GDP PER CAPITA
(World Bank 2014)
FREEDOM HOUSE RATINGS
Freedom in the World (2016)
Freedom on the Net (2015)
Freedom of the Press (2015)
Corruption Perceptions Index
Xi Jinping was named general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and President of the People’s Republic of China in 2012, perpetuating the one-party state that has ruled China since 1949.
THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA
In 2012, Xi Jinping ascended to the presidency of the People’s Republic of China and was named general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which has ruled the one-party state since 1949. Over the last generation, China has undergone a vast economic transformation. However, while China has enjoyed considerable economic growth in recent years, it has not moved in the direction of building a modern political order where the rule of law prevails.
China’s growth has occurred with an equally remarkable development of an authoritarian security state. Following the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) devised policies that emphasized modernization and the role of economic growth and permitted a degree of personal liberty in the economic and social spheres, while maintaining strict political controls.
China has adapted and modernized its repressive capacity. Today, China’s internal security budget exceeds that of its military. At home, the Chinese authorities have managed to prevent meaningful political pluralism despite the exceptional growth of the internet and other new media. A complex, multilayered set of measures and regulations manages the country’s half a billion internet users.
When it comes to authoritarianism, China is in a league of its own, innovating methods of political censorship and control for domestic and international application alike. The resilience of the CCP and the direction China takes in the coming years will play an increasingly important role in the shaping of global norms in a wide range of important arenas.
- INTERNAL CHALLENGES
In the past few decades, the demands of China’s citizens have grown alongside its economy. Corruption is a major contributor to popular discontent: in 2008, scandals over the collapse of poorly-constructed schoolhouses during the Great Sichuan Earthquake and the sale of contaminated infant formula damaged the CCP’s popular legitimacy. The number of public protests and other demonstrations continues to rise as citizens demand state accountability on issues ranging from land grabs by local officials to gross violations of minority rights in Tibet and Xinjiang. Economic growth rates have begun to slow, and economists warn of a coming real estate bubble in the Chinese economy. The 2013 trial of former CCP politician Bo Xilai exposed CCP concern that the above challenges could lead to a split within the party; Xi’s anti-corruption campaign and several other initiatives are seen, in part, as efforts to prevent intra-party schisms from emerging.
The CCP’s concern about the potential for wider societal discontent has resulted in increasing censorship, surveillance, and repression of activists and online dissidents. Scholars suggest that this hardline stance stems from the CCP’s fear of an organized, nationwide opposition movement. The September 2014 protests in Hong Kong likely sharpened this fear.
- AUTHORITARIAN COOPERATION & LEARNING
Under Xi, the CCP has met these challenges with threats to political freedom at home and abroad. A national campaign to crackdown on dissidents and co-opt civil society organizations is underway. China has shared its repressive laws and strategies with other authoritarian regimes. As part of China’s foreign aid strategy, the CCP offers free trainings to foreign political party members, journalists, police officers, and government officials which strengthen ties between government elites in non-democratic regimes and facilitate implementation of mechanisms for authoritarian control in other countries.
China and Chinese telecomm companies are also responsible for the export of censorship and surveillance equipment to governments in Ethiopia, Iran, and elsewhere, aiding in the subversion of a free and open Internet and media system more generally.
- SUBVERTING THE INTERNATIONAL SYSTEM
China is an active shaper of international norms and institutions, using its influence within the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations to promote norms and practices that benefit and protect authoritarian regimes, such as the principal of non-interference and the refoulment of political refugees. This is especially evident in China’s role in the creation of alternative global financial institutions, such as the BRICS Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Beijing has also played a leadership role in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which some observers have called the world’s best-known club of authoritarians. Working in concert with many of its SCO allies in global-level discussions about Internet governance, China has championed principles which attempt to justify increased state control over the Internet, such as “Internet sovereignty.”
- MEDIA MANIPULATION
China sets the standard for censorship of domestic media, and it has used its enormous population as leverage to induce mainstream Western Internet companies and media outlets to comply with its domestic censorship regulations. Even as China seeks to suppress alternative narratives at home, it has pushed its own narrative abroad through the international expansion of its own state media, especially China Central Television, and the funding of research and cultural institutes which subvert the academic freedom of their host institutions. At the same time, China has sought to control independent sources of information about China by revoking travel visas for foreign correspondents and academic researchers who publish on sensitive topics.
Traditionally suspicious of the Internet’s potential as an organizing tool for dissidents, the CCP has tightened control over cyberspace beyond the infamous “great firewall of China” and the “fifty cent party” of paid, state-friendly internet commentators and trolls. As Chinese citizens learn to bypass these restrictions, China has turned to new measures to suppress online dissent, including legislation mandating jail sentences for those who spread online “rumors” and a campaign subjecting dissident bloggers to arrest, abuse, and the extraction of forced confessions.
- RESURGENT DICTATORSHIP
Given Beijing’s significant financial resources and emerging presence on the world stage, the policy priorities and preferences of the Chinese government have a demonstrable impact on developments outside of China’s borders and on the international system as a whole. As the CCP works to maintain power at home and protect its interests abroad, its actions are often detrimental to democratic governance and human rights worldwide. Rather than adopting more flexible policies to address increasing demands for accountability at home, China is bending international norms and rejecting democratic practices to steel itself against political change.