By: Matt Reed
The Chinese Communist Party plays “a leading role in promoting authoritarian norms” around the world as some leaders show a willingness to collaborate in spreading new forms of repression, according to a report from Washington-based think tank Freedom House.
However, even as democratic freedom suffers global setbacks, fundamental rights continue to have “an appeal and capacity for renewal” in places like Myanmar, where people have shown they are willing to risk their lives in pursuit of freedom, the report found.
Among the 56 countries listed as “Not Free” around the world, North Korea, China and Myanmar were listed as among “the worst of the worst.” Additionally, out of 39 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, nine were listed as “not free” and 13 were deemed only “partly free.”
“Political rights and civil liberties declined across the region as authoritarian forces moved to consolidate their power,” the report said. “The trend was most dramatic in Afghanistan and Myanmar, where elected civilian leaders were forced from office.”
The report noted the arrests in early 2022 of prominent pro-democracy politicians in Hong Kong who took part in primary elections to consolidate the democratic opposition. They continued to be detained through December’s Legislative Council balloting – something that Freedom House said “underscored Beijing’s success in dismantling the territory’s semi-democratic institutions.”
Crackdowns in Asia also affected journalists and civil society movements, especially in countries whose institutions were already vulnerable, the report said.
“In China, one of the world’s most restrictive media environments, journalists faced heightened scrutiny and rigorous political indoctrination when attempting to renew their press licenses, and even individuals who engaged in solitary forms of protest were punished with prison sentences,” it said.
The biggest contraction in freedom took place in Myanmar, which has seen the widespread arrests of civilian political leaders following the 2021 military coup d’etat, Freedom House said.
“Over a thousand people have been killed as security forces crack down on pro-democracy protests, and thousands of others have been thrown in jail and tortured,” the report said. “The military authorities imposed curfews, repeatedly shut down the internet, raided universities, and searched for human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists to arrest.”
The country’s recent turmoil is “another sign that international deterrents against antidemocratic behavior are losing force,” the report said. However, Freedom House noted that “a widespread civil disobedience movement against the military coup has persisted in the face of violent reprisals.”
Resistance has denied the military regime “legitimacy and crippled its ability to function as a government, reflecting both the people’s commitment to democracy and the power it gives them to shape events.”
In Singapore, authorities forced one of the few independent news outlets to close after its license was suspended. And in Thailand, authorities expanded their ability to prosecute people for publishing news that could incite fear in the public.
China’s leading role
Worldwide, the enemies of liberal democracy “are accelerating their attacks” as regimes “have become more effective at co-opting or circumventing the norms and institutions meant to support basic liberties, and at providing aid to others who wish to do the same,” the report said, noting that there have been 16 consecutive years of decline in global freedom.
“The leaders of China, Russia, and other dictatorships have succeeded in shifting global incentives, jeopardizing the consensus that democracy is the only viable path to prosperity and security, while encouraging more authoritarian approaches to governance,” it said.
The Chinese Communist Party “offers an alternative to democracies as a source of international support and investment, helping would-be autocrats to entrench themselves in office, adopt aspects of the CCP governance model, and enrich their regimes while ignoring principles like transparency and fair competition,” the report said.
“At the same time, the CCP has used its vast economic clout and even military threats to suppress international criticism of its own violations of democratic principles and human rights, for instance by punishing governments and other foreign entities that criticize its demolition of civil liberties in Hong Kong or question its expansive territorial claims.”
Freedom House pointed to a Marriott hotel’s refusal to host a November 2021 World Uyghur Congress gathering in the Czech Republic, saying it preferred to observe “political neutrality.” New Zealand’s Parliament also refrained from identifying Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang province as a genocide after the trade minister said such language could hurt economic relations with China.
Turkey was once a haven for Uyghurs fleeing China, but the country “has increasingly shifted its stance to meet Beijing’s demands” by making it more difficult for Uyghurs to obtain permanent residence permits, the report found. (KB/RFA)