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Report: China promoting authoritarian governance in developing world

FILE - A man looks at a decorative plate featuring an image of Chinese President Xi Jinping at a souvenir store next to Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Feb. 27, 2018.
FILE - A man looks at a decorative plate featuring an image of Chinese President Xi Jinping at a souvenir store next to Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Feb. 27, 2018.

China has organized seminars and training courses for officials in African and Latin American countries, aimed at promoting its single-party system and President Xi Jinping's worldview, a report said this week.

A central pillar of Xi's rule has been the Belt and Road Initiative or BRI, a massive infrastructure project that China uses to expand its clout overseas by handing out onerous loans to developing countries.

A report released Thursday by a Washington-based think tank details efforts to promote single-party rule and Xi's thinking to BRI partners in parts of Africa, Latin America and beyond, drawing on hundreds of publicly available documents from China's commerce ministry.

The documents "clearly highlight aspects of (China's) authoritarian model as central to the blueprint of successful development that others can emulate", wrote the author of the Atlantic Council report, nonresident fellow Niva Yau.

Among the initiatives listed was a seminar held online for presidential advisers and cabinet-level officials in developing countries, aimed at expanding "the international influence of the... governance system of China".

According to the ministry document cited by the report, the seminar held in June 2021 sought "to introduce President Xi Jinping's thought on national governance, China's current political system, political life and the features of decision-making process for fundamental policies".

It also promoted China's efforts at "social mobilisation and management" during the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw millions placed under strict, prolonged lockdowns.

Another training program, aimed at African officials involved in city planning, focused on China's pervasive surveillance system.

According to a document cited by the report, the program sought to educate on managing "public safety through information technology" in cities.

China is one of the world's most surveilled societies, and critics say facial recognition technology is widely used in everything from day-to-day law enforcement to political repression.

Beijing's foreign ministry said Friday that "China has always respected the peoples of all countries in independently choosing their development paths and social systems," in response to a question from AFP on the report.

"We have never, and will never, impose our own path or system on other countries," the statement added.

The Atlantic Council report also detailed a course for officials from BRI nations that promoted China's media and propaganda operations.

"Through a multi-angle and all-round presentation of China's experience in new media development, the seminar analyses China's media integration and innovation theories under the backdrop of Covid-19," a document cited by the report said.

The course also looked at the "practice of news writing, programme creation, and material collection applicable to new media platforms".

All the programs were delivered by academics from top Chinese institutions as well as civil servants, according to the documents.

China is "engaged in a concerted effort to promote authoritarian governance across the developing world", the report's author said.