Authoritarian influencers take advantage of emerging technologies and the globally connected digital environment to extend their reach into open societies.

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Rapid advancements in the technological sphere have been a driving force of globalization, leading to ever deeper forms of technological interdependence between democracies and autocracies. Ubiquitous instant-communication tools and technologies that enable the collection and processing of big data have opened unexpected avenues for the manipulation of public opinion, political processes, and democratic institutions. 

Emerging technologies are reshaping how communities interact with their environment, how businesses deliver services, and how governments solve problems. Until the past decade, the dominant assumption was that the conveniences and practical capabilities of new technologies—including big data tools, integrated urban-management systems (“smart cities”), and the so-called Internet of Things (IOT)—would generate positive progress. Instead, it has become increasingly clear that the advantages these powerful technologies offer to authoritarian regimes have been profoundly underestimated.

Sharp Power Influence

Platforms and innovations developed in open, democratic settings are not immune from vulnerabilities. Google and Apple, for example, have conceded to content takedown requests from authoritarian actors, setting a harmful precedent for free speech. 

The rapid diffusion of platforms incubated in authoritarian settings poses an additional threat. The widespread uptake of TikTok and WeChat—both developed by Chinese-owned companies—has enabled censorship, misinformation, and other corrosive practices in some settings.

Authoritarian powers are harnessing artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to devise ever more precise methods of social management. When disseminated in places where civil society and government oversight are limited, AI technologies can facilitate the closing of civic space and the normalization of authoritarian values.  

International standard-setting bodies—such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)—present a ripe opportunity for authoritarian actors to shape the underpinnings of the international technological environment, from technical standards to the conceptual framing of tech-related debates.

Emerging technologies offer numerous conveniences and capabilities, benefiting consumers and government alike; they also carry inherent risks that can threaten liberal democracies when leveraged by powerful dictatorships that wish the reinforce and spread their authoritarianism.

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Samantha Hoffman

Double-Edged Sword: China’s Sharp Power Exploitation of Emerging Technologies

Democratic Responses

Modern technology is shaping the political landscape, and democracies should deepen efforts to encourage free expression, protect the integrity of information, and strengthen essential privacy safeguards. Civil society can meet this multisectoral challenging by coordinating with media, government, and private-sector actors.

Norms and Standard Setting
  • Civil society should participate in transparent, multistakeholder governance and international standard-setting bodies like the ITU, ISO, and IEC.
  • Nongovernmental actors can support the “siloing” of data to limit authoritarian affordances and enhance security.
  • Civil society should encourage investment in research and development to offer credible alternatives to systems and services designed to meet authoritarian standards.
Cross-Sector Collaboration
  • Media and civil society organizations should coordinate to expose and amplify indicators of tech-enabled sharp power in their countries. This will contribute to broader public awareness of the issues, encourage debate on what should be done, and pressure governments to take protective action.
  • Corporate and government research-and-development technology enterprises should invite civil society groups to consult on whether their technologies meet democratic standards. 
Education and Awareness
  • Civil society organizations should be trained on emerging technologies and enabled to implement digital literacy programs that go beyond basic personal and corporate data-management practices.
  • Civil society can leverage foreign-language expertise to pursue research into authoritarian states’ laws, regulations, and pronouncements surrounding emerging technologies.


The reporting and analysis catalogued in the Portal illustrates how authoritarian powers influence international norms and standards governing emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, smart cities, big data, and surveillance tools.

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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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