How can democracies remain committed to their values amid rising authoritarianism?

Find us on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | RSS | Google Play

In this episode of DemWorks, we will discuss the unmistakable rise of authoritarian influence around the world, with a specific focus on China.  June 4 marks 30 years since the violent suppression of public demonstrations for political reform in Beijing that occurred in and around Tiananmen Square. I was in Beijing myself somewhat by chance the month before, in May of 1989, to witness the height of those demonstrations.  Despite the turmoil and bloodshed that followed, however, not only has China’s Communist Party survived intact since, but it has thrived as China has become an economic powerhouse, if not a budding global superpower.

To examine the implications of China’s rise, particularly on democratic norms and values around the world in recent years, I am joined by my very good friends Chris Walker and Shanthi Kalathil from the National Endowment for Democracy, otherwise known as the NED. Chris and Shanthi are two of the most cutting edge scholars and writers on authoritarian influence operations working anywhere right now, and I’m proud to call them friends and colleagues.

Chris Walker is the vice president for studies and analysis at the NED, and a leading strategic thinker on democratic development. He formerly served as vice president for strategy and analysis at Freedom House. Chris just testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on China’s role in the Western Hemisphere, and is co-editor of Authoritarianism Goes Global: The Challenge to Democracy.

Shanthi Kalathil is senior director of the NED’s International Forum for Democratic Studies. Her work at the NED has focused on the impact of information and communication technology on democratization and development, with a particular emphasis on Asia. Among many other qualifications and achievements, Shanthi has served as a Hong Kong-based staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal Asia, and lectures on international relations in the information age at Georgetown University.

We are turning the tables a bit on Chris and Shanthi today, as they also co-lead a podcast over at the NED entitled Power 3.0, in which they engage in conversation with other experts about their work on authoritarian influence, and I encourage folks out there to give it a listen. That’s Power 3.0.

Derek Mitchell: Hello. My name is Derek Mitchell, and I am president of the National Democratic Institute. I will be your host for this DemWorks podcast. Chris and Shanthi, welcome. Thank you for joining us at DemWorks.

Shanthi Kalathil: Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

Chris Walker: Great to be here.

DM: So let me start with you, Chris—though in 2017, you both were instrumental in helping to popularize the concept of sharp power to describe the work of China and other authoritarian powers. Chris, can you share what that term “sharp power” means exactly, and it's connection to authoritarian influence?

CW: So thanks very much, Derek. The idea of sharp power was an outgrowth of work we were doing at the Forum over a period of time, looking at a number of different sectors where the common understanding was that soft power was at work. And as authoritarian governments like those—say in China or Russia—became more activist and more internationalist in their engagement globally, they too were using at least the visible tools that have been associated with soft power, in the realm of education and culture, media and so forth. But as we look more closely at the way in which these tools were being applied, and the effect they were having, they didn't always seem to have the characteristics of the customarily-understood definition of soft power, which is power that attracts and persuades, or otherwise enhances the image of the country that is engaged in that sort of activity. And as we look more closely at—for example, China's engagement in the university sector, the publishing sphere and so forth—it became clear that something else was at work, and that in the end, at least in part, and this isn't true for all of the influence or all of the power that China or Russia is exerting—they can certainly exert soft power in certain spheres—but in the idea sphere and in these key political areas it became clear that in certain respects this was more aimed at censorship or otherwise degrading the integrity of independent institutions, and therefore we felt that the ‘soft power’ moniker wasn't quite a fit for so many of the things that we found.

DM: Right, they're not really persuading. They're getting into societies and trying to coerce, using money? I mean, how are they going about doing this?

CW: I think the term that I find most suitable in these discussions is the ‘corrosive impact’ of this engagement. So, just to use the publishing sector as one example: Springer Nature, which is one of the largest academic publishers has decided—I think it was in 2017—to no longer publish on certain issues or include certain content at the behest of censors in Beijing, and this is not an isolated incident. There was one other case that got some notoriety where Cambridge University Press decided to do something similar, and it was only as a result of the response of a host of scholars and activists and advocates who said “this simply doesn't make sense,” that a publisher operating from an open society, from a free environment would make the decision not to publish in a candid and open way because of a setting that sets a much more restrictive standard. I think it's instructive in this case because it was really civil society and other key players in open societies who shined a light on this decision, and then the management at Cambridge University Press decided to reverse that decision, which was the right call in that case. And I think we see this replaying itself across a whole host of institutions today. That really should cause all of us that have the privilege of living in free societies to think of how we set our own standards and defend them in the face of these encroachments on free speech and academic speech and other such examples.

