“Between the mid-1990s and the mid-2010s, the Chinese government was distinctly open to the Western offer of democracy-assistance programs. It cooperated with a number of Western organizations to improve the rule of law, village elections, administrative capacity, and civil society in China. Why did the Chinese government engage with democracy promoters who tried to develop these democratic attributes within China? The author argues that the government intended to use Western aid to its advantage. The Chinese Communist Party had launched governance reforms to strengthen its regime legitimacy, and Chinese officials found that Western democracy assistance could be used to facilitate their own governance-reform programs. The article traces the process of how the government’s strategic intention translated into policies of selective openness, and includes evidence from firsthand interviews, propaganda materials, and research by Chinese experts. The findings show how democracy promoters and authoritarian leaders have different expectations of the effects of limited democratic reform within nondemocratic systems. Empirically, reflecting on the so-called golden years of China’s engagement with the West sheds new light on the Chinese Communist Party’s survival strategy through authoritarian legitimation.”
The article is structured as seen below.
2. The Puzzle: Why Accept Western Democracy-Promotion Programs?
3. Authoritarian Openness to Democracy-Promotion Programs from Outside
4. China’s Selective Openness to Western Democracy-Promotion Programs
5. Xi Jinping’s Reversal of Opening Polices
6. Alternative Explanations: The Pretense of Democratic Cooperation for Other Benefits
7. Theoretical Implications: Modernization Theory and Authoritarian Legitimation
Dr. Sungmin Cho is a professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (DKI APCSS) in August 2018. His area of research interests covers China-Korean Peninsula relations, North Korea’s nuclear program, Korean unification, and the US alliance in East Asia. He also closely follows the domestic politics of China and North Korea. The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the DKI APCSS or the United States Government.