Read our Sharp Power and Democratic Resilience series, a collection of nine reports stemming from our original research on sharp power that highlight serious vulnerabilities in a cluster of institutions related to information and ideas, commerce, media, and technology.
Download the Full Report [PDF]
Executive Summary [PDf]
Introduction [PDF] China in Latin America [PDF]
“Sharp Power: Rising Authoritarian Influence,” a report published by the International Forum for Democratic Studies, examines Chinese and Russian influence in four young democracies in Latin America and Central Europe.
In recent years, China and Russia have invested significant resources in media, academic, cultural, and think tank initiatives designed to shape public opinion and perceptions around the world. These authoritarian influence efforts have traditionally been viewed by the democracies through the familiar lens of “soft power,” a concept which has become a catch-all term for forms of influence that are not “hard” in the sense of military force or economic might. Yet the authoritarian influence that has gained pace and traction in recent years, while not hard in the openly coercive sense, is not really soft, either.
Rather, authoritarian influence efforts in young and vulnerable democracies are “sharp” in the sense that they pierce, penetrate, or perforate the information and political environments in the targeted countries. These regimes are not necessarily seeking to “win hearts and minds,” the common frame of reference for “soft power” efforts, but they are surely seeking to influence their target audiences by manipulating or distorting the information that reaches them.
The following are key steps that can be taken to address the malign efforts by Russia and China to influence and manipulate democracies:
- Address the shortage of information on China and Russia in young and vulnerable democracies
- Unmask authoritarian influence in a comprehensive manner
- Inoculate democratic societies against malign authoritarian influence
- Reaffirm support for democratic values and ideals
- Re-conceptualize soft power
by Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig
These powerful and determined authoritarian regimes, which systematically suppress political pluralism and free expression in order to maintain power at home, are increasingly applying the same principles internationally to secure their interests.
by juan pablo cardenal
Prominent regional leaders from multiple fields—including politicians, academics, journalists, former diplomats, current government officials, and students, among others—are subtly being enticed by the Chinese government through personal interaction, with the ultimate purpose of gaining their support for China.
by juan pablo cardenal
China is more visible that ever before: It holds greater sway over the local media; it has built up strong links with the academic community, including a network of devoted scholars; and it monopolizes almost every aspect of Chinese culture in Argentina.
by juan pablo cardenal
Some observers see in the new partnership [between Russia and Peru] a strategic turn by Russia toward Latin America to avoid international marginalization and forge new alliances.
by Jacek Kucharczyk
The research detailed in this essay reveals many dangerous liaisons between specific political narratives employed by homegrown populists and Russian propaganda, as well as calculated efforts by China to portray itself as an ultramodern, benevolent power featuring an authoritarian political system that offers a better incubator for economic growth than liberal democracy.
by Grigorij meseznikov and gabriela pleschovA
When comparing the functioning of soft power mechanisms of Russia and China in Slovakia, it is worth noting that Slovak relations with Russia are influenced by centuries of historical, cultural, linguistic, and other ties, which are absent as far as Slovakia’s relations with China are concerned.
“Sharp Power” in the News
- Atlantic Council Inflection Points: The Autocratic Challenge
- Foreign Affairs: The Meaning of Sharp Power (Nov. 16, 2017)
- The Washington Post: Big Brother on campus in China (Nov. 23, 2017)
- The Washington Free Beacon: China, Russia Deploying “Sharp Power” to Quietly Penetrate Democracies (Dec. 7, 2017)
- The Washington Post: China’s foreign influence operations are causing alarm in Washington (Dec. 10, 2017)
- Wall Street Journal: The West Faces Up to Reality—China Won’t Become “More Like Us” (Dec. 12, 2017)
- The Economist: How China’s “sharp power” is muting criticism abroad (Dec. 14, 2017)
- The Economist: What to do about China’s “sharp power” (Dec. 14, 2017)
- Le Figaro: La nouvelle diplomatie d’influence de la China (Dec. 25, 2017)
- Los Angeles Times: A look at China’s pervasive attempts to exert its influence around the world (Jan. 4, 2018)
- Project Syndicate: China’s Soft and Sharp Power (Jan. 4, 2018)
- The Guardian: The Guardian view on China’s spreading influence—a look in the gift horse’s mouth (Jan. 17, 2018)
- Foreign Affairs: How Sharp Power Threatens Soft Power (Jan. 24, 2018)
- Project Syndicate: The Point of Sharp Power (Feb. 1, 2018)
- The Washington Post: China and Russia’s game of distortion (Feb. 15, 2018)
- The Economist: How the West got China Wrong (Mar. 1, 2018)
- Foreign Policy: Rubio Questions D.C. Panel on China Influence (May 7, 2018)
- The Asan Forum: The Interference Operations from Putin’s Kremlin and Xi’s Communist Party—Forging a Joint Response (May 8, 2018)
- Taiwan Foundation for Democracy: Defending Democracy—Combating Authoritarian Corrosion (May 28, 2018)
- House Foreign Affairs Committee: Democracy Promotion in a Challenging World (June 14, 2018)
- New York Times: Exiled in the U.S., a Lawyer Warns of “China’s Long Arm” (June 15, 2018)
- Journal of Democracy: What Is “Sharp Power” (July, 2018)
- Financial Times: Russian and Chinese sharp power puts democracies in peril (July 8, 2018)
- Foreign Affairs: Standing Up for Democracy (July 18, 2018)
- Ketagalan Forum: 2018 Asia-Pacific Security Dialogue (July 24, 2018)
- Foreign Affairs: How Democracies Can Fight Authoritarian Sharp Power (Aug. 16, 2018)
Image Credit: A. Aleksandravicius/Shutterstock