The United States Seeks a United Front in Democracy Summit as China Concerns Grow

Washington: Tuesday’s opening of the second Summit for Democracy by the United States is a sign that the United States will look at the rest of the world. It seeks to unite against authoritarianism in the face of attack on China’s diplomatic offensive.

President Joe Biden was elected to office promising to champion democracy. He also hosted the inaugural summit in his first year, which sought to affirm US leadership following the destruction of democratic norms and the attack on the Capitol by his predecessor Donald Trump.

Biden has chosen co-hosts from each continent in a nod towards concerns that the first edition was too US-centric. These include the presidents of South Korea, Costa Rica, Zambia and South Korea, and the prime minister of The Netherlands.

He has invited 121 leaders to the summit, which will be held chiefly online over three days — eight more than in 2021.

This summit is happening as democracy threats evolve from “something that was considered an important issue, even though it was sort of a slow-moving threat, to one that’s now both important and extremely pressing,” Marti Flacks (director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies human rights initiative) said.

These sessions will feature representatives from civil society for discussions about various issues facing democracy, including surveillance technology. The United States considers this a growing threat due to China’s rapid technological advancements.

Flacks stated that “in the absence of pending congressional actions in that space,” it was important that the administration engage bilaterally with other countries and companies on voluntary measures that can be taken in an interim.”

Shunning Turkey, Hungary

Tuesday will be the opening day of the summit. President Volodymyr Zilensky will host a virtual conversation about peace.

The message and setting will be strikingly different from the first summit, where Zelensky was dressed in a crisp black suit and clean-shaven.

Biden has not broken his campaign promise to the democracy summit but disappointed human rights activists by relinquishing his earlier pledges to avoid autocratic leaders.

Last year, Biden visited Saudi Arabia and Egypt. He acknowledged the kingdom’s role in oil markets and worked closely with Recep Tayyip Erdan.

Erdogan faces re-election on the 14th of May after two decades of power, during which he has been accused of creeping authoritarianism.

Biden, unlike other European Union countries, isn’t inviting Hungary. Prime Minister Viktor Orban was elected to a fourth term last year. 

However, he has been accused by some of his liberal values of limiting press freedom, decrying non-European refugees, and favouring Moscow.

The US has resisted the invitation of Singapore and Bangladesh as partners for the summit. Although their elections are free, they regulate media and limit free assembly.

The State Department refused to discuss inclusion criteria.

A spokesperson for the State Department stated that they reiterated their intention to include and represent a diverse set of countries at the summit.

“We don’t seek to determine which countries are democracies.”

India, the US’s growing partner, is now on the attendance list, days after Rahul Gandhi, the opposition leader, was expelled from parliament.

Pakistan, where Imran Khan, the former prime minister of Pakistan, was removed last year and later charged with it, is also included on this list.

More Africans are invited.

Five countries invited after being excluded in 2021 are from Africa, including Tanzania, where President Samia Suluhu Hassan promised to restore political competition. Ivory Coast is also included, where tensions have subsided since the peaceful 2021 elections.

Biden invites Honduras to Latin America for the first time. The Honduran government has been praised for its improved conduct in the 2021 elections despite ongoing violence and China’s recent dumping of Taiwan ties.

This summit is happening as the United States emphasizes Africa, where China have made inroads.

Kamala Harris, Vice President, will travel to Ghana, Tanzania, and Zambia during the week. Washington praised the president of Zambia, Hakainde Haichilema, as a model for democracy and will host his summit events.

Freedom House, a US-backed research organization, saw a decline in global democracy in its most recent annual report. However, it also noted a growing number of bright spots.

Katie LaRoque, the summit coordinator, said that while one meeting may not be decisive, it allows gathering.

She said democracies could “coordinate policy change that can contain rampant authoritarian aggression.”