By Jianli Yang – Mar 28, 2023


The past two decades have witnessed a severe “democratic drought” worldwide. Not only have established democracies struggled to ensure the healthy functioning of democratic processes and institutions at home, but democracy is also losing its appeal to authoritarian and semi-authoritarian states abroad. According to a new report by the U.S.-based nonprofit Freedom House, every year for the past 17 years, significantly more countries have experienced declines in political rights and civil liberties than have experienced gains. Since 2015, this ominous trend has taken a sharp turn for the worse: 2015–19 was the first five-year period—since the start of the third wave of democracy in 1974—in which more countries abandoned democracy (twelve) than transitioned to it (seven). In 2022, 35 countries lost ground in political rights and civil liberties, while 34 countries improved, marking an overall deterioration in global freedoms.

Today, democracy remains in retreat around the world, although Ukraine’s resistance to Russian aggression shows its resilience. It is imperative to create a new wave of democratization to reverse the overall international decline.

One of the major causes of the global democratic decline is China. Over the past three decades, China has achieved rapid economic growth under a largely stable one-party communist regime, becoming the world’s second largest economy and rapidly closing the gap with the United States in the fields of science, technology, and national defense. China has greatly expanded its influence on the international stage, offering the world’s authoritarian states an appealing alternative to the notion that the only path to modernity is liberal democracy. The dominant international order of the post-World War II era is being challenged as never before. According to several recent surveys, the majority of African and Middle Eastern countries favor China’s role in the world. In recent years, China’s influence has not only influenced and controlled less developed countries and regions through projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative, but has also penetrated democracies, adversely affecting democratic ways of life and exerting increasingly obvious manipulation of international organizations such as the United Nations.

On December 9–10, 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden hosted the first of two Summits for Democracy, bringing together leaders from government, civil society, and the private sector to set a forward-looking agenda for democratic renewal and to take collective action to address the greatest threats facing democracies today. President Biden rightly recognized that the future fate of the world depends on the outcome of the struggle between democracy and tyranny, saying “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident, we have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it.” Although this is an important step, the leaders of the democratic countries and the leaders of civil society represented at the summit failed to propose a concrete and feasible program of collective action.

By now, the need for principled solidarity should be obvious. Standing alone, even the United States has great difficulty preventing the Chinese Communist Party—the one-party totalitarian regime of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)—from undermining our democratic values. Dependence on the PRC, combined with financial incentives, has the perverse effect of shifting everything—from domestic policymaking to the behavior of private institutions like Disney or the NBA, to the tenor of discussions on American campuses—away from democratic principles.

Both major American political parties rightly recognize this as a problem, and there has been little partisan disagreement over, for example, targeted sanctions to address abuses Chinese Communist Party (CCP) abuses in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Tibet. Nor have prominent Democrats criticized the current administration’s aggressive responses to the national security threats posed by the success of PRC-based technology companies beholden to the CCP.

The problem is that individual democracies are still largely left to their own devices, at least formally, when it comes to economic warfare arising from fundamental value conflicts. Security alliances exist, but they were built to deal with military coercion, not economic coercion.

To address this problem, I propose a values-based economic NATO for the world’s democracies.

China has become increasingly adept at Levering economic power to bend democracies to its will.

I have been involved in the human rights and democracy movement in China since before the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, and I have been fully engaged in this cause from my base in the United States ever since. Decades of experience in advocating and seeking… [Continue Reading]