan will take a more offensive stance against China over maritime boundary disputes under the incitement of the US” (emphasis added).

Hence, it is of extreme import to mention here China’s top diplomat Wang Yi’s recent trip to four ASEAN nations. Apparently, the second visit by the Chinese foreign minister in quick succession in the neighborhood had aroused the global media attention as it was soon after the recent visit to the region by the US vice president Kamala Harris. However, according to a Chinese commentator, Wang Yi’s recent visit to ASEAN countries must be viewed in the context of the region turning into a “battle ground” for rising economic one-upmanship among big powers. “Just a day after Wang Yi’s departure, Vietnam reached an agreement on defense equipment and technology cooperation with Japan,” the commentary noted.   

Furthermore, whilst under the previous Abe government, Japan consistently increased its investments in the ASEAN nations, except in the year 2016, all through from 2014 until last year, Japan’s investment in the region far exceeded that of China’s. Contrary to his vows, since coming into office in September last year, especially following his meeting with President Biden in the White House in April this year, Prime Minister Suga’s quiet agenda has been to confront China in both political and economic arena. In Japan, the Suga agenda was interpreted by analysts as “rebuilding Japan-US industrial chain, decoupling economic ties with China.”    

A policy report released by Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) in March 2021, revealed three important facts: first, in the year 2019, total Japanese investment in ASEAN nations stood at USD 265.5 billion – 14% of the country’s overall overseas investment, i.e., USD 1,858.3 billion.; second, in 2000, Japanese investments in ASEAN totaled USD 25 billion as against its USD 8.7 billion investment in China – a gap of USD 16.3 billion. Whereas in 2019, Japan invested USD 135.2 billion more in ASEAN as compared with China. As pointed out by one Chinese analyst, this gap is hugely significant, especially as the overall size of the ASEAN economy is a little over one-fifth of China’s GDP; third, followingthegovernment’s new strategy last year to encourage Japanese businesses to move out of China to new locations in ASEAN nations, the new guidelines also entailed reducing investments into China. A large part of the investments was diversified into ASEAN markets.

Finally, what is beginning to worry the Chinese authorities is the trend and direction of slow exodus of Japanese businesses out of China going back to Japan and towards Vietnam and Indonesia on one hand, and widening gap in Japanese investments between ASEAN and the PRC, on the other hand. At the same time, it was beyond anyone’s imagination in China that Japan would be acting foolish and risking “economic security” by diversifying businesses and investments into less profitable “barren” markets. But then who could anticipate what political and economic policy-rejigging coronavirus pandemic would bring about?

Overall, China’s more immediate and bigger concerns are firstly the sudden departure of Prime Minister Suga – in spite of Suga having made it clear he had no will to change or reverse “decoupling” policy he had been pursuing, and secondly, whoever emerges as the new leader of the four contenders by the month-end, analysts in Japan believe Tokyo is unlikely to change its “anti-China” political and economic policies.  

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How China Exacerbates Global Fragility and What Can be Done to Bolster Democratic Resilience to Confront It

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Authors: Caitlin Dearing Scott and Isabella Mekker

From its declared policy of noninterference and personnel contributions to United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping Missions to its purported role in mediating conflicts, China has long sought to portray itself as a responsible global leader, pushing narratives about building a “community of common destiny” and promoting its model of governance and economic and political development as a path to stability. This narrative belies the reality. Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-style “stability,” whether to protect Belt and Road Investments (BRI) or regimes with favorable policies towards China, in practice facilitates authoritarianism and human rights violations, contributes to environmental degradation and corruption, and undermines democratic governance, all of which can fuel instability, intentionally or otherwise.

In pursuit of its true goal – “a world safe for the party” – China has leveraged its diplomatic and economic power to weaken  the international human rights system, bolstering support for illiberal regimes, contributing to democratic decline and exacerbating global fragility in the process. Nowhere is this more apparent than in conflict-affected contexts.

Conflict Resolution, CCP Style

Although China brands itself as a ‘promoter of stability, peace, and unity’, its very definition of stability is built on its authoritarian model of governance. This, plus its concerns about non-interference in its own domestic issues, informs its conflict resolution approach, which emphasizes host state consent and political settlement, two-ideas that can be laudable in theory, depending on the context. In practice, however, China’s conflict mediation efforts in some instances have provided support to incumbent regimes who are perpetuating violence and conflict, promoting a  ‘stability’ that disregards the voices of vulnerable populations and the need for inclusive governance. In the case of the Syrian civil war, China’s “political solution” meant maintaining China-friendly Bashar al-Assad’s grip on power, while blocking resolutions condemning the regime’s brutality against its citizens. 

“Stability” promoted by China can also come at the expense of human rights. China (and Russia) have previously pushed for cuts to human rights positions within peacekeeping missions, endangering the capacity of these missions to protect civilians in conflict.  In Myanmar, where the military is committing unprecedented human rights violations against its own citizens, China initially blocked a UN Security Council statement condemning the military coup and other international efforts to restore stability at a time when a strong international response was much needed. This was in line with China’s previous engagement in the country, working closely with the military regime to “mediate” conflict near the Chinese border in a way that preserved China’s interests and influence, but did little to actually address conflict. After a growing humanitarian crisis began to threaten its investments on the Myanmar side of the border, however, China changed rhetorical course, showing where human rights violations stand in its hierarchy of stability.

