[Editorial] A world divided by the Summit for Democracy

Posted on : 2021-12-13 18:08 KST Modified on : 2021-12-13 18:08 KST
A “good vs. evil” rift along the lines of ideology and values between the US and China only impedes compromise and progress on issues like the climate crisis
From the White House, US President Joe Biden holds a videoconference with the leaders of the 110 nations participating in the Summit for Democracy on Thursday. (Reuters/Yonhap News)
From the White House, US President Joe Biden holds a videoconference with the leaders of the 110 nations participating in the Summit for Democracy on Thursday. (Reuters/Yonhap News)

A two-day Summit for Democracy was held on Thursday and Friday of last week, with the administration of US President Joe Biden inviting 110 countries around the world to take part via videoconference.

Biden had been preparing for the event since his inauguration early this year, declaring his aim of rescuing democracy from its current imperiled state around the world. In reality, the event has prompted more worry and concern than anything else.

In his remarks at the summit’s opening session, Biden said that democracy and human rights around the world were being faced with “sustained and alarming challenges.” He added the trend was being exacerbated by, among other things, “outside pressure from autocrats.”

He did not specify exactly who the “autocrats” in question were. But it is not hard to see his aim as being to rally as many countries as possible to keep China and Russia in check while bolstering US leadership.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in took part in the main session on Friday. There, he stressed the need to “be able to achieve liberty and harmony for all while firmly guaranteeing individual freedoms and freedom of expression,” as well as to “build the self-correction capabilities to protect democracy from fake news.” He did not mention China by name either.

Many agree on the need to take active measures in response to the spread of authoritarianism and populism around the world and the threats that democracy faces. But some are questioning whether an event like this summit is actually helpful for restoring democracy.

To begin with, there has been some debate over the standards for “democracy,” as the countries invited included a number that have been criticized for backsliding on democracy, such as India, Pakistan and Egypt. In the US, some media have been questioning whether the US is qualified to hold such an event when its own democracy is collapsing.

Quite a few observers are concerned that the “restoration of democracy” could end up amounting to little more than empty rhetoric that only exacerbates tensions between the US and China.

Coming in the wake of the US’ declaration of a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing — a decision not to send government representatives in protest of the human rights situation in China — the summit has provoked an intense outcry from Beijing, which issued a white paper titled “China: Democracy That Works” and published a report denouncing US democracy as a “fraud.”

Obviously, China is not exactly persuasive with its propaganda campaign claiming that “Chinese democracy” is superior. Before Beijing starts making claims like that, it needs to remedy the serious human rights violations happening in regard to internment camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur region and its national security law in Hong Kong.

The biggest concern is that the US-China feud will end up dividing the world up into two blocs in a “good vs. evil” framework based on values and ideology. This takes away the possibility of compromise and increases the likelihood of some form of extreme clash.

We must not lose sight of what the world right now desperately needs: practical ideas for overcoming the inequality and hatred that threaten democracy, and cooperation on resolving shared human problems like COVID-19 and the climate crisis.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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