DM: Right. And in that case, Shanti, it sounded like there was a reversal; it did not succeed, ultimately. Is China succeeding in its efforts globally? Where is it running into headwinds? How is it achieving its goal in your view?

SK: I think to the extent that some of these influence efforts are running into headwinds, it's because—as Chris has just mentioned—civil society has actually managed to put a spotlight on some of them. However, I would say that in many countries and many regions throughout the world, civil society doesn't actually have that capacity to shine a spotlight. So it's not really just about the traditional journalistic and civil society function of trying to increase accountability or transparency. But I think in particular if—in vulnerable democracies especially—journalists don't really know what they're looking for, if they aren't able to see some of these things for what they are, if they aren't able to scrutinize them and put them in context, they can be very easy to miss. And again, you're talking about vulnerable open societies where that basic capacity may not even exist, and so I think it really requires both an awareness of what the Chinese government— and I should really say the Chinese party state—is trying to do in many of these regions. What are the objectives? And then, from a democratic resilience perspective, to try to increase that resilience. So it's not necessarily about combating that, per se. It's more about: “What are the values inherent in free societies and open societies that need to be defended, and what role does civil society have to play in that?”

DM: Right, and so what specifically are China's interests here? What are they going for specifically, when they try to deploy sharp power? What are they trying to coerce countries to do, specifically?

SK: Well, I think it probably varies. You can probably break it down in traditional foreign policy or national security terms in a variety of contexts, but I think one common element and one theme I would emphasize is that the Chinese party state essentially doesn't act in a fundamentally different way outside of its borders as it does at home. It carries the same authoritarian values and the same propensity to try to perpetuate one-party rule wherever it is operating. I'll quote one scholar that we actually just talked to for our podcast—Samantha Hoffman—who has put it in terms of: “The party doesn't really make a distinction between the party within China's borders and the party outside of China's borders. It draws the distinction between ‘within the party’ and ‘outside of the party.’” And if you see it in that way then the ‘within borders/outside of borders’ distinction doesn't matter. So, inevitably it's not necessarily just about trying to achieve a particular strategic interest. It's really more: This is just the way that the party operates.

DM: Right, and in some ways is it about defending the party? Ultimately, China's—or the party's—interest is to defend the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, so in some ways what they do externally may be in some ways defending the right and the values of the Chinese Communist Party? Is that legitimate, or do you think it's even beyond that, that they're trying to shape a world that's conforming to a different set of values and either in competition with the US or otherwise?

CW: I think there's also some value in looking at how other authoritarian regimes operate when they have the capacity to operate beyond their borders, and I would put it in these terms: It's hard to think of exceptions to this case, but the animating principles that authoritarian governments operating beyond their borders tend to use privilege state control, which is something that they also value at home. It tends to restrict political expression to the extent that's possible and it privileges rule *by* law over rule *of* law. If you look at Russia's engagement in any number of places—Southeastern Europe, Central Europe, in a variety of ways in Africa, Latin America—you'll see similarities. It’s not identical to what China does—they're different countries, different systems—but this notion of needing to control is always there, and I think in China's case, from what we see—and it's really a pattern that deserves more research and more scrutiny—is that China's engagement for example in the commercial realm through BRI tends to be associated with efforts to suppress open discussion about the nature of the agreements. You can see versions of this for example with the standard gauge railway in Kenya, or with the ECU 911 technical package that was given to Ecuador, or with the satellite facility in Patagonia in southern Argentina, and there other examples I can offer in this context. Invariably in all these cases, the wider society was not engaged in a discussion about the nature and the contours of what are often very significant agreements between China or its commercial surrogates operating often in open settings, open societies, and it tends to be only later on where either investigative journalists from outside those countries or within those countries say: “Hey, what exactly happened here so that we see this sort of precarious arrangement with our debt obligations or with the sovereignty that we've ceded to one degree or another”—the Sri Lankan case is a very good one—“and how do we get here?” Invariably, I think it's because the lack of meaningful discussion as these big agreements were being set in place has facilitated this sort of problematic outcome. So, I think that is something that comes naturally to authoritarian regimes—this idea to limit the sunlight on activity. It's what they do at home, and to the extent local environments permit this when they're abroad, they will certainly take advantage of that. I think this is just à propos of what Shanti was describing: It really requires open societies—whether they're younger democracies, more established democracies who are now coming to terms with their engagement with some of these very active and influential authoritarian regimes—to think about what they need to shore up to deal with the some of the adverse byproducts of that engagement.