Advancing China’s Interests, Undermining Governance

China’s policies in fragile states mirror its unstated preference for expanding its economic and political interests, even if securing them sidelines the stated imperative of addressing fragility. In some instances, China has lobbied for UN policies in conflict-affected contexts that appear to support its own agenda rather than – or sometimes at the expense of – peace. According to the U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2020 report to Congress, “China has shown an apparent willingness to leverage its influence in the UN peacekeeping operations system to advance its economic interests in African countries, raising the possibility that Beijing is subverting UN norms and procedures in the process.” Per the report, the most notable example of this was in 2014 when China lobbied to expand the UN Mission in South Sudan to protect oil installations of which the China National Petroleum Corporation held a 40 percent stake.

Moreover, China’s pursuit of its interests sets up countries on unstable trajectories. China’s economic investment policies and initiatives exacerbates governance deficits and increases fragility by encouraging corruption, facilitating authoritarianism and human rights violations, and contributing to environmental degradation, all key drivers of conflict. Two cases from Nigeria and Pakistan highlight the point.

In Nigeria, China’s investment projects have exacerbated corruption and fueled distrust in local government – key drivers of conflict and intercommunal violence in the country. China has exploited poor regulatory environments and worked within illegal and corrupt frameworks, often tied to armed groups and criminal networks. In one illustrative example, China state-owned timber trading companies  offered bribes to local officials to illegally harvest endangered rosewood. Members of local communities have cited feelings of exploitation by officials accepting bribes from Chinese businessmen, further stressing fragile ties between local government and citizens. Such business practices also demonstrate a blatant disregard for the environmental consequences of illegally harvesting endangered flora and fauna. Moreover, the inherently opaque nature of these projects that are tied to CCP interests makes it difficult to demand accountability.

Similarly in Pakistan, a 62-billion-dollar project known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) aimed at linking Xinjiang to the Arabian sea, has exacerbated tension in conflict-affected provinces. The project plans to build infrastructure and extract resources from several less developed regions, while overwhelmingly benefitting industrial and political hubs such as Punjab. Many provinces, including Balochistan and Sindh, have accused political elites of altering the route of the corridor in their own interests, thus further marginalizing their communities. Separatist groups have launched several attacks throughout the country, not only fueling conflict between Pakistani ethnic groups but also leading to attacks against Chinese expatriates. Recently, prominent voices from within China have called for a military intervention in Pakistan. CPEC has increased military presence throughout small villages, sparked an uptick in violent conflict along the route, and further eroded trust in local government institutions.

These cases may of course signal more opportunism and indifference by China to the impact of its engagement on stability in any given country, as opposed to an explicit attempt to undermine democratic governance (as it has done elsewhere in support of pro-China interests). Regardless of the intent, however, the impact is the same. China’s focus on political leverage and profits first and foremost undermines stability – and China likewise can benefit from instability in states with corrupt politicians interested in trading local resources for short-term political gains.

What Can be Done: Bolstering Democratic Resilience to Address Fragility and Foreign Influence

Foreign authoritarian influence has a compounding impact in conflict-affected contexts, further undermining governance structures, institutions, and processes that can mitigate or exacerbate fragility.  Good governance, on the contrary, can not only help countries prevent and manage conflict, but can also help countries address the myriad challenges associated with foreign authoritarian influence. Strong democratic institutions help societies respond positively and productively to threats both domestic and foreign.

Targeted investment in democracy in conflict-affected contexts vulnerable to foreign authoritarian influence offers an important opportunity for utilizing the Global Fragility Strategy in support of US foreign policy initiatives and advancing the Biden Administration’s policy priorities to tackle climate change, prevent authoritarian resurgence, confront corruption, and prevail in strategic competition with China.  An investment in support of democracy and good governance to address any one of these issues will reap dividends across each of these issues – engaging in conflict prevention and stabilization programming will both advance global democracy and advance US goals vis-à-vis China and other authoritarian rivals. Such investments, which must be long-term to account for the compounding impact of foreign authoritarian influence in already fragile environments, should include:

  • Supporting governments, civil society, and citizens to better understand, expose and counter foreign authoritarian influence, particularly in conflict-affected contexts where data and research efforts can be challenging. An understanding of China’s playbook is critical to countering CCP influence operations;
  • Helping independent media to investigate and expose foreign authoritarian influence and how it fuels conflict, whether through training, financial support, or other protections of the civic and information space, to raise public awareness of the impact of such engagement on conflict dynamics and promote transparency and accountability in dealings with foreign actors;  
  • Developing evidenced-based tools to prevent and mitigate foreign authoritarian influence in fragile contexts;
  • Strengthening electoral institutions, political parties, legislative bodies, and judiciaries to uproot elite capture and mitigate malign influence;
  • Leveraging diplomacy to build political will and incentives for government officials to resist foreign malign influences. Such diplomatic efforts can include increased outreach and contact with countries previously neglected by the US – but prioritized by China – and public diplomacy to both expose the CCP’s misleading narrative and advance narratives about what democracy can deliver;  and
  • Coordinating with similarly-minded donors such as the European Union, Japan, and Australia, to implement a unified approach to match the scale of Chinese investment and maximize the impact of any intervention.

Only democracy can help countries navigate the nexus of domestic and foreign threats to their stability. In the era of COVID-19, authoritarian resurgence, and climate crisis, supporting countries to develop these “resilience” fundamentals is a sound – and necessary – investment.

*Isabella Mekker is a Program Associate with IRI’s Center for Global Impact, working on countering foreign authoritarian influence and conflict prevention and stabilization programming.

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