The White House was vague on what the criteria was for Biden’s Democracy Summit Image Credit: Gulf News

In the midst of a possibly deadly new wave of Covid fuelled by the omicron variant, a rather strange diplomatic dance unfolded this week with US President Joe Biden hosting a virtual

‘Democracy Summit’ with over 100 countries attending. According to the State Department, the Summit had three key themes — strengthening democracy and defending against authoritarianism; fighting corruption; and promoting respect for human rights.

This has been a pet theme of the Biden administration but it smacks of being sanctimonious, dividing the world into the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’, aimed largely at China, with the guest list setting the cat among the pigeons. Who qualifies as ‘democratic’ and who doesn’t? The question is even more glaring, just months after the US surrendered meekly to the authoritarian Taliban in Afghanistan.

Arbitrary list

Among those invited to the democracy summit were India, Pakistan, Taiwan, New Zealand, Japan, Iraq, Germany, the European Union and Brazil. China and Russia were not. Neither was Hungary which is part of the EU. Pakistan said ‘no thanks’ on the eve of the summit without citing a specific reason.

China strongly criticised out the meet, with Beijing calling the US handling of Covid ‘botched’, saying it cannot lecture others on its ‘failed model of Western democracy’.

Many countries were angry at being excluded, while others questioned the democratic credentials of some of those attending. Some have a very poor record on democracy and human rights, others are in a more grey area, while the rest have a stellar record.

While critics panned the American decision to invite countries like Pakistan and Iraq, others said India’s recent backslides of democracy is concerning.

India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar seemed to set the template earlier this year when he rubbished global standards of what constitutes a democracy saying, “you use the dichotomy of democracy and autocracy … You want the truthful answer, it is hypocrisy … Because you have a set of self-appointed custodians of the world, who find it very difficult to stomach that somebody in India is not looking for their approval … so they invent their rules, their parameters, they pass their judgements”.

Vague approach

Washington has not been able to explain why electoral democracies in South Asia like Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka were not invited while the Maldives was. The Hindu reported that US officials admit the numbers were restricted “arbitrarily”.

The White House was vague on what the criteria was for this summit meeting. The White House press secretary recently said “inclusion or an invitation is not a stamp of approval on their approach to democracy — nor is exclusion a stamp of the opposite of that, of disapproval.”

It’s no wonder that geopolitics dominated this summit and not the virtues of democracy.