Reviews | The United States cannot let China and Russia spread their high-handed ways
The Biden administration made the cable public after conducting an intelligence review of Russia’s political influence campaign. It says Moscow has funneled at least $300 million to foreign political parties and candidates in more than two dozen countries since 2014 and planned to spend hundreds of millions more. The cable states, “As Russia wages war against Ukraine, it is imperative that democracies identify and counter Russia’s covert political influence in our societies and systems of governance. An administration official told reporters that the United States wanted to warn foreign parties and candidates “that if they secretly accept Russian money, we can and we will expose it.” It’s helpful, just as it was important to expose how Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 US presidential campaign.
But this diffusion of political influence is part of a much larger story. China, Russia and other countries regularly export methods of authoritarian rule. Christopher Walker, vice president for studies and analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy, writing in the October issue of the Journal of Democracy, argues that autocrats have in recent years developed “more interactive, multifaceted and often nuanced ways to project their influence. It is not hard military power, but extremely powerful “cutting power”, he said. “Chinese authorities are training officials in developing countries on internet censorship, policing civil society and building one-party rule,” he wrote.
In a just-released study examining China’s influence in 30 countries from January 2019 to last December, Freedom House found that Beijing had spent billions on propaganda, but also increasingly used coercion, censorship and covert tactics to sanitize China’s image. The report concludes that China has flooded other countries’ media with pro-Beijing content, while targeting “harassment and intimidation” of media outlets “that publish information or opinions disfavored by the Chinese government”, and that China uses “cyberbullying, fake social media accounts”. , and targeted disinformation campaigns” against those he dislikes.
A disturbing underside is ‘transnational repression’, in which harsh ruling regimes think they can reach abroad with the same coercion, threats and violence. The murder of our Post Opinions colleague Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi hit team four years ago was one example, but not the only one. Mr Walker writes that the digital revolution has made it “even easier for dictators to hunt down and intimidate activists, journalists and critics, wherever they are”. Freedom House recorded 735 incidents of direct physical transnational repression that took place from January 2014 to December 2021, including 85 incidents in 2021 alone.
Democracies and open societies are easy targets. They must not be complacent towards such malicious threats.
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