Colombo, November 26 (SAM): The “Democracy Summit” that US President Joe Biden is organizing on December 9 and 10 (in the virtual mode), is ostensibly meant to promote democracy and human rights across the world. Announcing the summit in August, the White House said the meeting would “galvanize commitments and initiatives across three principal themes: (1) defending against authoritarianism (2) fighting corruption, and (3) promoting respect for human rights”.
Laudable goals indeed. But a deeper look at the design of the summit reveals that the term “democracy” is only a euphemism to hide America’s political agenda to name and shame its strategic rivals, China and Russia, in a world forum.
The timing of the summit fits into this agenda. The focus of the summit will in all likelihood, be on “authoritarian” China’s bid to take over “democratic” Taiwan by force. Behind the clutter of verbiage, the Democracy Summit will be essentially about the Taiwan issue. The US organizers will attempt to get the participants to agree to an anti-China line on the Taiwan issue as well as other issues relating to China. Conveniently, China has not been invited to the summit. To sharpen the attack on China, Taiwan has been invited while China has not been. Contentions will therefore go uncontested.
The US will also try to rally the attendees against Russia’s alleged lack of respect for democracy and human rights both within its borders and in its dealings with countries which were part of the erstwhile Soviet Union. And like China, Russia, is also a non-invitee, and will, therefore, not be able to defend itself. In all, there will be no discordant voices in the pro-US chorus.
Looking at the list of 110 countries which have been invited, it is obvious that it was drawn up with politics and strategic interests in mind and not the level of democracy obtaining in these countries.
Steven Feldstein, writing for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on November 22, noted that the mix of invitees includes liberal democracies, weaker democracies, and several states with authoritarian characteristics. The majority of invitees—seventy-seven countries—rank as “free” or fully democratic, according to Freedom House’s 2021 report. Another thirty-one invitees rank as “partly free.” Finally, three countries fall into the “not free” camp.
“Eight invitees fall exceptionally low on democracy rankings, raising troubling questions about their invitations. These are: Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Kenya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Serbia, and Zambia. Four additional invitees prompt serious backsliding concerns due to heightened levels of autocratization or big declines in freedom of expression over the past ten years, namely, Brazil, India, the Philippines, and Poland,” Feldstein says.
On the criterion of inclusion, Feldstein says that US strategic interests mattered. “Pakistan, the Philippines, and Ukraine are all flawed democracies with endemic corruption and rule of law abuses. Yet they are important partners of the US, whether to counterbalance Chinese influence (Philippines), withstand Russian encroachment (Ukraine), or assist with counterterrorism (Pakistan).”
India and the Maldives are needed as they are part of the US geo-political project to check China in South Asia and the Indian Ocean respectively.
According to Feldstein, the exclusion of Hungary and Turkey may have been based on Biden’s reluctance to do anything to help the reelection chances of Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán or Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Philippines and Kenya have been invited because these face contentious national elections in 2022, and Biden’s team may be hoping that summit engagement can positively reinforce their political transitions.
“Big democracies generally received a pass, notwithstanding troubling reversals on individual rights and freedoms. Brazil, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Pakistan are experiencing serious democratic backsliding, populist politics, and regular political violence. But they also have large populations, are important regional economies, and exert considerable influence on the international stage,” Feldstein avers.
Analysts in Colombo and Dhaka say that those countries with which the US has good relations or those with which the US hopes to have good relations, have been invited and those which are hostile or unfriendly have been left out. Unsurprisingly, America’s main global rivals, China and Russia and Middle Eastern rival Turkey have been left out.
Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are not among the 110 countries invited. Professor Delwar Hossain, an international relations analyst and former chairman of the Department of International Relations at Dhaka University, has been quoted as saying that the “China factor might be the biggest consideration” in not inviting Bangladesh since the US has been working to corner China in the international arena including Bangladesh. The US is worried about the good relations Bangladesh has been having with China in recent times
The US is wary also about Sri Lanka’s good relations with China which has been funding mega infrastructural projects in the island. To America’s discomfort, both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are unwilling to give up their neutrality, loosen ties with Beijing, and establish ties exclusively with the US and its camp followers.
A Sri Lankan source added that non-invitation is meant to signal that concerned countries are not deemed to be ‘friendly’ and that could face political, economic or even military pressure from the US if they did not distance themselves from China or Russia.