In summit celebrating democracy, China sees a trail of attack
China is seizing on the Biden administration’s “Democracy Summit” as an opening to step up its anti-American propaganda and push its alternative vision for a new world order, dismissing the DC rally this week as a “farce” that “reinforces American efforts”. for “interfering in the internal affairs of other countries”.
The second edition of one of Mr Biden’s flagship foreign policy initiatives also highlights divisions among global blocs, with new accusations from China’s Foreign Ministry demonstrating Beijing’s growing frustration and concern over a rally which administration officials say is aimed at supporting democracies in a rising environment. authoritarianism in the world.
Those worries were unlikely to be allayed when Mr. Biden told the 120 world leaders invited Wednesday morning in person and virtually that his administration was earmarking $690 million in new funds to bolster democracy programs around the world. The new funding will be used to support free and independent media, fight corruption, strengthen human rights, advance technology that improves democracy and support better electoral processes around the world, U.S. officials said.
While a virtual pre-summit event on Tuesday featured an appearance by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and focused on confronting what Secretary of State Antony Blinken described as “Russia’s brutal and unjustified war against Ukraine,” the Chinese state-controlled media eagerly pushed for an alternative narrative.
“The rally will show how Washington manipulates democracy to stoke confrontation, divide the world and advance its hegemonic agenda,” said a commentary broadcast to media in dozens of countries by the Chinese government’s official Xinhua news agency.
China Daily, a newspaper run by the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s Central Propaganda Department, published an “editor’s note” online that the “so-called Democracy Summit convened by US President Joe Biden reflects its dangerous Cold War mentality”.
“The United States’ decision to divide the world into ‘democratic’ and ‘undemocratic’ camps using its own standard reveals its attempts to preserve its global hegemony,” the memo reads.
US officials say the message reflects an increasingly aggressive Chinese state-controlled media campaign to promote anti-American narratives – and echo Russian propaganda about the war in Ukraine – in the global competition for hearts. . spirits and allies.
Analysts say the campaign has become a defining feature of ‘Cold War 2.0’ in recent months, with Beijing and Moscow fully aligning themselves with the rhetoric against the United States and the network of democracies around the world that side. on the Washington side.
Well-timed, the Kremlin echoed Chinese criticism of the summit, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling reporters in Moscow on Wednesday that the summit was an “exercise in morality” and not a “serious event”. .
“Those who agreed to attend this course were free to do so, of course,” Peskov said, according to the official Tass news service. “It’s their sovereign right, but here, in fact, many see that such attempts to divide the world into first-class and second-class countries are now seen by many with a smile.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the United States had not won the right to host the summit and criticized UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ decision to ‘participate.
“We believe it is the height of hypocrisy on the part of the American authorities to claim leadership in promoting democratic values on a global scale under conditions where their reputation in this area cannot even be called questionable, it was completely destroyed,” she said. .
Competition and confrontation
Despite the Chinese government’s propaganda push, President Biden and his advisers continue to tone down official rhetoric toward China, publicly stating that the United States seeks only competition, not confrontation with Beijing, and that America ” not looking for a cold war”.
But the administration moved forward this week with its second democracy summit, with Mr Biden using the announcement of the new $690 million fund to dramatize his commitment. US officials said a major goal of this year’s talks was to focus on ways to make “technology work for, not against, democracy.”
Mr. Biden speaks frequently about the fact that the United States and its like-minded allies are at a crossroads, at a time when democracies must demonstrate that they can overcome autocratic governments such as China, Russia, the United States. Iran and North Korea.
The summits, something Mr. Biden promised as the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, have become a keystone of his administration’s efforts to try to build deeper alliances and nudge autocratically-leaning nations toward at least modest reforms.
“Strengthening transparent and accountable governance rooted in the consent of the governed is a fundamental imperative of our times,” Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said in a joint statement at the opening of the summit on Wednesday. of this year.
The opening of the rally was not without controversy, with high ideals often clashing with realpolitik concerns.
There were, for example, concerns about a possible backlash from a speech delivered at the summit on Wednesday morning by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who addressed the rally despite Mr Biden’s statement a day later. earlier that he would not invite Mr. Netanuyahu to the summit. White House “in the short term”.
The president made the statement on Tuesday after sharply criticizing the Netanyahu government’s aggressive judicial overhaul plans that have sparked massive popular protests in Israel in recent days and concerns over a possible curtailment of democracy in the Middle Eastern nation. .
Critics, meanwhile, say that while Mr. Biden deserves credit for trying to rally democracies, the administration’s reluctance to call out the authoritarian rollback by some U.S. allies could undermine the legitimacy of the democracy summit and feed anti-American messages such as those emanating from Beijing. and Moscow.
In the difficult calculation between values and interests, the administration has largely “avoided” confrontations with key allies and individual autocratic leaders, prioritizing security and economic concerns over governance issues, says Jon Temin, a former government official. State Department who currently serves as Vice President. policies and programs at the Truman Center for National Policy.
The Biden administration “spoke little publicly about democratic regression in Turkey, Hungary and Poland before Russia invaded Ukraine and has said next to nothing about it since,” Temin wrote this week in an article published by Foreign Affairs under the title: “The United States does not need another summit on democracy; It needs a plan to confront authoritarianism.
Temin further argued that “to mount a credible defense of democracy abroad, Washington and its partners should challenge authoritarian and authoritarian-leaning governments, not just support democratic reformers.”
Mr. Biden’s first democracy summit in December 2021 convened under startlingly different circumstances – countries were dealing with the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was still two months away and the rhetorical and strategic animosity between China and the United States had not reached the climax of today.
“Since the last democracy summit two years ago, the world has changed dramatically,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said at the summit. “For decades, the idea of a war in Europe seemed unthinkable. But we were wrong, because Russia’s brutalization of Ukraine showed that we cannot assume that democracy, freedom and security are given, that they are eternal.
Mr Biden appears to have sharpened his own rhetoric, while sending a message that the summit is not a US-led spectacle: Washington was the sole host of the 2021 summit, but this time the US share hosting duties with Costa Rica, the Netherlands, South Korea and Zambia.
“Around the world we see autocrats violating human rights and suppressing fundamental freedoms, … corruption is eating away at young people’s faith in their future [and] citizens wonder if democracy can still solve the issues that matter most to their lives and livelihoods,” Blinken said at Tuesday’s virtual pre-summit event.
But the growing competition between the West and Beijing for the global narrative reflects what some analysts describe as a growing alignment of the world’s largest autocracies – China, Russia, Iran and North Korea – brought together by war. of Moscow in Ukraine and Washington’s success in rallying NATO and other allies to support Kiev.
More broadly, the Russian-Ukrainian war has raised the stakes of uncertainty about Washington’s ability not only to lead a democratic world order, but also to forge a united front with other key governments in an increasingly more turbulent competition between great powers.
The US and Europe have mostly been in tune to counter China’s rise and reacted collectively to the Russian-Ukrainian war, but some warn Western messaging is falling flat with many emerging global players.
With that as a backdrop, the Biden administration has sought to expand this year’s summit tent, inviting representatives from eight countries that were not invited to the inaugural 2021 summit: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Gambia, Honduras, Côte d’Ivoire, Lichtenstein, Mauritania, Mozambique and Tanzania.
But the controversies of messaging and the guest list persist.
Pakistan announced on Tuesday that it was declining an invitation to attend this week’s summit, a move seen in part as an effort to avoid the wrath of China, a major trading and investment partner.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.