DM: Some can say this is not a political move. It's economics, that Chinese companies or others are just going out and investing like any other investors, and they do it differently. What connection do you make to the political leadership of the Communist Party? What evidence is there that there is a strategy behind this, as political and not simply economic.

SK: It’s not even a strategy. I just think it's the way that the party operates. The party operates above the law within China, and it exerts a significant degree of influence over almost every aspect of life, whether that influence is visible or not. I think even in the case of private sector actors—and you can argue that there's been expansion in political and economic space and contraction in [party control] over the years in China—but there's always the influence of the party, and as long as the party is able to coerce the different elements of society, you can't divorce it from the conversation. I don't think there will ever be a purely economic or political decision that's made absent of any party influence when you're talking about some of these actors. I would just note: I think recently it's become just much more evident, with the establishment of party committees and so on within private sector companies—you see this in publicly listed companies, and so it's not even hidden—it's simply an overt part of the way that the party establishes itself economically.

DM: Right now, we read about the Uyghurs in Xinjiang and the fact that the Chinese are using new digital technologies to survey, basically new surveillance states and artificial intelligence, that start to move tiptoed towards an Orwellian world.  How are you seeing that manifesting itself in Chinese behavior globally? Are they exporting these things? Is this again simply the Communist Party being the Communist Party, and they don't see any problem with this? Is there a normative aspect of this, a strategic aspect of this? How is this manifesting itself globally?

SK: I think for one thing there's been some conversation about what's been happening within China, and I think you really see the bleeding edge of that with what's happening in Xinjiang, what's happening with the Uyghurs. I would really commend to everybody the recent Human Rights Watch report which deconstructed essentially an app that was used by police there, which categorizes varieties of behavior and then classifies people as suspicious or not. It is truly chilling, and that's where I think you really can say this is Orwellian. But I think as you then diffuse throughout the wider society within China and then outside of China's borders, you see different dimensions of this. What I would emphasize is that it's not always that blatant, and that it's not always an Orwellian prospect. This is something that goes beyond the dimension of simply China and technology, but I think as we all over the world grapple with the impact of technology now, and grapple hook with our own changing understanding of what we thought technology would bring, I think we—particularly in democratic societies—assumed that technology would lead to greater openness, would lead to democratic opening and to a deepening of democracy. I don't argue that that's not possible. I think that is certainly possible, and you do still see that, but I think we're much more aware now of some of the ways in which technology can be utilized not just by authoritarian actors but by a host of other actors, private companies and so on, in ways that then condition the environment, and enable greater surveillance practices and so on. And just to pick up on something that Chris mentioned, I think when you're talking about countries, societies, regions that don't have these basic democratic checks and balances, to understand better how these technologies are being made use of, that's where authoritarians can come in—promotion of technology for surveillance and so on—without those checks and balances, and without the debate about aspects like privacy, civil liberties and so on that we are having very robustly in places like the US and Europe right now.

CW: I think in the context of the US and European countries for example, the debates are really hard and the issues are moving quickly, but as Xiao Qiang in the January 2019 issue of the Journal of Democracy observed, what China has put in place is really multifaceted, and there's no meaningful debate or checks on the authority's power to advance these things. So, it's a combination of some of the issues we've been discussing, the general ability to manage to a significant degree the digital space, the incorporation of facial recognition, various other elements of artificial intelligence, and integrating the DNA databases in the country that are at the disposal of the authorities—infusing these in a way that really gives some quite chilling capacity to the authorities to monitor and track the population. I think on this count, at least as we're looking at the AI issue now, the countries that are able to gather, collect and curate the most information are the ones that are able to most rapidly advance the learning, and hence the application of AI. Clearly, this is something that China is doing, and probably in ways that are not as replicable in societies that have checks and accountability, and this is also something I think open societies have to reckon with right now.

DM: We're struggling with that. It's always been a balance. Certainly, since 9/11 we talked about the balance between free speech and openness and national security, and with digital technologies it becomes even more of a hard call. There's probably not a police or military force anywhere that wouldn't accept a greater ability to oversee what goes on in the streets, so that they can police. But China has no such concern, I guess. They have no such domestic constraints. The Economist talks about a new cold war—a new kind of cold war, is what they call it. You talk about, Shanthi, very normative, value-based fundamental differences between the Chinese Communist Party and the West, and certainly the United States. What is the difference between what we're facing with China today and what we faced with the Soviet Union before, and is it fair to say that we're under long-standing and long-term competition with China?

