World News

Democracy seen threatened by new authoritarianism

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China, Iran, Russia and Venezuela form a clique of authoritarian states that use their wealth and influence to undermine global democracy and rule of law, a study by U.S.-funded agencies said on Thursday.

The report, released on the 20th anniversary of China’s suppression of the Tiananmen democracy movement, says these states’ challenge to Western democratic institutions represents a far “murkier picture” than the Cold War because they are integrated into the global economy and world bodies.

“Policymakers do not appear to appreciate the dangers these 21st century authoritarian models pose to democracy and rule of law around the world,” said the study by Freedom House, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Radio Free Asia, all prominent U.S. democracy-promotion bodies.

“Just as they rule without law within their borders, authoritarian regimes are eroding the international rules and standards built up by the democratic world over the past several decades, threatening to export the instability and abuses that their systems engender,” it said.

The study said manufacturing and trading power China and petro-states Iran, Russia and Venezuela shared strong similarities despite their distinct political systems and backgrounds.

Authoritarian capitalist China and Russia have built systems that twin “impressive economic development with an equally impressive apparatus of political control,” it said.


Shiite Muslim clergy-ruled Iran and Venezuela, run by “a novel type of Latin American” strongman, held managed elections amid curbs on the opposition and on media, it said.

Ruling powers in the four states buttressed their control with tight restrictions on the Internet and media, promotion of nationalist versions of history in school textbooks and use of state wealth to serve their own interests, said the report.

Internationally, China has built a strong following in Africa and Latin America with generous no-strings-attached aid packages. Russia, Iran and Venezuela have used oil wealth to support regional clients, said the report.

“At the regional and international level, these authoritarian regimes are undercutting or crippling the democracy-promotion and human rights efforts of rules-based organizations,” it said.

Targets included the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Organisation of American States (OAS), added the report.

The report also included Pakistan because of its struggling democracy, history of military rule and growing extremist insurgency.

Democracies needed to stand against the authoritarian tide and do more to safeguard and promote democratic institutions, said the report, without spelling out suggested responses.

“As the world’s democracies have struggled to find a common approach to the problem, or even to agree that there is a problem, modern authoritarian states have worked diligently to spread their influence,” it said.

Editing by Philip Barbara