Sunday 23 January 2022
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Biden, Modi wax eloquent; China jeers

President Biden spoke amid Russian and Chinese allegation that he was 'weaponsing democracy'; even Americans are resenting the US tendency to lecture the world

US President Joe Biden, staring at a credibility crisis, opened the first-ever Summit for Democracy today 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 over 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 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 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 the Communist Party of China’s mouthpiece Global Times, said the US initiative “resembles a mistress of a brothel teaching morale (sic) to schoolgirls,” while accusing 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 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 Mohandas Karamchand 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 results.

Participating in the ‘Summit for Democracy’ hosted by US President Joe Biden, Prime Minister on Thursday said the democratic spirit, including respect for rule of law and pluralistic ethos, is “ingrained in Indians”.

Prime Minister Modi was among 12 leaders who were invited to participate in the main Leaders’ Plenary Session hosted virtually by US President Biden on Day 1 of the ‘Summit for Democracy’ on Thursday. The closed-door session saw interventions from 12 select countries, including India.

Sources told India Today that PM Modi recalled the date when India’s Constituent Assembly held its first session 75 years ago. “He highlighted India’s civilisational ethos as one of the original sources of democracy,” sources said.

“Prime Minister Modi said that the democratic spirit, including respect for rule of law and pluralistic ethos, is ingrained in Indians. The Indian Diaspora carries it too, thereby contributing to economic well-being and social harmony of their adopted homes,” sources said.

The prime minister, according to sources, emphasised the need for democratic countries to deliver on values enshrined in their constitutions. He also outlined sensitivity, accountability, participation and reform orientation as four pillars of Indian democratic governance. “He stressed that principles of democracy should also guide global governance; and that given technology’s ability to impact democracy positively or negatively, technology companies should contribute to preserving open and democratic societies,” said sources.

Prime Minister Modi will deliver India’s national statement on Friday at 5:30pm IST. It will be open to the public.

In the opening remarks, Joe Biden said, “Democracy — government of the people, by the people, for the people — can at times be fragile, but it also is inherently resilient. It’s capable of self-correction and it’s capable of self-improvement. And, yes, democracy is hard. We all know that. It works best with consensus and cooperation. When people and parties that might have opposing views sit down and find ways to work together, things begin to work.”

On Day 1, the first plenary session was hosted by President Biden and the second Leaders’ Plenary Session was hosted by President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

The US President announced that DC was planning to commit as much as $ 224 million [$ 424 million] in the next year to shore up “transparent and accountable governance, including supporting media freedom, fighting international corruption, standing with democratic reformers, promoting technology that advances democracy, and defining and defending what a fair is”.

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