Why Non-Democracy Engages with Western Democracy-Promotion Programs
The China Model
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 September 2021
Between the mid-1990s and the mid-2010s, the Chinese government was distinctly open to the Western offer of democracy-assistance programs. It cooperated with a number of Western organizations to improve the rule of law, village elections, administrative capacity, and civil society in China. Why did the Chinese government engage with democracy promoters who tried to develop these democratic attributes within China? The author argues that the government intended to use Western aid to its advantage. The Chinese Communist Party had launched governance reforms to strengthen its regime legitimacy, and Chinese officials found that Western democracy assistance could be used to facilitate their own governance-reform programs. The article traces the process of how the government’s strategic intention translated into policies of selective openness, and includes evidence from firsthand interviews, propaganda materials, and research by Chinese experts. The findings show how democracy promoters and authoritarian leaders have different expectations of the effects of limited democratic reform within nondemocratic systems. Empirically, reflecting on the so-called golden years of China’s engagement with the West sheds new light on the Chinese Communist Party’s survival strategy through authoritarian legitimation.
- Research Article
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