Exporting Autocracy

China’s Role in Democratic Backsliding in Latin America and the Caribbean
Remote Visualization
Remote Visualization

China’s mounting influence in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) has been the subject of study and consternation in U.S. policy circles for well over a decade. In this time, the multifaceted and ever-evolving contours of China’s engagement with the region have been traced and retraced continuously. An especially concerning area of research in this regard has been the possibility that Chinese economic, diplomatic, security, and political activities within the region could be contributing to the democratic backsliding witnessed in recent decades.

This report seeks to more fully enumerate the nature of China’s impact on democracy in LAC. It posits two independent but correlated mechanisms through which China contributes to democratic backsliding. First, the PRC propagates its model of authoritarian governance through its soft power engagements in media, education, and people-to-people diplomacy, as well as through its security assistance, which often features tools enabling mass surveillance and the curtailment of civil and political rights. Second, China protects regimes undergoing democratic backsliding by providing economic and diplomatic cover even as these governments become increasingly isolated from the rest of the international system, in effect extending these governments beyond their natural lifespan. Having recognized the specific risk vectors China’s engagement poses in LAC, the report seeks to articulate the beginnings of a democracy-first grand strategy for the United States to pursue. Such a strategy should proceed along the lines of the “insulate, curtail, compete” framework outlined in a previous CSIS report

This report is made possible through the generous support of the Smith Richardson Foundation.