New Report Exposes China's Malign Influence and Corrosion of Democracy Worldwide

Washington, DC – A new report from the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) Building Resiliency for Interconnected Democracies in Global Environments (BRIDGE) initiative examines the malign effects of China’s economic influence and manipulation of the information space worldwide.

“This report offers an unprecedented in-depth look at the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) influence tactics and their effect on democracies across the developing world,” said David Shullman, IRI Senior Advisor and the editor of the report.

The report, entitled “Chinese Malign Influence and the Corrosion of Democracy,” brings together research by experts from 12 vulnerable democracies — Cambodia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Ecuador, Zambia, Mongolia, Hungary, The Gambia, Myanmar, Malaysia and the Maldives — and provides local perspectives on how China is impacting the politics and economics of these countries.

“From massive infrastructure projects that fuel corruption to efforts to stem criticism of China in the local media, the CCP’s malign influence in all of these countries is growing, and its tactics are becoming more sophisticated,” said Shullman. “As China’s global influence continues to grow, so too does the threat to democracies worldwide.”  

In addition to examining vulnerabilities to Chinese influence, the report also identifies sources of resilience within the twelve countries as well as in Australia, where the robust civil society, media, and political leadership have successfully pushed back against Chinese interference.

“China’s increasingly aggressive authoritarianism is one of the most daunting challenges facing our democratic institutions and values worldwide,” said IRI President Daniel Twining. “This significant new study of the mechanics of this phenomenon will help policymakers, civil society and citizens to inoculate their countries against malign forms of Chinese influence that corrode democratic practice.”

The BRIDGE initiative, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, looks to addresses the challenge to democracy from authoritarian regimes such as China by increasing knowledge of the nature of authoritarian tactics and engaging stakeholders to develop and implement their own strategies to confront these tactics.

Check out the executive summary for a glimpse at the report’s key findings, or read the full report for more information.

https://www.iri.org/resource/new-report-exposes-chinas-malign-influence-and-corrosion-democracy-worldwide

Click to access china_malign_influence_executive_summary_booklet.pdf

Click to access chinese_malign_influence_report.pdf

China’s Vision for a New World Order

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

MAIN ARGUMENT

Under Xi Jinping, China has become more vocal about its dissatisfaction with the existing international order. Whereas its posture used to be mostly defensive, it has recently engaged in a more forward-leaning, assertive effort to reshape the system. Xi is confident in China’s growing material power but is aware that the country still lacks “discourse power”—the ability to exert influence over the formulations and ideas that underpin the international order. Although the Chinese leadership has mobilized intellectual resources to fill this gap, it has not explicitly laid out an alternative vision of what the world should look like. However, a close reading of ongoing internal discussions and debates suggests that China’s vision for a future system under its helm draws inspiration from traditional Chinese thought and past historical experiences. The collective intellectual effort reflects a yearning for partial hegemony, loosely exercised over large portions of the “global South”—a space that would be free from Western influence and purged of liberal ideals. The contours of this new system would not be traced along precise geographic or ideological lines but be defined by the degree of deference that those within China’s sphere of influence are willing to offer Beijing.

POLICY IMPLICATIONS
  • The Chinese leadership’s efforts to increase China’s discourse power should not be dismissed or misconstrued as mere propaganda or empty slogans. Rather, they should be seen as evidence of the leadership’s determination to alter the norms that underpin existing institutions and put in place the building blocks of a new international system coveted by the Chinese Communist Party.
  • The Chinese leadership’s critique of the existing international order reveals its unswerving objection to the values on which this order has been built. At stake is not only the predominant position of the U.S. in the current system but more importantly the potential erosion of fundamental human rights, freedom of thought and expression, and self-government around the world.
  • The Chinese Communist Party seems to envision a new world order in which China enjoys only partial hegemony rather than rules the world. Nonetheless, a dual-centered system could eventually materialize in which emerging and developing countries may yet again become the battleground for global influence among great powers.

https://www.nbr.org/publication/chinas-vision-for-a-new-world-order/

8 February, 2020

China’s Vision for a New World Order

Nadège Rolland

The Chinese leadership’s dissatisfaction with the existing international order has been latent for several years. But its criticism has become more pointed under Xi Jinping. Official pronouncements now regularly take swipes at an “unfair and unreasonable” international order that allegedly:

  • has outlived its usefulness;
  • has failed to adjust to the rise of emerging countries; and
  • is incapable of addressing the problems of today’s world.

Moreover, in contrast with his predecessors’ relatively low-profile, Xi Jinping has vowed to “lead the reform of the global governance system” and to shape “a more just and reasonable new international order.”

