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International relations

China profits from Southeast Asia's democratic deficits

Strongman politics endangers regional security, inviting external interference

| China
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, left, and Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, attend an economic forum in Phnom Penh in May.

The United Nations has appealed to Cambodian leader Hun Sen to scrap a ban on the main opposition party and allow it to stand in the coming parliamentary election. The call from Rhona Smith, U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, who this month urged Phnom Penh to permit full participation in the July vote "without fear or intimidation," is only the latest bid to challenge the troubling spread of authoritarianism in Southeast Asia.

With China's one-party state presiding over a strong if brittle economy and promoting its achievements across the region, the temptations are clear. But strongman rule cannot be the answer to the power diffusion and innovation revolution that will define the 21st century.

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