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Complicity in democratic engagement with autocratic systems

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Article number1958509
JournalEthics & Global Politics
Issue number3
Accepted/In press10 Jun 2021
Published4 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: Zhang tries to obtain a research fellowship funded by the University but is told that he is unlikely to get it, partly because his research proposal has academic weaknesses, and partly due to anxieties on the part of China Studies experts serving on the University fellowship selection committee. The University’s China studies department has several large joint research programmes, funded by various Chinese entities, with prestigious universities in China, vulnerable academic partners in China, and Chinese students paying tuition fees at the ‘overseas’ rate. One or two of the University’s academics are also thought to hold lucrative visiting researcher positions in China, but the details of these positions are not known. The University is also considering the establishment of a ‘Confucius Institute’ with Chinese government funding. 5 Publisher Copyright: © 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Copyright: Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

King's Authors


Autocratic control of civil society, including academia, can be extended to democratic societies and institutions in ways that pose threats to liberal-democratic values, such as academic freedom, for example through mechanisms and practices that lead to academic self-censorship. Engaging critically with the literature on ‘sharp power’ and ‘authoritarian influencing’ addressing this phenomenon, this paper argues that democratic actors who, without sharing the repressive goals of autocracies, contribute to their success in settings of international collaboration and exchange can become structurally complicit with such wrongs. Recognizing the risk of complicity is a necessary first step towards addressing the political responsibilities resulting from it.

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