Democratic countries worldwide are under growing pressure from autocratic competitors and challenges at home, and must now come together to show democracy can work, U.S. President Joe Biden told world leaders at a virtual summit meeting on Thursday.
“This is an urgent matter,” Biden said in opening remarks at a first session of the U.S.-sponsored Summit for Democracy. “The data we’re seeing is largely pointing in the other direction.”
Attended by representatives from over 100 countries in Europe, North and South America, Europe, and Asia, the virtual summit will feature addresses by the leaders of invited governments on the strengthening of democracy in their own countries.
The response by democratic countries to pressure from autocratic leaders around the world forms the “defining challenge of our times,” Biden said.
“They seek to advance their own power, export and expand their influence around the world and justify their repressive policies and practices as a more efficient way to address today’s challenges,” the U.S. president added.
“That’s how it’s sold – by voices that seek to fan the flames of social division and political polarization.”
“Here in the United States, we know as well as anyone that renewing our democracy and strengthening our democratic institutions requires constant effort,” Biden said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in remarks following the president pointed to what he called a “democratic recession in recent years,” including a growing loss of trust by citizens in their own governments, and called on summit participants to consider together “how democracies can deliver better for our people.”
“While each one of our countries faces real challenges, we also know that democracy remains the most effective way to tackle those challenges and to advance human dignity,” Blinken said, pointing to the need for governments around the world to further engage with civil society and enact political reforms.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he said.
Absent from the list of countries invited to the summit were Russia and China, whose ambassadors to the United States issued a joint statement ahead of the meeting accusing the Biden administration of promoting ideological divisions and a “Cold War mentality” within the world community.
Speaking ahead of Thursday’s summit, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi at a meeting in Indonesia accused the West of arrogance and bias in declaring China and other developing nations not to be democratic countries.
“This in fact tramples on the spirit of democracy, and is turning back the wheel of human history,” Wang said in remarks at the annual Bali Democracy Forum, hosted by Indonesia and coinciding with the virtual Democracy Summit held in Washington.
Exclusion miffs China
China itself is a fully democratic nation, asserted Wang.
“Since its founding, the Communist Party of China has been upholding the banner of democracy, setting as its goals to found a New China where the people are the masters of their own fate, and taking as its obligation to realize true and effective democracy in China.”
In the run-up to this week’s summit, Wang was joined by other Chinese diplomats around the world in condemning the U.S. for excluding it from the event and extolling China’s political system as a democracy.
The Communist Party issued a white paper touting leader Xi Jinping's claim that Beijing’s "whole process democracy" is just as democratic as any other political system, and another document criticizing problems with the U.S. democracy.
Beijing also China hit out at Biden's inclusion of democratic Taiwan in the online democracy summit, with no invitation extended to Beijing. China claims sovereignty over the self-ruled, democratic island of 25 million people.
“Most Westerners and many Chinese do not agree with Chinese diplomats’ declaration that China’s political system is fully democratic. Nor do they believe that it is one of the best political systems, that it is embraced by its own people, and that it is appreciated by other countries,” wrote scholar Yawei Liu in the U.S.-China Perception Monitor.
Liu, chief editor of the monitor and senior advisor on China at the Carter Center in Atlanta, said Chinese diplomats might not win many converts, but they could reveal Beijing’s thinking on the sensitive issue.
“While many are bewildered by Beijing’s position on the Summit for Democracy, it is actually a good thing to see Chinese government bristle when other countries label it authoritarian. It signifies, perhaps, that the CCP still cares about democracy and the transition to democracy,” he wrote.
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