in: APSA Annals of Comparative Democratization 17 (2), 8-11
China’s rise, and its aid in particular, has been criticized for bolstering authoritarianism or undermining efforts of democratization in developing countries. We argue that previous research has produced little systematic and consolidated findings about how China affects political regimes in the global South. The evidence we have is very mixed and would not lead us to conclude that China’s rise had a significant effect on the global negative trend in political freedom and democratic rule until now. Given the recent change in Xi Jinping’s strategy, there are several avenues for future research. First, there is a knowledge gap on how China’s engagement affects political regimes in Asia and Latin America, because research on China’s aid has largely focussed on Africa and needs to be put in a comparative perspective. However, whether in Africa or elsewhere, research should take into consideration the combined efforts of Chinese economic, political and increasingly military activities instead of focusing on Chinese aid only when assessing the political impact of China’s global rise. Second, we need to investigate more directly whether and how China affects liberal ideas and norms in developing countries. Finally, as China’s impact is contingent on domestic factors, regime types, and likely even on individual persons and their biographies, we need to understand better how elites cooperate and how this interacts with Chinese economic activities. China’s external linkages are particularly appealing to leaders in party-based regimes, the most common form of authoritarian regime type, so party-to-party relations seem to be a particularly interesting field of research.