WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden sounded the alarm bells about a global slide in democratic institutions on Thursday as he called the first White House Democracy Summit. He called on world leaders to “lock the guns” to strengthen democracies and demonstrate their value in a changing world.
Biden called this a critical time for other leaders to redouble their efforts to strengthen democracies. Advocating for action, he noted his own battle to win the passage of voting rights legislation in his country and alluded to challenges to America’s democratic institutions and traditions.
“This is an urgent matter,” Biden said in remarks to open the two-day virtual summit. “A lot of the data we’re seeing is pointing in the wrong direction. “
The video rally comes as Biden has repeatedly argued that the United States and its like-minded allies must show the world that democracies are a much better vehicle for societies than autocracies.
It’s a central tenet of Biden’s foreign policy vision – one he says is more outward-looking than the “America First” approach of his predecessor Donald Trump. Biden in his remarks announced he was launching an initiative to spend up to $ 424 million on programs around the world that support independent media, anti-corruption work and more.
But the rally also drew a reaction from key opponents from the United States and other nations who were not invited to participate.
Ahead of the summit, the Chinese and Russian ambassadors to the United States wrote a joint essay describing the Biden administration as exhibiting a “cold war mentality” that “will fuel ideological confrontation and a divide in the world.” . The administration also came under scrutiny over how it decided which countries to invite. China and Russia were among those who did not receive invitations.
Other leaders took turns delivering their own remarks on the state of democracy – many of which are prerecorded – often reflecting on the stress that rapidly evolving technology places on their countries. They also deplored the increase in disinformation campaigns targeting and undermining institutions and elections.
“The democratic discourse is changing,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said. “New technologies and big tech companies are increasingly paving the way for democratic dialogue, sometimes placing more emphasis on reach than on freedom of expression. “
The summit comes as Biden urges Russian Vladimir Putin to step down after a massive build-up of troops on the Ukrainian border, sparking growing concern in Washington and European capitals that Russia may seek to invade Ukraine again. Biden said on Wednesday he warned Putin in a video call of “grave consequences” if Russia invaded.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who attended Thursday’s summit and then spoke by phone with Biden, said on Twitter: “Democracy is not a given, it must be fought.
Pole Andrzej Duda also spoke out against Russia in his speech, denouncing Moscow and its support for Belarus. Poland and its Western allies have accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of using migrants as pawns to destabilize the 27-country European Union in retaliation for his sanctions against his authoritarian regime. Hundreds of migrants, mostly from the Middle East, have flocked to the Belarusian-Polish border. Most were fleeing conflict or desperation at home and seeking to reach Germany or other countries in Western Europe.
Putin made no public comment on the summit Thursday as he participated in his own video call with members of the Kremlin Council for Human Rights.
Poland “is committed to supporting democracy in Eastern Europe,” Duda said. “It’s a great task, but it has its consequences. This made us the target of Kremlin propaganda.
The United States can be at its own pivotal point.
Locally elected officials are resigning at an alarming rate amid clashes with angry voices at school board meetings, election offices and town halls. States pass laws to limit access to the ballot, making it more difficult for Americans to vote. And the Jan.6 attack on Capitol Hill left many in Donald Trump’s Republican Party clinging to his bogus stolen election claims, eroding confidence in the correctness of the vote.
“Here in the United States, we know as well as anyone that renewing our democracy and strengthening our democratic institutions requires constant effort,” said Biden.
Biden said passing his ambitious national agenda – the $ 1,000 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill he enacted, along with the roughly $ 2,000 billion Build Back Better Act of social and climate initiatives underway in the Senate – will demonstrate how democracy can improve people’s lives.
Some advocates also want Biden to focus on other ways to strengthen democracy at home. A first test took place on Thursday as the House approved the Protecting Our Democracy Act, the third in a trio of bills – alongside the Freedom to Vote Act and the Voting Rights Act by John Lewis – widely supported by Democrats but blocked by Republicans in the Senate.
Vice President Kamala Harris, in closing remarks on the first day of the summit, called on Congress to pass voting rights legislation.
“Here in the United States, we know our democracy is not immune to threats,” Harris said. “Jan. 6 looms large in our collective consciousness, and the anti-election laws that many states have passed are part of an intentional effort to prevent Americans from participating in our democracy.
The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance said in its annual report that the number of countries experiencing democratic retreat “has never been higher” than in the past decade, the United States being added to the list alongside India and Brazil.
Chinese officials have issued a flood of public criticism of the summit. They also expressed their outrage at the administration’s invitation to Taiwan. China claims the island’s autonomy as part of its territory and opposes its having contact with foreign governments.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan declined to attend the conference. In a statement released before the meeting, the Foreign Office said: “We appreciate our partnership with the United States which we wish to expand both bilaterally as well as in terms of regional and international cooperation.”
Yet Pakistan’s own relations with the United States are fraught with suspicion on both sides. Islamabad balked at Washington’s often-voiced criticism that Pakistan has not been a reliable partner in the war on terror, accusing it of harboring the Taliban even as they fought the state-led coalition. United. Pakistan says it has lost 70,000 people to the war on terror since 2001 and is ready to be a partner in peace but not in war.
Other uninvited countries have expressed their dissatisfaction. Hungary, the only member of the European Union not invited, tried unsuccessfully to prevent the President of the European Commission from speaking on behalf of the bloc at the summit. During the 2020 campaign, Biden called Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban a “thug”.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto called the summit a “national political type event” to which countries whose leaders had good relations with Trump were not invited.
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