SK: We have struggled with the the framing for this concept, and to be honest I would say there's certainly competition in the realm of values. But I think that there are significant differences between now and the Cold War, and one of them has been the impact of globalization and technology, which has not only sped up communications. It's sped up the ways in which societies are interdependent, intertwined and connected, and that is really a fundamental change from the past. So, I don't know that those previous rubrics for understanding the relationships between countries really make sense anymore. People will call it whatever they want. I think for me it comes down to: “How do democratic societies choose to define their own values and principles, and how then do you defend those at home?” Essentially, that's part of what the sharp power concept and report gets to, which is not only looking at the projection of authoritarian influence. Where the rubber hits the road is where publishers—as Chris mentioned, universities, other educational institutions, all the the various elements of civil society that make a democratic society robust—that's where those institutions have to decide: “How do you uphold your own values if you are confronted with a situation in which you are being pressured to take certain topics off the table? How do you respond?” To me, that really comes down to fundamental decisions made within open societies, that you could almost take the other player off the table, and really get down to brass tacks within the institutions of democratic society. That's something that—regardless of how things are framed or regardless of who the other party is—I think will be with us for a long time.

DM: Are there examples, Chris, of—either at home here in the US, or abroad—that folks have tackled this wisely, smartly or coming up with solutions to a huge challenge that we’re going to face for a while, which is strong economic reasons to self-censor because of relationships with China. Small universities who rely on Chinese students to pay full freight, or academics who need access to China, &c., what are some of the recommendations for how you deal with that kind of challenge?

CW: I think Shanti started to hint at some of this. My sense is that right now we're in this period where we have both systems competition but also systems integration. So for example, a distinction between now and say 40 years ago is the depth of engagement, the depth of intersection between China and not just the United States but dozens and dozens of free societies around the globe is just enormous, and it's in so many domains that in some respects we need to rethink what our own standards are, and I think this is really critical to this understanding. Shanti mentioned a number of the spheres in which this is needed. But I think it's something that happened incrementally over the years, often with the best of intentions—this idea that we all become better by economically engaging. What's to argue with? The more economically interdependent we are, the more mutual benefit there is. What's to argue with? I think what's happened in the meantime is that we've seen this isn't just about dollars and cents, that there are sacrifices that have to be made for example if you want to get published in the PRC. There are certain things you're gonna have to sacrifice if you're keen to get in there. There's been—not enough work on this—but some important work on the calculations that Hollywood makes in this regard, as to what actually makes the cut to reach audiences in China. I think we have to reflect hard on at what point we really start to lose the foundations of our own bottom line on these sorts of issues. So, it's going to take some recognition that this is a meaningful global challenge that's impacting not only North America and European Union countries but a host of countries in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeastern Europe and elsewhere, and that free societies are all in this together. I think if we were to understand it, it's not a geographic question. It really is a values question. You can ask people in Taiwan how they feel about this. For them, it's a values question. They're trying to preserve their system and their way of life in the face of some very serious encroachment, with a dramatically different vision of how governance should be used. And that's just one example, but an important one.

DM: Absolutely, and it's as much about as you say a positive agenda of norms: What are the positive norms and values that we want to see in the world, versus an anti-China thing. It's not necessarily anti-China. It's simply: We don't like what China is peddling around the world, the norms that they are spreading through Communist Party influence. But you lay out, Chris, this notion that we all have to wake up to what's going on. Do you see that happening? Do you see that there has been progress in recent years? Are folks recognizing the challenge more and more, and even if they do, are they simply vulnerable to it anyway because of a need to engage China and get the benefits of an engagement with China?

