While the summit claims to promote democracy globally, Washington’s invitation list appears to exclude democratic countries with growing ties to China.
Between December 9-10, the US is hosting a large virtual gathering called Summit for Democracy, which is being attended by around 110 countries.
The timing of the summit appears to be a little odd concerning rising doubts about the effectiveness of US democracy itself, which was found to be in a declining pattern by a recent European survey.
But the problem is not only American democracy’s weakening character but also Washington’s invitation list, which appears to reflect more about the country’s concerns of an ascendant China than issues of human rights and freedom across the globe.
Some democratic countries like Turkey, which has a growing relationship with China, were not invited to the gathering, while democracies with authoritarian tendencies like far-right Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil and Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi’s India, which has antagonistic ties with Beijing, were included.
Turkey is both a NATO ally and the Middle East’s most powerful democracy. But for Washington, it is not Turkey’s democratic system but the country’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s more independent political mindset - which sees no problem acquiring Russian S-400s against Washington’s protests due to Turkey’s air defence needs - that is a problem.
By not inviting Ankara to the Summit for Democracy, Washington appears to show its double standards against an ally, which has long played a crucial role to defend NATO’s eastern flank while doing nothing against a country like India, a US ally, which has also purchased the same Russian weapons.
America’s double standards appear to do with both countries’ respective policies with China.
India, where far-right Hindu groups have continued to openly assault and kill minorities without much fear from the ruling BJP government, has a lot of problems with China due to an ongoing border spat with Beijing.
Despite excluding Turkey from the summit, the US has invited Iraq, a country which is listed as the fifth most dangerous state in the world, and has an unstable government that cannot control Iran-backed Shia militias from launching attacks in various parts of the country.
Iraq has strong ties with the US, which invaded the state nearly two decades ago, and still has a military presence in the country.
Interestingly, Washington invited Pakistan, a country whose assistance the US desperately needs in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan after its disastrous withdrawal from Kabul. But Islamabad, which has strong connections with China to counterbalance its longtime rival India, refused to participate in the meeting.
When you move through the invitation list, contradictions continue to pop up.
For example, Washington invited the Philippines, a country with problematic human rights records to the summit. The reason appears to be related to the fact that Manila is a reliable US ally, and a country which does not want any Chinese influence in its policymaking.
In Latin America, US hypocrisy shows further signs. Washington invited Colombia, where armed groups are still active due to uncertainties of the country’s peace process, but shut the door to those like El Salvador and Honduras, which also have more or less democratic governance.
El Salvador has recently improved its ties with China, making the US feel that its Asian nemesis is playing hardball in its backyard. That again might be one of the reasons why the Latin American state was disqualified from the invitation list.
Under a leftist government, Honduras, which has been one of the few countries to recognise Taiwan as a sovereign state, also appears to have shifted its longtime policy to developing direct ties with Beijing, thus angering Washington.
Taiwan was established by anti-communist Chinese nationalist leaders in 1949 after the country’s civil war ended with a communist victory. Under its One China Policy, Beijing has long insisted that the People's Republic of China (PRC) is the sole representative of the world’s biggest population.
China and its ally Russia condemned the summit as an output of America’s “Cold-War mentality”, aiming to “stoke up ideological confrontation and a rift in the world.”
Is the US a healthy democracy?
Beyond US double standards concerning its ongoing democracy summit, recent surveys have also portrayed a disturbing pattern of declining American democracy alongside other big countries like India and Brazil.
The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), a Stockholm-based intergovernmental organisation, published an extensive study last month on the world’s democratic patterns, finding a worldwide ‘democratic backsliding’, which includes geopolitical and economic powerhouses like Brazil, India and the US.
Among others, the report particularly singled out Washington’s democratic demise.
“The United States, the bastion of global democracy, fell victim to authoritarian tendencies itself, and was knocked down a significant number of steps on the democratic scale,” the report said.
In March, Freedom House, a Washington-based NGO, also released a report suggesting that American democracy has significantly declined in the last decade.
“Our democracy is in trouble,” concluded Michael J. Abramowitz, the group’s president.