Biden widens net in new democracy summit as Russia, China concerns grow


The United States on Tuesday opens its second Summit for Democracy with its eyes firmly on the rest of the world, seeking a united front against authoritarianism as Russia attacks Ukraine and China launches diplomatic offensives.

President Joe Biden took office promising to promote democracy, and in his first year he successfully held the inaugural summit, which sought to reaffirm the leadership of the United States after his predecessor Donald Trump’s norms eroding democracy and the attack on the Capitol.

This time, as a nod to the concern that there was too much US spectacle in the first edition, Biden took advantage of co-hosts on every continent – the presidents of Zambia, Costa Rica and South Korea and the prime minister of Netherlands.

In total he invited 121 leaders to the three-day, mostly virtual summit — eight more than in 2021.

The summit comes as threats to democracy evolve “from what was thought to be an important issue, albeit a slow-moving threat, to one that is now important and extremely urgent,” said Marti Flacks , director of the human rights initiative at. the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The sessions will bring in representatives from civil society to discuss a range of challenges to democracy including surveillance technology, which the United States sees as a growing threat as China makes rapid technological advances.

“In the absence of pending congressional action in that space, it is important that the administration be in contact bilaterally with other countries and also with companies regarding voluntary activities that can be done in the meantime,” said Flacks.

– Shunning Turkey, Hungary –

The summit will open on Tuesday with a virtual conversation on peace in Ukraine with President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Not only the message but the setting will be a stark contrast from the first summit when Zelensky, now the head of military affairs, was clean-shaven and wearing a crisp black suit.

Although Biden kept his campaign promise at the democracy summit, he disappointed some human rights activists by softening his earlier promises to avoid autocratic leaders.

Biden visited Saudi Arabia last year, recognizing the kingdom’s role in oil markets, and Egypt, a climate summit host and US partner in regional security, and worked increasingly with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Ukraine.

None of those three countries have been invited to the summit, a backlash in particular for Erdogan, who faces re-election on May 14 after two decades in power and has been accused of waning authoritarianism. in league

Uniquely among European Union states, Biden is not inviting Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban won a fourth term last year only to be accused of departing from liberal values ​​by cracking down on the press, denying illegal refugees -European and speaking favorably of Moscow.

US partners who canceled the summit include Singapore, whose elections are generally considered free but restrict free assembly and control the media, and Bangladesh, where he was arrested hundreds under the Digital Security Act.

The State Department declined to discuss inclusion criteria.

“However, we reiterate that it is our aim for the summit to be inclusive and representative of a regionally and socio-economically diverse slate of countries,” said a State Department spokesperson.

“We are not trying to define which countries are and are not democratic countries.”

US ally India, which is growing as the world’s largest democracy, is on the attendance list days after opposition leader Rahul Gandhi was expelled from parliament, the latest move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that has alarmed groups right.

India’s neighbor and arch-rival Pakistan, where Imran Khan was ousted last year as prime minister and later accused, is also on the list.

– More Africans were invited –

Of the countries that received invitations after being withheld in 2021, five are in Africa including Tanzania, where President Samia Suluhu Hassan has promised to restore competitive politics, and the Coast Ivory Coast, where tensions have eased since the 2021 elections ended, as well as. Gambia, Mauritania and Mozambique.

In Latin America, Biden is inviting for the first time Honduras, which has received praise for the improved behavior of the authorities in the 2021 elections, despite the ongoing violence and its recent dumping of Taiwan’s ties to China.

The summit comes as the United States focuses on Africa, where both China and Russia are making progress.

Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia during the week – whose president, Hakainde Hichilema, has been held up by Washington as a model of democracy and hold her own events as co-host of the summit .

In the latest annual report by Freedom House, the US-backed research group, there was an overall decline in global democracy and an increase in the number of bright spots.

Katie LaRoque, the group’s coordinator for the summit, said that while one meeting in itself would not be conclusive, the meeting offers an opportunity.

Democracies can “coordinate policy changes that can contain rampant authoritarian violence,” she said.

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