Commerce

Money

Commerce

Opaque financial flows from authoritarian influencers undermine the rule of law and democratic governance in recipient countries.

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Overview

The extraordinary growth of international trade and investment is a defining feature of globalization. In this enabling environment, authoritarians wield state-owned and nominally private economic entities as political instruments. The state-capture systems mastered by oligarchs while building power and influence at home are being deployed abroad and used by authoritarian powers to gain a foothold in strategic markets such as energy, telecommunications, and banking. 

Authoritarian “corrosive capital” is enabled by weak legal safeguards and limited accountability and transparency mechanisms. The openness of the international financial system also makes it difficult to identify linkages to authoritarian actors who can easily route funds through firms registered under beneficial ownership accounts in third-party countries.


Sharp Power Influence

Autocratic actors leverage capital to exaggerate governance gaps and influence economic, political, and social developments in recipient countries through multiple mechanisms : 

  • State-sponsored loans that mimic traditional development assistance
  • Support for large-scale infrastructure projects that rope countries into long-term, lopsided economic relationships
  • Foreign direct investment by nominally private firms that are ultimately linked to an authoritarian state-backed entity
  • Restricted market access that induces foreign companies to tout authoritarian narratives and censor content deemed unfavorable

These efforts are not necessarily predicated on huge amounts of money but instead stem from strategically-focused agreements with well-connected elites in strategic sectors of open societies.

Corrosive capital hides amid layers of larger exchanges with authoritarian regimes, the majority of which may appear legitimate and can have a financial, political, or cultural character. As established democracies and their private sectors come to grips with the threat posed by strategic corruption, democracies with less developed institutional frameworks for preventing corruption and providing transparency are at an even greater risk. 

The Kremlin’s ability to wield state-owned and nominally private economic entities as political instruments, swiftly and without visible deliberation, has allowed it to achieve outsized global influence.

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Ruslan Stefanov and Martin Vladimirov

Deals in the Dark: Russian Corrosive Capital in Latin America

Democratic Responses

Civil society can help bolster the institutions and accountability mechanisms needed for a strong defense against authoritarian corrosive capital.

Norms and Standard Setting
  • Private sector firms should adopt business strategies that prevent authoritarian actors from inducing the revision of public statements, the sanctioning of employees, the alteration of maps, and the like.
  • Businesses should weigh the reputational risks associated with censoring content, especially when authoritarian demands conflict with the expectations of their consumers. 
Cross-Sector Collaboration
  • National security agencies, antitrust authorities, and financial market regulators should strengthen their capacity to investigate money-laundering activities in cooperation with civil society and whistleblowers. 
  • Civil society activists, think tank analysts, and investigative journalists can collaborate to follow financial flows and study negotiations, agreements, and transactions in local settings. 
Education and Awareness
  • Civil society-led efforts to expose domestic and foreign state-capture practices are an effective check on corrosive capital inflows linked to large-scale infrastructure projects or strategic mergers and acquisitions.

Commerce

The reporting and analysis catalogued in the Portal illustrates how authoritarian powers compromise the integrity of civic institutions in countries around the world through corrosive capital agreements and opaque investments.

Latest Resources

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Source: Journal of Democracy

Publication Date: July 19, 2022

Combating Beijing’s Sharp Power: How Australia’s Civil Society Led the Way

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Australia, Asia-Pacific

Author: John Fitzgerald

View Resource: Combating Beijing’s Sharp Power: How Australia’s Civil Society Led the Way

Australian civil society was years ahead of the government and its agencies in exposing PRC surveillance and interference among local diaspora communities and in working to defend the rights of those belonging to these communities as equal citizens of Australia.

Source: Journal of Democracy

Publication Date: July 19, 2022

Combating Beijing’s Sharp Power: Taiwan’s Democracy Under Fire

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Taiwan, Asia-Pacific

Author: Ketty W. Chen

View Resource: Combating Beijing’s Sharp Power: Taiwan’s Democracy Under Fire

The Chinese Communist Party continues to launch influence operations against Taiwan, often using proxies to serve PRC aims. One factor working in Taiwan’s favor as it resists these efforts is the commitment of its robust and vibrant civil society to defending the island nation’s democracy.

Source: Journal of Democracy

Publication Date: July 19, 2022

Combating Beijing’s Sharp Power: Transparency Wins in Europe

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: North Macedonia, Lithuania, Hungary, Czechia, Europe

Author: Martin Hála

View Resource: Combating Beijing’s Sharp Power: Transparency Wins in Europe

Making friends among foreign political elites through united front work, “economic diplomacy,” corruption, and other means allows Beijing to repurpose coopted institutions for its own agenda, undermining democratic systems from within. It is the role of democratic civil society to expose these efforts.

Source: Swedish National China Centre

Publication Date: July 10, 2022

Purchasing with the Party: Chinese Consumer Boycotts of Foreign Companies, 2008-2021

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Global

Author: Viking Bohman, Hillevi Pårup

View Resource: Purchasing with the Party: Chinese Consumer Boycotts of Foreign Companies, 2008-2021

Consumer boycotts, including one-third which were found to be supported by party- or state-affiliated organizations, presented new challenges for foreign businesses seeking to capitalize on the significant purchasing power of Chinese citizens.

Source: Alliance for Securing Democracy

Publication Date: June 14, 2022

China and the Digital Information Stack in the Global South

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Jamaica, Asia-Pacific, Uganda, Burma, Thailand, Nigeria, Latin America and the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa

Author: Bryce Barros, Nathan Kohlenberg, Etienne Soula

View Resource: China and the Digital Information Stack in the Global South

To counter digital authoritarianism, civil society must learn how the PRC party-state uses its influence to shape, influence, control, surveil, and suppress information that is contrary to the PRC and Chinese Communist Party’s goals or critical of those institutions or other autocrats.

Source: Foreign Affairs

Publication Date: June 8, 2022

China’s Southern Strategy

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Middle East and North Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa

Author: Nadège Rolland

View Resource: China’s Southern Strategy

Chinese policymakers are using economic incentives to gain influence in the “global South” and sway votes in international fora. Countries with independent media, nongovernment organizations, and strong civil societies are more likely to resist attempts at corruption, co-optation, and coercion.

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