CW: I think there's better understanding today than there was two or three years ago, as one example in understanding to some meaningful extent the prerequisite for devising responses that are consistent with democratic values in the way that you're suggesting, I think. In the absence of that understanding and in the absence of that awareness-raising, it's hard to imagine that free societies will be able to respond in a serious way. I think if you look at one case study that is useful, it's Australia, and Shanti and I have written about this. Australia as a democracy discovered not all that long ago that many of the sectors and many of the spheres we've been discussing had some real issues. It ranged from their media sector to their political sector to their university sector, relatedly to the tech sector, and on and on, and the nature of the relationship as I understand it from Australian colleagues—the nature of the relationship that they had with China and the Chinese authorities—was unsustainable, not in an economic sense but in a political integrity sense, in the context of people being able to talk about certain issues. The most graphic example of this perhaps was Clive Hamilton's inability to have a publisher produce his book Silent Invasion, which is just one example but I think it was instructive in what was happening in a free society. So, they underwent a process which in summary was some very able and courageous thinkers and journalists putting key issues into the public domain, which in turn got greater public attention society-wide, which then got some debates and public hearings in the parliament, which then translated into more public discussion and some proposed legislative approaches and regulatory approaches. Not all of those have been adopted. Some were, some weren't, some are being amended. But I think that that, just such a very practical democratic response, will have to play out to one degree or another in other societies that have these quite comprehensive and important relationships with China.

DM: Right. Shanthi, are we doing enough in the US? Do we feel we’re getting this on the road? Do you feel we are going too far? Some can say that our response to China is too far and extreme. In essence, do you agree?

SK: I probably can't speak to the intricacies of US policy at the moment. You know one area where I think all democracies have to be careful is in making sure that there is a clear distinction between referring to the Chinese party state and the Chinese people. Whether it's the Chinese people within China or people of ethnic Chinese descent all around the world, that would be one area in which I think there does need to be great care. I think in all policy discussions, it's important to use a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer, to really deal with very specific problems and specific issues that pose a challenge to democracy, but that we shouldn't conflate broad-based backlash, particularly against people of ethnic Chinese descent, with addressing these very real problems to democracy, these systematic challenges that Chris and I have been discussing.

DM: You’ve followed China for a long time, and let me just ask you more of an academic question: Is this an an issue of Xi Jinping? You seem to suggest it's essential to the Communist Party, but I'm sure there's some China scholars and others who say: “Well, this is Xi Jinping making certain choices. It didn't have to go in this direction.” Do you see this as fundamental to the Chinese Communist Party, or is it a Xi Jinping issue?

SK: That's a hard question. I'm gonna punt it to all the China scholars out there. Chris was just mentioning that he had read a book recently, or he was re-reading a book called The Party by Richard McGregor, which really outlines the key dimensions of the party. It was written about eight or nine years ago, I think. I honestly think that the fundamental characteristics of the Chinese Communist Party haven't really changed. I think that the ways in which it's expressed that power within China have changed, and again there have been periods of opening and then greater periods of closing. With Xi Jinping, my impression is he just made some of the subtext text in ways that people weren't anticipating, and transitioned from sort of the ‘hide and bide’ period to not really hiding and not biding very much at all. But that again was a matter of degree, and I think you can find elements of consistency between Xi and Hu and a number of Chinese leaders before that.

DM: I agree with you that this is going to be an issue of debate among many China scholars. It's hard to find a definite answer. One Belt, One Road: people know a lot about that, and that China is building infrastructure globally. Why should we find that a challenge? The world needs infrastructure. What is it about One Belt, One Road that people should be concerned about, given the authoritarian influence that we’ve been talking about?

CW: Shanti is the real expert on this. I would just share a brief observation, and say some of this we've alluded to earlier in the podcast. I think the tendency in the wider engagement that goes beyond purely the commercial, the dollars and cents dimension, is to suppress certain forms of discussion or otherwise restrict the sort of scrutiny that is needed and welcome in so many instances, to make sure you get the best sort of outcome for the local society. I think what we're hearing from partners and from other interlocutors is that, apart from the specific examples I provided earlier in places like Kenya and Ecuador, in Argentina and so forth—it really does seem to be a pattern. There's often, for one reason or another, insufficient scrutiny or sunlight on the way these deals are arranged, and that's not even suggesting at the outset that they may be problematic. I think there's a more fundamental issue of whether civil society, ordinary people, the full policy community in countries that are engaging in the BRI know what they're getting into. I think there's an increasing body of evidence to suggest that at least in a significant number of these instances, wider society doesn't really understand it. On the back end of this, that's when we really see the problems, where people say: “Hey, we didn't realize we’re gonna be on the hook for this, or we didn't realize that our own people wouldn't be able to participate in the project.” I think the best thing for all of the parties concerned—certainly for the local societies—is to have as clear and informed understanding of this engagement as possible. I'd say if I put one big issue out there on the BRI, that would be the one I think is worthy of more attention.

DM: That gets to the words that we always use in democracy: Transparency and accountability.

SK: Yeah, transparency and accountability, but again with an informed transparency and accountability. Because I think it's easy to default to those terms in the democracy support community, but it has to be also informed by an awareness of the Chinese government and its strategies. It can't just be in a vacuum.

