Knowledge Generation


Knowledge Generation

Universities, think tanks, publishers, and other research institutions are targets of authoritarian influencers seeking to compromise the exchange of ideas.



Knowledge-sector institutions (universities, publishing houses, think tanks, and other research networks) in open societies should be autonomous, vibrant, and unfettered. But in many democracies, authoritarian powers are exerting influence that is undermining the integrity and independence of this sector.

The intensifying marketization of the knowledge sector has increased the financial and competitive pressures on these institutions. Their incentive structures, performance benchmarks, and funding models have been transformed, potentially compromising their autonomy and ability to resist external influence. By appropriating knowledge-sector institutions and other platforms of influence, authoritarian powers aim to compromise the exchange of ideas in democratic settings.

Sharp Power Influence

As knowledge-sector institutions integrate themselves into the global marketplace and deepen their participation in international exchanges, they often fail to consider how their counterparts in authoritarian settings are subject to political oversight and government regulation. Traditional due diligence and risk management frameworks are not designed to negotiate the corrupting machinations of authoritarian actors.

Technological advances, like machine learning, contribute to the precision and comprehensiveness of authoritarian censorship. Enterprising hackers can fabricate new versions of the historical record to meet the ideological or political requirements of an authoritarian regime. By digitally consolidating sources onto servers under its control, a savvy authoritarian government can project its domestic censorship regime further abroad to shape public opinion at the international level. 

Both academic and commercial publishers have come under increasing pressure from authoritarian governments to censor or alter content, maps, and images that contradict a regime’s preferences. Authors seeking to publish research that deals with topics and individuals close to authoritarian power centers risk becoming the target of expensive lawsuits led by well-resourced kleptocrats, oligarchs, and firms who can use libel accusations to tie up authors and publishing houses in court for years.

Other sharp power-related initiatives, like the creation of authoritarian “think tanks,” fill censorship-induced information voids with authoritarian narratives. To some degree, authoritarian “think tanks” operate similarly to their democratic counterparts: they organize public conferences and events, publish research online and in academic journals, and share analyses with the media. But the antiliberal and antidemocratic political systems underpinning these entities undercut any pretense of independence or transparency. 

The stakes for democratic security could not be higher. The purposeful, determined, and relentless efforts of authoritarian regimes to shape and manipulate the ideas space directly undermine the resilience of a core democratic principle—pluralism.

Nadège Rolland

Commanding Ideas: Think Tanks as Platforms for Authoritarian Influence

Democratic Responses

Universities, publishers, think tanks, and civil society operating in open societies can counter authoritarian efforts to undermine the knowledge sector by investing in the ecosystem that supports intellectual freedom.

Norms and Standard Setting
  • The university, publishing, and think tank sectors should develop shared industry guidelines to send clear signals about their principles and avoid ad hoc concessions to authoritarian actors.
  • Academic institutions should implement strict codes of conduct to guide their relationships with authoritarian actors. They should also develop proactive due diligence policies that include public disclosures of information about donors and sponsors.
  • Knowledge institutions, especially universities, should reduce exposure to financial coercion by diversifying their income sources. 
Cross-Sector Collaboration
  • Established think tanks and civil society organizations should engage with rising institutions and professionals in settings where expertise and opportunities for independent study are less developed. 
  • Academics, journalists, and publishers should coordinate on detailed best practices and stipulate them in contracts. This would allow localized instances of censorship to be handled ethically and transparently.
Education and Awareness
  • Civil society can challenge academic institutions to consider the non-economic costs and reputational risks of accepting resources from individuals and entities linked to authoritarian actors.
  • The academic and publishing sectors should seize the opportunity to self-monitor and enhance collective security before governments step in with blunt legislative and regulatory solutions.

Knowledge Generation

The reporting and analysis catalogued in the Portal illustrates how authoritarian powers exert influence in the academic, publishing, think tank, and policy communities of foreign societies.

Latest Resources

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Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

Publication Date: November 7, 2022

Iran Expanding Its Influence in the Muslim Regions of Russia

Authoritarian Country: Iran

Affected Region: Eurasia, Russia

Author: Paul Goble

View Resource: Iran Expanding Its Influence in the Muslim Regions of Russia

Iran is expanding its influence in Muslim regions of Russia, mainly through economic agreements. Iran aims to circumvent Western sanctions and gain added favorability of Muslim citizens in Russia.

Source: Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Publication Date: October 4, 2022

Suppressing the Truth and Spreading Lies: How the CCP is Influencing Solomon Islands’ Information Environment

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Asia-Pacific, Solomon Islands

Author: Blake Johnson et al.

View Resource: Suppressing the Truth and Spreading Lies: How the CCP is Influencing Solomon Islands’ Information Environment

Following the November 2021 Honiara riots and the March 2022 leaking of the China–Solomon Islands security agreement, the CCP used propaganda and disinformation to push false narratives in an effort to shape the Solomon Islands public’s perception of security issues and foreign partners.

Source: Center for European Policy Analysis

Publication Date: September 6, 2022

Chinese Influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Europe, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Author: Tijana Cvjetićanin

View Resource: Chinese Influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Chinese Communist Party strives to cultivate cultural, political, and academic ties in Bosnia and Herzegovina. These efforts are more pronounced in the Republika Srpska, where the authorities tend to adopt a pro-Russian and anti-Western foreign policy stance.

Source: Center for European Policy Analysis

Publication Date: September 1, 2022

Chinese Influence in Serbia

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Europe, Serbia

Author: Stefan Vladisavljev

View Resource: Chinese Influence in Serbia

Chinese influence in Serbia is spread through various means. The most conspicuous and successful tools have been economic cooperation between Serbia and China, activities of the Chinese embassy, bilateral visits, “mask and vaccine diplomacy,” and cooperation with Serbian media.

Source: Center for European Policy Analysis

Publication Date: August 30, 2022

Chinese Influence in Bulgaria

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Europe, Bulgaria

Author: Ruslan Stefanov

View Resource: Chinese Influence in Bulgaria

China’s objective is to build an influential pro-Beijing lobby and prevent Bulgaria from joining the group of China’s outspoken critics. In the absence of any substantial initiative as the 16/17+1 format peters out, old-style Chinese propaganda is unlikely to sway many Bulgarians.

Source: Center for European Policy Analysis

Publication Date: August 29, 2022

Chinese Influence in North Macedonia

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Europe, North Macedonia

Author: Ana Krstinovska

View Resource: Chinese Influence in North Macedonia

North Macedonia is a member of several international organizations, such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, and NATO, where the vote of each country counts. Thus, China seeks to ensure North Macedonia’s friendship, or at least neutrality, on resolutions tabled by Western governments.


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