Coercion, Capture, and Censorship: Case Studies on the CCP’s Quest for Global Influence

The world has changed profoundly in the year since the International Republican Institute released its latest survey of People’s Republic of China (PRC) malign influence efforts, A World Safe for the Party. Since then, China’s international position has also undergone a significant shift. War has once again returned to the European continent as Russia attempts to violently annex Ukraine. Beijing’s tacit backing of that war of aggression signals a renewed, and possibly more coordinated, attempt by the two revisionist powers to challenge the liberal, rules-based international order.

In this rapidly changing environment, it is therefore imperative that we pause and reflect on the implications for the PRC’s influence across the rest of the world and its impact on democracy in vulnerable countries. IRI’s latest report, Coercion, Capture, and Censorship: Case Studies on the CCP’s Quest for Global Influence, analyzes the full suite of PRC influence tactics – economic, political, and informational – in 12 countries, the resultant impact on democracy and governance, and the effective elements of the democratic response.

The case studies in this collection find that while some of the most important sources of PRC external power will withstand this shifting environment, others may be eroding under the grinding pressure of Xi’s commitment to a zero-COVID policy. Regardless of whether the PRC’s global influence ebbs or flows, however, this influence’s tendency to undermine institutions of democratic governance – especially in countries where the PRC is particularly influential – remains constant.

Despite increased PRC influence across the political, economic, and information domains in many of countries included in this report, IRI’s research finds that democratically-minded actors everywhere are far from powerless when the PRC state arrives in their backyard. The roots of resilience are remarkably consistent across the range of countries studied by IRI, and rely on the very essence of democracy: a vibrant, free media, robust political opposition, an informed public, a modern and independent legal system, and inclusive political processes. It is not a coincidence that the elements of democracy that check authoritarian behavior by rulers at home are a bulwark against the worst parts of foreign authoritarian influence. Far from inspiring pessimism, our research should be cause for hope, that democracy can provide countries everywhere with the tools they need to frustrate Beijing’s desire to create a world safer for autocracies like its own.

The research presented in this report is part of a growing compendium of case studies documenting the Chinese Communist Party’s varied authoritarian influence tactics across countries and the foundations of democratic resilience, which directly informs IRI’s Countering Foreign Authoritarian Influence programming

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