Authoritarian Counterstrategy to Cope with Western Democracy Promotion: The China Model
China is distinct for its openness to the programs of Western democracy promotion. The Chinese government has cooperated with a number of Western NGOs for the last thirty years to improve rule of law, village election, administrative reform, and civil society in China. Also, it has openly engaged in human rights dialogues with Western governments, allowed Chinese students to be exposed to Western ideas while they live and study in Western democracies, and partially allowed people to watch the West’s political broadcastings like Voice of America.Why has the Chinese state deliberately opened the society to the influence of the Western democracy promotion programs, despite its concern over the impacts of Western ideas and norms on the legitimacy of Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s authoritarianism? I argue that the Chinese state intends to make use of Western democracy promotion to its advantage; the Western democracy aids can be useful to promote China’s own governance reform programs while the Western criticism can trigger Chinese people’s defensive nationalism.This dissertation traces the process of how Chinese government’s strategic intention translates into the policies of openness, based on first-hand interviews, extensive examination of propaganda materials, official statements and research by Chinese academics.I find that Chinese officials indeed positively assess the contributions of Western democracy aid organizations to the progress of governance reform in China. However, the Chinese state aims to utilize the Western assistances for the purpose of strengthening regime legitimacy, not for the democratization of China. I also find that the Chinese state neither tries to entirely prevent the society from learning Western logic of criticisms on CCP’s non-democratic nature, nor is afraid of the majority of Chinese population being exposed to the Western ideas on liberal democracy. In fact, the Western criticisms tend to stimulate Chinese nationalism, which in turn strengthen the popular support of the authoritarian regime in China.These counterintuitive findings challenge the popular assumption that authoritarian regimes would invariably resist Western democracy promotion. Prior studies have focused on explaining the needs, methods, and success or failure cases of democracy promotion, which represent the supply-side of democracy promotion. This dissertation contributes to the literature by exploring the demand-side of democracy promotion, especially when authoritarian regime opens itself to the influence of Western democracy promotion.
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