Larry Diamond, This Sputnik Moment:
The proliferating global influence activities of China and Russia diverge from traditional means of public diplomacy. Instead, they use wealth, stealth and coercion to coopt influential policy voices and players, control information flows, censor unfavorable reporting and analysis, and ultimately mold societal attitudes and government postures.
The methods vary. Each regime has relied heavily on the promotion of its state-controlled media abroad, such as Xinhua News Agency, CGTV, and RT (formerly Russia Today). Russia has been perfecting a new form of geopolitical warfare, using social media to intensify political polarization, inflame social divisions, sow doubt and cynicism about democracy, and promote pro-Russian politicians and parties. Through investments, partnership agreements, donations, exchanges, positions on boards of directors, and other “friendly” relations, China has fostered wider and deeper penetration into the vital tissues of democracies—media, publishing houses, entertainment industries, technology companies, universities, think tanks, and non-governmental organizations. These intrusions are rapidly expanding not only in the West but in Latin America, post-communist Europe, and Africa as well. In different but perhaps equally devastating ways, China and Russia are using the openness and pluralism of democracies to subvert and bend them to their strategic objectives—principally, the weakening of Western democratic alliances and the relentless expansion of their own economic and geopolitical power.
What these two resurgent authoritarian states are projecting, argue Walker and Ludwig, is power that is not “soft” but rather “sharp,” like the tip of a dagger: It enables them “to cut, razor-like, into the fabric of a society, stoking and amplifying existing divisions” (in the case of Russia) or to seek, especially in the case of China, “to monopolize ideas, suppress alternative narratives, and exploit partner institutions.”
The bottom-line stakes are existential: Will the United States—and liberal democracies collectively—retain global leadership economically, technologically, morally, and politically, or are we entering a world in which we conspire in our own eclipse?