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Biden democracy summit puts itself in the shoes of autocrats


Studies and polls suggest that global discontent with democracy has increased in recent years and that few in the world see American democracy as a good role model.

These negatives, however, are just more reasons to hold the summit, advocates insist.

“It is precisely because there are so many challenges that a summit like this is so timely and important,” said Derek Mitchell, former US ambassador to Myanmar who now heads the National Democratic Institute. “Convening global democratic leaders and others to reaffirm that democracy and democratic values ​​remain the best answer to our ills sends a message of solidarity, trust, commitment and clarity. “

Biden aides say they approach the summit with humility. On the main website, the administration said the event “will showcase one of the unique strengths of democracy: the ability to recognize its imperfections and address them in an open and transparent manner.”

The decision to host the summit and invite more than 100 governments has shocked some left behind – a testament to the global influence the United States continues to wield.

In a recent joint editorial published in The National Interest, the Russian and Chinese ambassadors to the United States called the summit a product of America’s “cold war mentality” and warned that it “will stoke an ideological confrontation and a disruption in politics. the world, creating new “dividing lines”.

The ambassadors Anatoly Antonov of Russia and Qin Gang of China denounced the idea that the Biden administration decides what counts as democracy, while describing their countries’ systems as democratic – despite the obvious communist dominance of a single party in China and the dictatorial regime. of Vladimir Putin in Russia. China, write the emissaries, has an “extensive and comprehensive socialist democracy”, while democracy is the “fundamental principle” of the Russian system.

“There is no need to worry about democracy in Russia and China,” the two men write. “Some foreign governments had better think about themselves and what’s going on at home. Is it freedom when various gatherings in their countries are dispersed with rubber bullets and tear gas? It doesn’t sound much like freedom.

The public relations offensive continued. The Global Times, a spokesperson for the Communist Party of China, launched a series this month on “evils committed in the name of democracy”. A representative title: “GT Investigates: American War Under Cover of” Democracy “Inflicts Incalculable Damage on World. “

The inclusion of Taiwan at the top has particularly angered China, which claims the island as its territory. Given repeated promises by the United States to back the island in the face of recent aggressive Beijing measures, the Biden administration has likely determined that Taiwan’s exclusion from the summit would have suggested weakened resolve.

Many of these geopolitical considerations were clearly at play in deciding who was invited and who was not.

Hungary and Turkey have not made the cut – their leaders have been undermining their democratic institutions for years despite American criticism. But Poland, where similar undemocratic forces have been multiplying for years, received an invitation. A probable reason? The United States has seen fit to support the country as it faces aggressive moves along its Russian-backed border with Belarus.

India, for example, has been accused of retreating democracy amid growing oppression of the country’s Muslims. But the Biden team sees New Delhi as a key partner in the rivalry with Beijing and doesn’t want to snub it.

Because India was on the list, so did Pakistan – an effort by the administration to balance its interests in these two sworn enemies, despite the Pakistani military’s continued influence over the system of government. ‘Islamabad.

In the Middle East, only Iraq and Israel were selected, despite concerns about Iranian influence in Iraq and the treatment of Palestinians on lands occupied by Israel.

US officials have declined to talk about individual guests, although some privately acknowledge the geopolitical factors at play. At the same time, they note that the event is called a “Summit for Democracy,” not a “Summit. for democracies ”or a“ Summit of Democracies ”. The aim is to show the world that democracy is still the most ideal system of governance while encouraging participants to stay on the democratic path.

While the administration had initially hoped to host this first summit earlier, and in person, its December 9-10 selection makes some sense.

December 9 (Thursday) is International Anti-Corruption Day, while December 10 (Friday) is Human Rights Day. The administration is expected to unveil new sanctions against kleptocrats and human rights abusers on those days, following a tradition started under the Trump administration.

As this week’s rally approaches, the administration has unveiled initiatives and plans, while with it, outside groups are hosting events and previewing events. Many revolve around the three main themes of the summit: defending against autocracy; fight against corruption; and the promotion of human rights. Some events are open to the public, while others are reserved for summit attendees.

On Monday, the administration unveiled its anti-corruption strategy – its many elements include efforts to crack down on the use of the US real estate market as a place of money laundering and other illicit acts.

The role of technology in advancing or weakening democracy is emerging as a major theme. Last week, the administration said one of the summit’s initiatives will be a multilateral effort to place limits on the export of surveillance and other technology that can be used to target dissidents and violate rights. humans.

The Biden administration is counting on participating countries to embark on initiatives designed to strengthen and promote democracy and spend the next year delivering on those promises. A second summit must then be held, probably towards the end of 2022, and – if the coronavirus pandemic permits – in person.

Preparation for the summit has been bumpy and it is still unclear how success will be measured, especially when the United States has limited leverage over other countries engaging in initiatives.

Michael Abramowitz, chairman of Freedom House, the democracy watchdog, said this was one of the reasons it was important for civil society groups to engage in the summit and its aftermath – so they can monitor the progress of countries making commitments.

“It is important that the United States and other democracies make real commitments because otherwise it will be seen as a public relations exercise and it will increase cynicism,” he said. His group published dashboards on the state of democracy in the countries participating in the summit.

US officials are betting there will be enough momentum – if not out of pure love of democracy, then concerns about China and Russia – that the summit’s impact will be significant and lasting.

In speeches and other forums ahead of the meeting, they stressed, however, that governments will need to partner with the private and NGO sectors in the process.

“We know that by recommitting ourselves to the cause of democratic renewal and by expanding our coalition of partners, we can turn this moment of truth into a moment of opportunity”, Uzra Zeya, Under Secretary of State who is focuses on issues of democracy and human rights, said in remarks on the summit last month.


Politico

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