Aimed at China and Russia, Biden Democracy Summit must not become a moral class


President Biden, as promised, announced a Democracy Summit on December 9-10 to “galvanize commitments and initiatives around three main themes: defense against authoritarianism, the fight against corruption and the promotion of respect for human rights ”. He once again seeks to assert U.S. leadership in promoting democracy and human rights around the world, though America’s own credentials on both fronts have been damaged by the exposing the shortcomings of his own electoral process which were exposed in the last presidential election when the losing candidate challenged the integrity of the election, called the result illegitimate and allegedly prompted his supporters to occupy and desecrate the Capitol Hill, etc. Biden himself in his inaugural address acknowledged the depth of the crisis facing American democracy due to increased political polarization and racism in society, the seriousness of the latter subsequently erupting in the Black Lives movement. Matter.

Biden believes he could take this initiative because he had reinvigorated American democracy by vaccinating 70% of its population, adopting the American bailout, advancing bipartisan legislation to invest in its infrastructure and competitiveness, rebuilding alliances with democratic partners and allies of the United States, rallying the world to stand up against human rights violations, to fight the climate crisis and the global pandemic, including by donating hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines to countries around the world.

Many would be skeptical of some of these claims. The United States has still failed to control the virus in parts of the country, its vaccine generosity has been delayed and still leaves large parts of the developing world untouched. The handing over of the country to Taliban disrespectful of human rights, especially those of women and minorities, was a failure on the human rights front. The Democracy Summit comes at a time when the United States has not yet sufficiently removed the taint on the functioning of its democratic institutions and the cracks in its society. What also detracts from the impact of this initiative is the state of democracies in the West in general, the public feeling that they have become dysfunctional and the sense of alienation that this has engendered, as well as the growth of society. right-wing nationalism, both in the United States and Europe.

United States versus Russia and China?

The Democracy Summit represents an enduring element of US foreign policy, namely the promotion of democracy around the world, almost like a crusade. The Cold War was fought as a struggle between democracy and communism. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and of Communism as an ideology, the triumphant United States advanced its democratic agenda through regime changes in West Asia, Color Revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and some Central Asian States and the Arab Spring Phenomenon. In Venezuela and some other Latin American states, the promotion of democracy has been pursued through political and economic means. He is currently being pushed to Belarus.

The political motivation behind this democratic initiative is to forge a front under the leadership of the United States against authoritarianism, which essentially means China and Russia. Moscow has come under heavy pressure on democratic freedoms and human rights due to the treatment of the political opposition, as in the case of Alexei Navalny in particular, the extension of President Putin’s grip on the power through constitutional amendments, LGTBQ issues, etc. China is under attack for its authoritarian model and violations of human rights of Uyghurs and Tibetans and suppression of freedoms in Hong Kong etc.

The United States now treats both Russia and China as adversaries. For China to present its model of political and economic governance as superior to that of Western democracies for developing countries is seen as a challenge. If the Democracy Summit aims to isolate China and Russia on issues of democracy and human rights at the international level, this goal is unlikely to be achieved. During the March 2021 meeting in Alaska between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Communist Party of China Foreign Affairs chief Yang Jiechi, the latter criticized the former for the state of democracy and human rights against United States themselves. At the Biden-Xi virtual meeting in November 2021, the Chinese president lectured the US president on the issue of democracy, reminding him that democracy is not mass produced with a one-size-fits-all model, and that ‘rejecting forms of democracy other than his own was inherently undemocratic.

China is not on the defensive when it comes to democracy or human rights. He showed his influence both at the Human Rights Council in Geneva and at the UNGA Human Rights Committee in New York when he mobilized the support of a large number of countries, including several prominent Islamic states, on the Uyghur issue on which the West-led US countries have sought to condemn China.

Russia is not defensive either. Putin believes that “Russian democracy is the power of the Russian people with its own traditions of national autonomy, and not the realization of standards imposed on us from outside” and that “democracy cannot be exported to another place. It must be the product of internal internal development in a company ”. In fact, Putin believes that the ideology that has underpinned Western democracies for decades has “gone beyond its purpose.”

Will it be a moral class?

Russia and China believe the Democracy Summit is a divisive initiative and they have criticized it. The Russian and Chinese ambassadors to the United States published a joint article in the publication National interest on November 26, calling the initiative a product of the American Cold War mentality that aims to stir up ideological confrontation and divide in the world and create new “dividing lines.” He added that democracy can be achieved in many ways and that no one model can fit all countries. The article claimed that democracy is the fundamental principle of the Russian political system and that the development of democracy there is closely linked to its culture and traditions.

The two ambassadors added that democracy is not just a matter of national governance; this should also be reflected in international relations, noting that “interfering in the internal affairs of other countries – under the pretext of fighting corruption, promoting democratic values ​​or protecting human rights … by waving the big stick of sanctions, and even undermining their sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity violate the Charter of the United Nations and other fundamental norms of international law and are blatantly undemocratic. They added that “no country has the right to judge the vast and varied political landscape of the world by one criterion, and to ask other countries to copy its political system by the color revolution, the change of regime and even the use of force “. There is no need to worry about democracy in Russia and China, the ambassadors said, and called on “countries to stop using” value-based diplomacy “to provoke division and separation. confrontation “.

US policies on the spread of democracy and the protection of human rights have always been controversial because they are seen as marked by double standards and geopolitical goals. The list of countries invited to the Summit reflects this criticism. The problem with establishing such a list is that if one sticks to strict selection criteria, few countries would be eligible, but if the criteria are not strict then those who are excluded would feel a negative impact. double resentment, especially leaders in countries where national opposition may use exclusion to validate their accusation that the government is suppressing democracy in their homes. The United States invited 110 countries, with many anomalies. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan were excluded but Pakistan was invited. Singapore, ally and pivot as a partner of ASEAN, has been excluded. The Democratic Republic of Congo is present. Many island states were invited for geopolitical reasons and not as examples of democracies: Tonga (106,000 inhabitants), St Kitts and Nevis (53,732), St Vincent and the Grenadines (110,000), St Lucia ( 184,000).

The net gain for the United States of launching this initiative at this point is not too obvious. The United States has announced that after a year of consultation, coordination and action, President Biden will then invite world leaders to meet once again to present progress against their commitments. The fight against corruption was also on the summit’s agenda. Seeking commitments from participating countries implies that they recognize their deficit in democracy and human rights and promise improvements. Will it be a moral class?

The two summits “will bring together heads of state, civil society, philanthropy and the private sector, offering world leaders the opportunity to listen to each other and their citizens, share successes, foster international collaboration and to speak honestly about the challenges that democracy faces in order to collectively strengthen the foundations of democratic renewal ”. What will be the criteria for selecting representatives of civil society and the private sector? Will the United States select them on behalf of other countries or will it be an open forum? Will leaders have to listen to criticism from elements of civil society in their own country in an international forum? These aspects of this initiative are not clear.

The author is a former Minister of Foreign Affairs. He has served as Indian Ambassador to Turkey, Egypt, France and Russia. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the position of this publication.

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