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Abstract

China’s practice of employing business sanctions to silence companies and individuals speaking out in favor of the Hong Kong protests has sparked concern among democracy and free speech advocates. This recent phenomenon, combined with Dwight Eisenhower’s rhetoric of “exporting democracy,” prompts the question: if the USA has engaged in policies aimed towards exporting democracy, could China also export autocracy? This paper uses panel data for 180 countries across 22 years (1996-2018) to examine the effect of a country’s trade with China as a proportion of its total trade on common indices of democratic freedom from the World Bank Group, Transparency International, and the Heritage Foundation. I find that the effects of trade with China are largely insignificant, and if significant are positive, indicating that fears of Chinese autocracy exporting may be somewhat unfounded. My results suggest that ideology exporting may truly be one-way: that is, that trade can make countries more democratic (at differing degrees, depending on starting conditions and the democracy of the trade partner) but not less, and that indices of democracy may be downward sticky.

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