The so-called ‘Democracy Summit’ that the Biden administration recently held was not only divisive, but was also more of a geo-political rather than a normative event aimed at deliberating about the state of democracy as a system of government and politics. The fact that the US deliberately excluded certain countries and then used the summit to specifically target them – in particular, China – feeds directly into the narrative the US has been developing for past few years to project China, as also Russia, as ‘revisionist forces’ aiming to ‘destabilise’ the world. As Chinese news media reports pointed out, the event that gathered more than 100 countries in the name of democracy was nothing less than a deliberate ‘weaponization of democracy’ as a new form of cold war ‘Iron Curtain’ to divide the world into western models of and west preferred ‘democracies’ and non-western and non-west preferred ‘non-democracies.’ It is a kind of arbitrary political divide based upon different systems of governments that the US created post Second World War – a divide that helped the US set itself as the champion of the ‘free world’ to prevent the world from the ‘communists.’ It is again that kind of divide the US is seeking to create to strengthen its position vis-à-vis its global rivals, who are seeking to build a new, multipolar world order. The ‘Democracy Summit’, thus, is nothing short of a US attempt to stage a ‘show of force’ vis-à-vis its global rivals, China and Russia.
While Biden did not mention China or Russia, he minced no words to point to the so-called “autocrats” seeking “to advance their own power, export and expand their influence around the world.” There is an open secret that Biden – and numerous US official policy documents – have referred to China (as also Russia) in these retrogressive terms to build a negative global perception about them. It is also an open secret that the Biden administration intends to counter Russian and Chinese influence. As Biden himself pointed out, the US will be spending millions of dollars around the world to spread its message of ‘democracy.’ The US aid for democracy, as history shows, has been a discreet method of destabilising established systems – countries that either refuse to ally with the US, or happen to be allied with the US rivals. An integrated programme aimed at ‘strengthening democracies’ around the world is, thus, a thickly masked strategy of regime-change the US aims to implement to wean countries away from China and Russia. By arrogating to itself the right to “reverse” the “backward slide of rights and democracy”, the US has supposedly positioned itself as the champion of democracy, although its own state of democracy has become questionable.
At the same time, the US championship is highly selective and biased. Among the “democracies” invited to the Summit were countries that, even according to the Freedom House ranking that Biden himself referred to, do not count as true democracies. More than 30 per cent of the 110 countries Biden invited have been classified as “partly free.” While some are not “free” at all, even those countries – the Philippines, India and Kenya – that Freedom House currently classifies as “electoral autocracies” were also invited. The choices the US made were highly strategic, as well as China-centric.
For instance, whereas the US has been seeking to court the Philippines with defense deals to wean it away from China, or prevent it from moving too close to China, India is a key QUAD partner. The fact that the Biden administration has been seeking to revive – and militarise – the QUAD ever since coming into power makes India a logical choice. Considering the presence of so many potentially anti-China powers, the ‘Democracy Summit’ is, thus, nothing short of a QUAD at global scale.
The summit’s direct focus on China is also evident how it took place in tandem with the US-led diplomatic boycott of winter Olympics in China. The move again is reminiscent of Cold War politics when Jimmy Carter made some moves in 1980 to prevent American athletes from participating in Moscow Olympics.
Biden’s actions are a complete contrast to the speech he made to the United Nations only a few months ago where he said he was not seeking to “divide” the world. Yet, the US-led boycott of Beijing Olympics – which has been duly followed by the UK and Australia, the so-called AUKUS members – and the narrative that he has tried to build through the Democracy Summit clearly show a deeply divisive set of policies the Biden administration is implementing to re-create a Cold War like scenario, or ‘Cold War 2.0.’
Considering the narrative the US is deliberately creating, it is inevitably driving a response from Russia and China that seeks to challenge – and resist – the Iron Curtain that Biden is drawing. In a letter jointly penned by the Russian and Chinese ambassadors to the US, both countries rejected the US ‘right’ to empower “itself to define who is to attend the event and who is not, who is a ‘democratic country’ and who is not eligible for such status.” The letter written to the US magazine The National Interest last month explicitly called the US engaging in a “Cold War” like mentality – a framework of policies that stresses conflict over engagement, prefers tussle over co-existence and aims to divide the world into blocs as a means to keep the US hegemony intact in some form across the globe.
The US, in nutshell, aims to retain the old, US centric global system that it was able to build – and impose– on the world soon after the Second World War. Since the emergence of China and and post-cold war resurgence of Russia combined with their concerted push to change the unilateral US domination, dollar centric system present Washington with the most formidable challenge it has faced at global level since the end of the Cold War, the US pushback can make sense only in terms of the politics of hegemony further structured as a zero-sum competition whereby the gains made by China and Russia automatically become loses for the US.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.