Senior Vice President, Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA, Warsaw and Washington)
The Biden administration’s democracy summit next month is confusing critics. The event can be something like a carefully prepared zoom conference. The guest list is quite controversial (Bosnia, Hungary and Singapore were not invited, and Pakistan, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are). And it has already borne fruit.
First of all, Taiwan’s invitation signaled that the island was approaching the international mainstream. This caused Beijing’s usual outrage, but also underscored the futility of the continent’s taboo on political contacts with Chinese island democracies. A group of Baltic lawmakers will visit Taiwan this week. To be continued…
An even more important reaction was an article by Russian and Chinese ambassadors in Washington condemning the summit. According to the contradictory opinion of the ambassadors, it does not make sense and causes a split. Western-style democracy is outdated, inflexible, overly critical, and discredited. The “global polycentric architecture” is being relentlessly formed. However, attempts to unite supporters of democracy “can strain the objective process” (and what would that mean?). If I were an editor, I would send the article for revision, adding some sarcastic remarks about shaky logic and inappropriate style. Jargon masks the lack of logic. If the triumph of the new order is inevitable, why complain about futile attempts to resist it? The reader gets the impression that Russian and Chinese leaders are not really celebrating the fall of democracy, but are afraid of its flourishing.
Despots not elected by the will of the people have every reason to worry. Democracy is based on the accountability of rulers: it is manifested in polling stations, as well as in the inter-election period through free media, civil society and the courts, and, if necessary, popular protests. The challenge is not only apparent: the results of democratic elections are truly unpredictable. Everyone knows who will win the next elections in China and Russia. But no one knows who will be the next president of the United States.
The authors eloquently describe democracy as a “universal right of all peoples.” A word of advice, Your Excellencies: It is probably best not to try this in your home country, where your leaders are working hard to limit this activity.
TAIWAN’S INVITATION SIGNALED THAT THE ISLAND WAS APPROACHING THE INTERNATIONAL MAINSTREAM. THIS CAUSED BEIJING’S USUAL OUTRAGE, BUT ALSO UNDERSCORED THE FUTILITY OF THE CONTINENTAL REGIME’S TABOO ON POLITICAL CONTACTS WITH CHINESE ISLAND DEMOCRACIES.
The article emphasizes the role of “consultations” in China’s political system. Decisions, they say, are made only by consensus. The same principle should be followed in international affairs. Great: let’s start by applying it in the South China Sea.
Russia, the authors say, is a “democratic federal state governed by the rule of law with a republican form of government.” However, they briefly admit that they are still in the process of formation: “Russia’s political system is constantly evolving and needs a stable and calm environment that will guarantee the rights and interests of its people.” I would like to hear details about the trajectory and timing of this evolution.
In a hurry to move away from these issues, the authors go to a firmer and better-known ground and criticize Western interventionism and one-sidedness with a crumb of “ifdoism.” In conclusion, the ambassadors condemn “value-based democracy” and then call for “harmonious coexistence of countries with different social systems, ideologies, histories, cultures and levels of development.”
In fact, the essence of democracy is that it is dynamic and diverse. Different systems differ significantly (rich and poor, large and small, presidential and parliamentary). Democracies are far from being an obedient cohort led by Americans. Some supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while others protested vehemently.
All this shows that the Biden administration has launched a successful initiative. The inextinguishable appeal of democracy is most evident in the way undemocratic countries breathe flames through it. The summit’s modest goals are to defend democracy from authoritarianism, fight corruption and uphold human rights. Great first steps. But just imagine what it would be like if we started promoting freedom in Russia and China.