Authoritarianism and humanitarian aid: Regime stability and external relief in China and Myanmar

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21 Citations (Scopus)


Severe natural disasters encourage the international community to donate humanitarian aid (materials and personnel) to the affected country, which is critical for its human security. Some authoritarian regimes, however, rationally reject such aid despite the dire situation of their people. When an authoritarian regime decides whether to accept foreign humanitarian aid for severe natural disasters or not, it considers two political factors: (1) the risk and (2) the need to accept aid, which is a type of exogenous shock that may threaten the stability of the regime and its survival. This paper considers the factors of risk (regime type, domestic struggle, and international pressure) as inherent and contingent determinants of regime stability, and the need factors by looking at the different types of sources from which the regime gains its legitimacy (electoral mandate, economic development, or ideology). If the risk is less and the need is more, the regime is more likely to accept the aid, otherwise not. The two authoritarian regimes hit by severe natural disasters - the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in China and the 2008 Cyclone Nargis-caused floods in Myanmar - are considered as salient cases for the external variation between authoritarian regimes. This paper also finds some critical internal variation within an authoritarian regime and its differing responses during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and two other disasters - the 1976 Tangshan earthquake and the 2010 Qinghai earthquake.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)439-462
Number of pages24
JournalPacific Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Sept

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author thanks Eun Mee Kim, Ian Holliday, all participants of the International Academic Symposium ‘Myanmar: 2010 Election and Beyond’ (The University of Hong Kong, 23–25 June 2010), multiple Chinese and Myanmarese experts and the anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions. This research was supported by the WCU (World Class University) program through National Research Foundation of Korea, funded by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology of the Republic of Korea (Grant No. R32-20077).

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Sociology and Political Science


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