DM: Right. So, why should we care in America? How do you connect what's going on in the world, with what China is doing with One Belt, One Road, and the interests of the United States? Why does it matter to the average American citizen what China is doing, whether it's with infrastructure or with broader norms and values globally?

SK: I think this used to be a conversation that would be had mainly among the community of people that really cared about human rights in China. It was a very passionate and dedicated group of people, but at that point the conversation tended to stay within that circumscribed group. I think as the Chinese government started to expand overseas, and as integration and the interdependence between China and open societies increased, that conversation started to spread outward from that small community of people. Naturally, because as I think I've emphasized earlier in some of my remarks, the authoritarian character of the Chinese government's actions expresses itself whether it's at home in China or whether it's acting overseas. So, this isn't a distant concern. I think people should be concerned objectively and absent any other concern about what's happening with the Uyghur population in China. That is absolutely a huge human rights crisis. But beyond that, the Chinese government is also taking those techniques of oppression that it's learned and refined among that population, and is applying that throughout the world. It's taking that desire to suppress conversation about issues it feels sensitive to around the world, and when that impinges upon the ability of people within open societies to discuss frankly and openly Taiwan or Tibet, or Tiananmen—because we're at the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen—we should be having those conversations in open societies. If in open societies we're feeling pressure to not discuss these issues in a frank manner because of the Chinese government's pressure, then that is naturally of concern to us, and it should be of concern to all of us in democratic societies. So, again I would bring the lens back to us as democracies to better understand how these efforts impinge upon what we've already committed to as our ideals, and then defend those ideals. It really is about democratic societies in the end, and democratic resilience.

DM: Chris, you mentioned Taiwan earlier, and also Hong Kong. Shanti, you were based in Hong Kong for many years, in some ways right on the front lines. You can call them the ‘canaries in the coal mine’ as they start to deal with these Chinese threats [first]. Hong Kong is no longer really ‘one country, two systems.’ It’s steadily becoming ‘one country, one system.’ What can we learn from that? Does it really matter what happens in those two places? And what are they facing?

CW: What they are doing to face it matters enormously. I think as you rightly point out Derek, the experience of people in those settings, dealing on a daily basis with the full complement of instruments and efforts to shrink freedom of expression or otherwise manipulate the political space—and it happens in different ways in the different settings—is something now as Shanti I think just very eloquently alluded to, is now rolling out in different ways in other parts of the world. It's not to suggest that it's exactly the same, or it can be done exactly the same way in other places. But it is to suggest that the the kind of animating principles behind it will try to find the space where the space is permitted, and that's why in my view all of the democracies are in this together. It's a question of solidarity. It's a question of finding ways to deal with things collectively, so that it's not as easy to be put into a divide-and-conquer sort of situation, which we see both at the institutional level—no one wants to be the university that loses out on the resources, unless you know that somehow there's some method to protect you—as well as all the other participants in the sector. Very hard to do that. It’s similar with countries. I'll just jump to Central and Eastern Europe, with the 16 plus 1. It's really not 16 plus 1, as we know. It's 1 plus 1 times 16. It's 16 bilateral relationships. Part of that effort is to not have unity among the countries in the 16, and I think we can learn something from that: To the extent we're more unified behind our own values, and we can find ways where circumstances allow us to operate in a more unified and collective way to meet the sort of challenges to our values, we'll be much better equipped to do that. In that respect, the challenges we see in places like Taiwan and Hong Kong should be a reminder to all of us.

DM: Yes, well I completely agree. That's classic Chinese strategy. If you look at the classic ways that Imperial China dealt with external threats or challenges, it was about breaking up the alliances and taking folks one-by-one in order to gain advantage. So, nothing new there. But what we do at the NED and NDI is all about democratic solidarity. It's about partnerships and building connections between our institutions, as well as with those all around the world, small-‘d’ democrats that are fighting for that human dignity, that freedom and openness and transparency, so they can have control in their own societies. Thank you very, very much to both of you, Chris and Shanti, for a really stimulating conversation. Again, on the thirtieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in China, and I want to thank all of our listeners for joining us. Share DemWorks—both our podcasts and our videos on social media to amplify the voice of our democracy heroes. For more details about NDI and its work—including our new 35th anniversary report, fresh off the presses—go to and while you're there, sign up for our monthly newsletter. I'm Derek Mitchell, and this has been DemWorks.