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Is China exporting its political model to the world? A new report says yes.

Is China exporting its political model to the world?  A new report says yes.
Is China exporting its political model to the world?  A new report says yes.


Debate has raged for decades over whether Beijing is actively exporting its authoritarian system abroad, but a new report based on a trove of previously unexamined government documents shows how China is experimenting with extending its model for other countries.

THE new report published June 13 by the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, is based on 1,691 files from China's Ministry of Commerce that were recorded online in 2021 and 2022. The dataset describes 795 government programs consisting of training and exchanges with foreign officials that the documents document. The state aims to promote the ideas and practices of the Chinese economic and political model to the countries of Eastern Europe and the countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia which make up the so-called the global South.

“This is real evidence that supports what has become a growing belief within the expert community,” Niva Yau, author of the report and member of the Atlantic's Global China Hub, told RFE/RL Council. “We can now demonstrate in China’s own words, from its internal planning documents, what it is trying to do.”

Chinese officials have said repeatedly Beijing does not export its authoritarian system of government, but the collection of government records adds to an emerging body of knowledge. evidence showing that China is trying to sell the merits of its model to officials in the Global South while developing new initiatives and practical programs to accelerate their adoption.

The Chinese model

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has held sole power for more than 70 years and has seen its economy explode in recent decades using a model based on authoritarian one-party political rule combined with a state capitalist economic system.

Promoting this system in other countries around the world is seen by analysts as a way to cultivate an authoritarian and supportive political bloc that could help Beijing reshape global institutions and counterbalance Western attempts to isolate China through economic sanctions or criticism of its commercial practices and territorial claims. , or human rights record.

Many of the report's documents describe training programs in trade-related areas such as port management guidelines, the adoption of BeiDou – China's answer to the US-created Global Positioning System (GPS) – and sectors such as blockchain and other new technologies.

But these files also touch on other areas which traditionally escape the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Commerce. Some are promoting exchanges focused on how local think tanks can help implement the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – China's multi-billion dollar infrastructure project – and also pushing policies of the Chinese government through programs focused on issues such as the integration of ethnic minorities, management of new forms of media, and training in Chinese governance practices tailored to presidential advisors of foreign governments.

The programs themselves are implemented through bilateral agreements or multilateral regional organizations led by China, where they focus on specific geographic regions and groups of countries sharing a similar language.

For example, several documents describe training courses for local government leaders, university presidents and political advisors “from Russian-speaking countries”, while other programs are specifically designed for civil servants from Russian-speaking countries. Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), of which China is a member. , India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

An excerpt from a 2021 Chinese Ministry of Commerce document describing an exchange and training program for government leaders from

An excerpt from a 2021 Chinese Ministry of Commerce document describing an exchange and training program for government leaders from “Russian-speaking countries.”

Yau says these programs are designed to sell a narrative to the South that the rapid economic progress China has experienced over the past three decades is a direct result of the country's authoritarian approach to governance.

“These files show that China not only exports the concrete know-how necessary for its economic success, but also spreads the idea that this success is a direct result of the country's methods of governance. [Chinese Communist] Partying,” she said.

The “intelligence collection” dimension and beyond

While many governments around the world encourage hands-on exchanges and training with officials from foreign countries, the series of records documented by Yau is notable for the fact that many use curt government language to explicitly endorse an undemocratic approach to issues such as regulating domestic media, managing legal affairs, and controlling the flow of information online.

Another dimension documented by Yau's report is that many programs, particularly those aimed at government officials, appear to “serve intelligence gathering purposes” because they require “each participant to submit reports detailing their prior interactions and engagements between it and other foreign countries. in the specific area of ​​cooperation linked to the training theme.

Yau says this requirement of the programs serves several purposes by first providing a significant stream of data collection on foreign government officials. But she says it can also be used to gauge each individual manager's openness to the opinions and policies advocated during the exchange.

“This can allow [the Chinese side] to decide whether this person can be developed as a sort of intermediary to facilitate further cooperation with China and their country,” she said.

China's outreach and training programs to foreign governments have existed for decades under the International Liaison Department (ILD), an agency under the CPC Central Committee whose primary function is party-to-party diplomacy .

China's Xi Jinping is greeted by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev (right) at an airport in Samarkand in September 2022.

China's Xi Jinping is greeted by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev (right) at an airport in Samarkand in September 2022.

But while the ILD was traditionally responsible for engaging with one-party countries or similar communist structures, it has expanded in recent years to organize programs and exchanges regardless of a party's orientation policy, and recently held meetings with high-level leaders. country officials like Kazakhstan And Serbia.

The report highlights how other sections of the Chinese government have also begun to organize similar types of exchanges. In addition to the Ministry of Commerce, at least 10 Chinese ministries and departments have held training programs for foreign government officials in the past three years, according to Yau's research.

Given the newly reviewed files and other evidence, Yau says it is becoming clear that Beijing is trying to export aspects of its political model abroad. What's less clear, she says, is the impact of these efforts around the world.

“In these files, we can see the intention of what Beijing wants to achieve,” Yau said. “It may be too early to feel the effects, but these programs have increased significantly since the late 2010s and involve thousands of officials from the Global South.”




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