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Authoritarian regimes gaining ground against democracies around the world: report

The report shows a stark contrast between China and democratic Taiwan, which faces military threats from Beijing.

By Hwang Chun-mei and Mia Chen


A Chinese paramilitary police officer stands guard at the Bund in Shanghai on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, June 30, 2021. AFP

Authoritarian regimes around the world are making gains against liberal democracies and encouraging more leaders to abandon democracy, according to a Washington-based think-tank, Freedom House. "Autocracy is making gains against democracy and encouraging more leaders to abandon the democratic path to security and prosperity, with countries that suffered democratic declines over the past year outnumbering those that improved by more than two to one," the organization warned in its annual report. "Authoritarian regimes in China, Russia, and elsewhere have gained greater power in the international system, and freer countries have seen their established democratic norms challenged and fractured," the report said. Freedom House president Michael J. Abramowitz warned that democracy was "in danger" around the world. "Authoritarians are becoming bolder, while democracies are back on their heels," he said. "Democratic governments must rally to counter authoritarian abuses ... and prevent homegrown efforts to undermine the separation of powers and the integrity of elections." The report found that, of the 47 nations elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council for 2022, 15 are rated Free, 18 are rated Partly Free, and 14 are rated Not Free. It said the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had become "increasingly repressive" in recent years, tightening control over all aspects of life and governance, including the media, online speech, religious practice, universities, businesses, and civil society. "The CCP leader and state president, Xi Jinping, has consolidated personal power to a degree not seen in China for decades," Freedom House said, adding that Xi was "directly involved" in the mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in Xinjiang. It said rare first-hand accounts from inside detention camps in Xinjiang had revealed systemic sexual abuse and torture of ethnic minority detainees, in addition to credible reports of deaths in custody. "The authorities took further steps to forcibly assimilate all ethnic minorities into the dominant Han Chinese national identity, in part by imposing Mandarin as the language of instruction at all educational levels," the report said. Shih Yi-hsiang of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights said the Russian invasion of Ukraine and China's ongoing military saber-rattling directed at democratic Taiwan had thrown the findings of the report into greater relief. "The international community is now playing close attention to Chinese and Russian authoritarian expansionism," Shih told RFA. Worsening restrictions A Chinese rights activist, who gave only the surname Xu, said dictators are afraid of pluralism and diversity. "A dictator is for the unbridled freedom of [a single] individual, and he will deprive all the people of their freedom [to achieve it]," Xu said. "A free society works for the freedom of all the people and restricts the freedom of the ruler." "China is just the opposite; it restricts the people's freedoms to give the greatest possible freedom to its leaders," he said. A political dissident who declined to be named said the situation in China only appears to be worsening under CCP leader Xi Jinping. "In the years since the 19th Party Congress, the years under Xi Jinping, the human rights situation has gotten worse and worse," the dissident said. "It's not just the large numbers of people getting arrested; there are now far more restrictions on online speech." "There's a lot of stuff that you could get away with saying a few years ago that you can't say now," he said. Taiwan and Hong Kong Taiwan, by contrast, is listed as a "Free" country, scoring highly for political rights and civil liberties, according to Freedom House. "There are still some areas in which Taiwan is a bit less free, and there are human rights violations," Shih said. "For example, the treatment of foreign migrant workers, and some forced demolitions and forced evictions ... while there are some topics journalists aren't allowed to report on." In Hong Kong, where a draconian national security law imposed on the city by the CCP has led to dozens of political arrests and the closure of several pro-democracy media organizations, freedom scores have plummeted. The once-free city is now classed as "Partly Free." Zhao Sile, a journalist who specializes in authoritarian politics, said China has two main routes through which it seeks to export its model of authoritarian rule, for the time being. One is the theft of intellectual property, while another is to invest in key infrastructure in other countries, including energy and communications. "The more it has guaranteed [control of resources] in other countries, the more it can shore up the weaknesses in its own regime," Zhao said. "It's a two-way expansion of authoritarianism; on the one hand, it exports influence to the rest of the world, and on the other, it consolidates [CCP] power at home," she said. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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