With warnings of democracy in peril, Biden opens summit amid jeers and sneers from China, Russia

WASHINGTON: With the United States‘ own credibility and integrity as an electoral democracy and constitutional republic under scrutiny, President Joe Biden on Thursday opened the first-ever Summit for Democracy with a warning that the world was at an inflection point in history to arrest the backward slide of democracy.
“This is the defining challenge of our time. Democracy can at times be fragile. But it also is inherently resilient and capable of self-correction and is capable of self-improvement,” Biden told delegates from more than 100 countries in a virtual address after the White House rolled out a raft of initiatives, including committing modest sums of money for bolstering independent media, combating corruption, and defending free and fair elections and political processes across the world.
The summit opened amid charges from Russia and China that the Washington is “weaponsing democracy,” and even some domestic discomfort over lecturing the world when US’ own democracy, particularly the conduct of elections at home, is ragged and inconsistent.
“Democracy Summit ill-advised. 1) we need non-democracies to work with us on regional & global challenges; 2) invite list filled with inconsistencies; 3) most important, US not in a position to preach or provide model. We should be focusing on getting our own broken house in order,” Richard Haas a former US official who heads the Council on Foreign Relations, said.
The two-day virtual summit, for which India is an invitee, drew sneers from Moscow and Beijing, which were not invited, and which accused Washington of hypocrisy, claiming they were better democracies than the US. Ambassadors of China and Russia to the US wrote a joint opinion piece in a US magazine fuming that the summit was “anti-democratic” while missing the irony that such critical commentary would not be allowed in their own press.
Reflecting the increased closeness of ties between Beijing and Moscow, a Russian political analyst, in a commentary in China’s Global Times, said the US initiative “resembles a mistress of a brothel teaching morale (sic) to schoolgirls,” while accusing Washington of waging a “new cold war on two fronts at the same time.”
Pakistan, which was an invitee, also steered clear of the summit, earning praise from Beijing for being a “real iron brother.”
Biden though conceded that the US is “not perfect nor has all the answers” while maintaining that Washington wanted to lock arms with other like-minded countries and reaffirm a shared commitment “to make our democracies better, to share ideas and learn from each other.”
The US President invoked Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela while acknowledging that “democracies are not all the same…we don’t agree on everything…but the choices that we are going to make today together are going to define the course of our shared future for generations to come.”
“Here in the United States, we know as well as anyone that renewing our democracy and strengthening our democratic institutions requires constant effort. American democracy is an ongoing struggle to live up to our highest ideals, to heal our divisions and to recommit ourselves to the founding idea of our nation,” he said.
The summit comes amid warning from a several commentators that the US is heading towards a democracy trainwreck with a right-wing coup by pro-Trump elements, amid charges of electoral laws and processes being subverted across the country. Democrats are accusing Republicans of trying to suppress the votes of black and minorities and Republicans are accusing Democrats of trying to expand their voter base with immigrants, leaving doubts about the credibility of election results.

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