My new NBR report, China’s Vision for a New World Order, sifts through the CCP’s propaganda, to distill what the CCP really objects to, and what it wants to see instead. I find:

  1. The CCP’s main objection to the existing international order is not just that it perpetuates the dominance of the United States, but that it upholds values and norms that are intrinsically antagonistic with the survival of the CCP
  2. CCP elites have not candidly presented their own, positive vision of what the world should look like. That’s because they do not have any appealing substitutes to the existing order and its underpinning set of international norms
  3. What CCP elites seem to desire is the creation of a large sphere of influence centered around China—a form of Chinese hegemony which is partial, loose, and malleable

1. The CCP’s main objection to the existing international order is not just that it perpetuates the dominance of the United States, but that it upholds values and norms that are intrinsically antagonistic with the survival of the CCP

The CCP’s critical stance stems from a combination of factors. It:

  • Believes the existing international order is unfair: the CCP believes current arrangements perpetuate Western dominance while keeping China’s influence down—in spite of China’s growing power. The CCP resents this perceived discrepancy between China’s power and its international status and influence. It believes that China should have a greater role—commensurate with the reality of its material power—while the role of the West should decline.
  • Is fundamentally opposed to the liberal democratic values which the current order promotes: these values stand in tension with the ongoing survival of the CCP. Further, the CCP considers the global promotion of these liberal democratic values as the main cause of global conflict and chaos (e.g. “colour revolutions”). It is in this sense that the CCP criticises current arrangements as unable to offer “reasonable” solutions to global problems.

The CCP is further frustrated by China’s lack of what it calls “discourse power”– the ability to voice concepts and ideas that are accepted and respected by others, and by extension, the power to dictate the rules and norms that form the basis of the international order.

Chinese leaders believe that the reason for the West’s dominance of current discourse is not the West’s fundamental “truth” but the power supporting its contentions—the West’s political, economic, cultural, military, and diplomatic strength. They believe the discourse power of the United States, in combination with its material strength, provided the basis for the construction of institutions and rules reflecting and propagating American values—and an international order in which the United States is dominant. And, the CCP believe that China’s “discourse deficit” puts it at risk of being incapable of “break[ing] the monopoly of Western discourse.”

2. CCP elites have not candidly presented their own, positive vision of what the world should look like. That’s because they do not have any appealing substitutes to the existing order and its underpinning set of international norms

Xi Jinping has defined the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation as the “China dream.” Vivienne Shue speculates that “when Xi Jinping and other Party leaders today call for the ‘rejuvenation of the nation’, what they plainly seem to want to bring to mind is a time, before the Party had been born and before the nation had been built, a time of empire: when China stood as an economic, technological, and cultural colossus, at the cosmopolitan core of immense networks of production and trade, skills and learning—admired, envied, deferred to—and governing within its own realm, entirely according to its own lights”.

But of course, “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” is not an appealing alternative to the existing set of international norms. Proposing a plain and simple restoration of the ancient Chinese tributary system would obviously not win over nations committed to sovereign equality. No nation would willingly choose to become a vassal state in a contemporary Chinese empire.

Instead therefore, Chinese intellectuals are trying to develop modern, softened versions of the traditional Sinocentric order, usually by insisting on its benevolent nature. But imperialistic undertones and intimations of domination are not so easy to work around.

3. What CCP elites seem to desire is the creation of a large sphere of influence centered around China—a form of Chinese hegemony which is partial, loose, and malleable

A careful study of Chinese domestic discussions related to world order and of its emerging foreign policy initiatives shows that Beijing does not necessarily intend to “overthrow the existing system,” nor to “rule the world.”

What Chinese elites seem to have in mind instead is the creation of a large sphere of influence centered around China—a vision in which China’s leadership is exercised over large portions of the “global South”. This sphere would be free from Western influence and largely purged of the core liberal democratic beliefs supported by the West.

In the new Chinese-led order that CCP leadership is trying to define, Chinese hegemony would be partial, loose, and malleable:

  • Partial, because it would be exerted over a sphere of influence, covering large portions of the non-Western and mostly non-democratic world—as opposed to an ambition to “rule the world.”
  • Loose, because the vision does not seem to imply direct or absolute control over foreign territories or governments. Rather, China would be akin to a massive, dazzling star pulling smaller planets into its orbit without necessarily exerting direct control over them
  • Malleable, because the countries included under China’s hegemony do not seem to be strictly defined along geographic, cultural, or ideological lines. Immediate neighbors and far-flung countries, Asian and non-Asian powers, and democracies and autocracies could all be included, as long as they recognize and respect the primacy of Beijing’s authority and interests.

And to some extent, China’s assertion of its position as the center of this parallel system is already underway:

  • China is attempting to subvert elements of the current international system and to substitute Chinese concepts and values for Western ones, within existing institutions, such as the UN.
  • China is also creating parallel institutions and platforms—such as the “17+1” format in Europe or the South-South Human Rights Forum—whose norms will incrementally be endorsed, reproduced, and followed by emerging and developing countries.

To summarize the implications for policymakers:

  • The Chinese leadership’s efforts to increase China’s discourse power should not be dismissed or misconstrued as mere propaganda or empty slogans. Rather, they should be seen as evidence of the leadership’s determination to alter the norms that underpin existing institutions and put in place the building blocks of a new international system coveted by the CCP.
  • The Chinese leadership’s critique of the existing international order reveals its unswerving objection to the values on which this order has been built. At stake is not only the predominant position of the U.S. in the current system but more importantly the potential erosion of fundamental human rights (including freedom of thought and expression, and the right to self-government) around the world.
  • The CCP seems to envision a new world order in which China enjoys only partial hegemony, rather than rules the world. Nonetheless, a dual-centered system could eventually materialize in which emerging and developing countries may yet again become the battleground for global influence among great powers.

Nadège Rolland is Senior Fellow for Political and Security Affairs at The National Bureau of Asian Research and the author of China’s Vision for a New World Order.

https://www.ambassadorsbrief.com/posts/gFihcp7yEdENCpwtq?escaped_fragment=