DemocracyPost: China reminds us that information warfare takes many forms

Emmanuel Macron has won the French presidential race, and many around the West will undoubtedly give a sigh of relief at the news. His victory came despite a well-coordinated, last-minute smear campaign by online insurgents that Macron’s own team have linked with Moscow. Macron’s triumph gives hope to those who wish to see western democratic …
 
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Supporters of French presidential election candidate Emmanuel Macron (not pictured) celebrate at the Carrousel du Louvre after  Macron won the second round of the French presidential elections in Paris, France, May 7, 2017. He defeated Marine Le Pen in the final round of France’s presidential election, with exit polls indicating that Macron is leading with approximately 65 per cent of the vote. EPA/YOAN VALAT Emmanuel Macron has won the French presidential race, and many around the West will undoubtedly give a sigh of relief at the news. His victory came despite a well-coordinated, last-minute smear campaign by online insurgents that Macron’s own team have linked with Moscow. Macron’s triumph gives hope to those who wish to see western democratic institutions assert themselves against the threat of information warfare. Yet the issue is not going away. If anything, we may just be beginning to understand its full scope and intensity. Russia’s aggressive cyberattacks and its cynical dissemination of lies and propaganda are likely to continue until western societies develop effective deterrents. Yet Moscow’s splashy and anarchic version of information warfare is far from the only version that exists today. As a recent expose by Richard Bernstein in the New York Review of Books reminds us, China remains unrivaled in its use of economic and psychological pressure to bend democratic societies to its will. The title of Bernstein’s article poses a question that few U.S. officials and politicians probably haven’t been asking enough: “Should the Chinese Government Be in American Classrooms?” He expounds on the findings of a new study by the National Association of Scholars (NAS), a conservative group that has taken a close look at the extraordinary recent expansion of the Confucius Institutes, ostensible cultural outreach organizations that – in stark contrast to their British or German equivalents, which are only loosely tied to their sponsoring governments – exist primarily to further the foreign policy aims of the Chinese Communist Party. As the author of the NAS study discovered, the Confucius Institutes often play disturbingly active roles in the politics of the American or European universities that offer to host them, shutting down discussion on topics (such as Taiwan or Tibet) deemed “inappropriate” by Beijing and displaying a notable lack of accountability along the way. This past week, the New York Times published its own report into the activities of Chinese student associations at universities across the western world, tracking the many ways in which these groups also strive to push their own political agendas – always perfectly synched to the party line in Beijing.
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Surely it’s time for those of us who value our liberal norms to start pushing back against the efforts of authoritarian societies to undermine them. In the meantime, here’s some more provocative writing on democracy-related topics from around the world: Foreign Policy’s Emily Tamkin reports that demonstrators in Romania have cause to celebrate after lawmakers struck down a plan to pardon officials charged with corruption. Ralph Jennings of Forbes writes about the rivalry between Xi Jinping and Donald Trump for influence in the Philippines. Writing in Foreign Affairs, Shannon O’Neill offers a status report on Chile, whose long-vaunted progress towards democracy is starting to show signs of wear. The Carnegie Endowment’s Andrei Kolesnikov and Denis Volkov look at an intriguing experiment in civic activism in Moscow. Historian Timothy Snyder tells Salon that “it’s pretty much inevitable” that Donald Trump will try to stage a coup and overthrow democracy. New York City public radio acquaints its listeners with the ins and outs of participatory budgeting.
 
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