China exploits vulnerability of open democracies



Openness, diversity and tolerance are the greatest strengths of the world’s liberal democracies. But to autocratic regimes like China, these same attributes are vulnerabilities ripe for exploitation. As reported by the Financial Times on Wednesday, a sitting member of the New Zealand parliament has been investigated by the country’s spy agency in connection with the decade he spent training and teaching at elite military and military intelligence institutions in China, his country of birth, The FT’s Jamil Anderlini writes:

It is entirely possible that Jian Yang (left), an MP for New Zealand’s governing National Party since 2011, severed all ties with Chinese military intelligence when he left China in 1994 and has had no contact with any Chinese agents since then. But the fact he was able to enter parliament with very little scrutiny and serve on a committee overseeing foreign affairs, defence and trade, and that his education and military intelligence background appeared nowhere on his official biographies in New Zealand, raises some troubling questions.

People in other western democracies may put this down to naivety on the part of innocent Kiwis. But western intelligence analysts say relatively “soft targets” like New Zealand and Australia are just testing grounds for China’s global espionage activities. In the past five years China has massively expanded its efforts to infiltrate, influence and spy on western democracies and these efforts have already been remarkably successful in countries like Canada, the US and the UK.

“Liberal open democracies are more fragile than most people believe,” Anderlini adds, “and without the courage to face up to the potential threat posed by illiberal countries and their subversion efforts, we are all contributing to the erosion of what makes these systems so great.” RTWT

The crackdown in Cambodia is testimony to the fact that China’s rise at the expense of U.S. influence is having political consequences throughout Asia, says the Wall Street Journal.

Not only is China vastly outspending the United States in a country once destroyed by Cold War superpower rivalry, but its money goes on highly visible infrastructure projects and with no demands for political reform, Reuters reports:

US aid goes more toward social projects and trying to build democracy – unwanted interference for the government of a prime minister who has ruled for over 30 years. …The US funded National Democratic Institute (NDI) pro-democracy group was expelled last month and accused of conspiring to help bring down Hun Sen – a charge rejected by the NDI and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP)…. The United States is a much bigger export market than China, particularly for Cambodia’s garment factories, but the United States has not publicly suggested it could use trade to bring pressure for democratic change.

“The fact the government has been criticized by Western donors over the recent crackdown just means Cambodia is becoming more dependent on China,” said Ou Virak of the think tank. Opposition leader Kem Sokha’s deputy, Mu Sochua, said aid that did not include conditions on human rights did not serve Cambodia well. “Cambodia needs China, it needs America, it needs democracy to pull it out of many years of poverty,” she told Reuters.

The regime has accused the Cambodian opposition and NGOs of colluding with Western democracy assistance groups in a plot for ‘regime change.’

“Speculation that the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) or NDI have a ‘secret agenda’ in Cambodia is wrong and baseless,” said Jane Riley Jacobsen, senior director of public affairs at NED.


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