Simon Lewis and Humeyra Pamuk
WASHINGTON (Reuters] – President Joe Biden is preparing to fulfill a crucial campaign promise. He will convene a Summit for Democracy, a gathering of over 100 countries that will help to end democratic decline and the erosion of rights worldwide.
However, rights activists are questioning the ability of virtual events to push some world leaders, who have been accused of harbouring autoritarian tendencies.
Annie Boyajian (Vice President for Policy and Advocacy at Freedom House), a non-profit organization specializing on human rights, stated that “if the summit is going to be more than a meeting,” and added, “If it’s to become anything beyond merely a meeting, every attendee including the United States will have to make meaningful commitments to democracy and rights issues over the next year.”
Officials from the Administration claim that the December summit is only the beginning of a larger conversation on democracy. They also say that the countries invited will have to implement the reforms promised to them at the next summit.
It will take place on December 9th and 10, and is Biden’s test for his long-held claim in February that the United States would resume global leadership during his presidency to defeat authoritarian forces such as Russia and China.
The Politico first published a tentative invitation list. It was confirmed by an insider familiar with the matter. This event is expected to bring together mature democracies like France and Sweden, but also nations such as the Philippines and Poland where democracy activists fear it’s under attack. Some U.S. allies, such as South Korea and Japan, were invited to Asia while Vietnam and Thailand were excluded.
Representatives from the Middle East were minimal with Israel, Iraq and NATO partners Turkey being among those invited.
After the uninterested approach taken by Donald Trump’s predecessor, Biden has been praised for his pledge to restore the promotion rights and freedoms in foreign policy. This is a praiseable move.
The administration is also claiming that the invitation was sent to countries with poor human rights records, raising doubts as to the legitimacy of the event. However, it illustrates its struggle to maintain balance between wider U.S. security interests such as the countering rising China and higher ideals.
Amy Hawthorne is the research director for the Project on Middle East Democracy. She stated, “Clearly, strategic considerations are about countering China” and that she was inviting backsliding, troubled democracies to the area.
She said, “The same could be true for inviting deeply flawed democracy Iraq, the neighboring U.S. enemy, the Iranian theocracy.”
Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who in the past has stated that he doesn’t “care about people rights”, will discuss with Biden ways to ensure democracy thrives globally.
A Philippine official confirmed Duterte’s invitation to attend the forum online and stated that Washington has not placed any conditions on Duterte’s attendance. Officials said that the government of the Philippines was still evaluating whether it would be possible to take part in this forum.
A U.S. senior official said that the invitations had been sent to different countries from around the globe with different experience of democracy. It was not about promoting democracy. “That is not how we did it,” said the official.
Biden administration officials stated that they had to make choices to guarantee regional diversity as well as broad participation.
Rights groups stated that Washington was insecure about how it would enforce commitments and keep leaders accountable with less than a week to the summit.
A PLACE OF HUMILITY
Poland is currently embroiled with the European Union in a dispute over democratic backsliding. Officials from Poland took offense at a previous message by Washington, that seemed to put conditions on the invitation.
An email from earlier contained suggestions for actions to show Poland’s commitment towards freedom and democracy. This was a key point in Washington’s relations with Poland’s right-wing government, which has attempted to limit gay rights.
Officials from the United States said that while they don’t dictate conditions, they called for countries who are invited to offer commitments and take actions.
One official stated that the idea was never to “prescribe or be prescriptive”.
According to the official, Washington would be making its own commitments as Washington continues to doubt the state of American democracy. Trump’s fraud claims after the Nov 2020 election defeat to Biden paved the path for Trump’s Jan. 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters. It was an extraordinary episode that shocked foreign governments and gave cause to doubt the viability of American democracy.
A second official from the administration stated that “in all our diplomatic communications surrounding the summit, we’re starting from a position of humility and recognising that no democracy (including the United States) is perfect.”