SINGAPORE (Feb 11): Since the Cold War ended, the West has invested huge amounts of resources in efforts to induce political liberalisation in China, including through programmes to promote the rule of law, civil society, transparency and government accountability. The results have been disappointing. Far from becoming more democratic, China has lately been backsliding towards hard-line authoritarianism. And now, it is investing resources in efforts to do some inducing of its own in the world’s democracies.

China’s influence-peddling in the West has been the subject of media reports and think tank studies, and has elicited the concern of high-profile politicians, from US Vice-President Mike Pence to former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. China’s “influence operations”, they argue, include cultivating ties with Western politicians, establishing Confucius Institutes around the world to promote Chinese language and culture, expanding the global reach of China’s official propaganda networks and donations to and exchange programmes with academic institutions.

How should Western liberal democracies confront a China that is taking a page from their own playbook, as it exploits their openness to advance its ideological and geopolitical objectives?

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