An (iron) fistful of help | Freedom House

An (iron) fistful of help

The Economist

China, Iran, Russia and Venezuela have been doling out largesse. Should Western democracies be worried?

CONGO and the International Monetary Fund are arguing about a bail-out. What’s new, you might ask. Dog bites man. But the sticking point is, unexpectedly, not the country’s economic policy, but how exactly to repay a $9 billion credit that Congo secured last year from China.

China’s deal with Congo, and the disputes arising from it, are examples of a growing trend.

Authoritarian governments are using their money to buy influence abroad. Sometimes the money comes as a commercial loan; sometimes, as a grant; frequently, as both. These flows are changing the business of aid, undermining attempts by Western countries to improve their programmes and encouraging recipients to play donors off against each other.

The use of aid to win friends and influence people is not new. America and the Soviet Union both used aid as a weapon in the cold war. Now a 21st-century equivalent is emerging. A study this week by a group of American institutions, Freedom House, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia, looks at the use by China, Iran, Russia and Venezuela of what it calls “authoritarian aid”. The study, “Undermining Democracy”, is the first attempt to estimate the global scale of such operations.

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