The U.S. will invite hundreds of countries to a summit for democracy, a senior White House official said Tuesday, adding that the three main themes of the summit will focus on confronting totalitarianism, fighting corruption and promoting human rights protection. Is this a response to the totalitarian state led by the Chinese Communist Party?
“Democracies need to unite and stand united against totalitarianism,” could be the main purpose of the White House’s summit on democracy.
Rather than commenting directly on the many ways China, from official to academic circles, has been attacking and discrediting “American-style democracy,” senior White House officials said Tuesday that the goal is to “re-evolve and renew” democratic institutions and to launch international initiatives with like-minded countries to revitalize democracy. The government also ignored China’s claim to be a democracy.
“No democracy is perfect, including our own in the United States.” The senior official said in a conference call on the background of the Democracy Summit that, however, “authoritarian regimes are fragile at their core, and the strength of democracies is their inherent ability to innovate and self-correct, to find solutions, to be flexible and inclusive in responding to complex challenges.”
That’s why democracies need to act collectively, officials added, because they need to unite to promote a more positive agenda in the face of the various actions of authoritarian regimes, “a goal that is more important than targeting any one particular government.”
On the eve of the U.S. democracy summit, the uninvited Chinese government, in addition to releasing a report entitled “The State of Democracy in the United States” that smears the U.S. democratic system, also released a white paper entitled “Democracy in China,” boasting that China’s “full process people’s democracy” is the most widespread, authentic, and effective ” socialist democracy”.
The Chinese government released a white paper entitled “Democracy in China”, boasting that China’s “full process of people’s democracy” is the most extensive, real and effective “socialist democracy”. (Photo by Radio Free Asia)
Three Focuses of Democracy Summit: Fighting Totalitarianism, Fighting Corruption and Promoting Human Rights
Instead of arguing with China about Beijing’s sophomoric democracy, the U.S. has tailored the summit with clear goals. White House officials said on a conference call that the summit’s three main themes focus on “confronting totalitarianism, fighting corruption and promoting respect for human rights,” and that the U.S. wants to propose new initiatives and commitments in areas including supporting free and independent media, defending free and fair elections, strengthening democracy and using technology to promote democratic innovation.
In addition to the Biden administration’s forecasts to work with like-minded countries to further prevent the export of innovative technologies from being used to persecute human rights through export controls, the White House has also unveiled the U.S. government’s first national strategy to combat corruption, including efforts to curb illicit financing, hold corrupt individuals accountable, maintain and strengthen the multilateral anti-corruption framework, and promote diplomatic engagement and leverage foreign aid resources to advance related anti-corruption policy goals, officials said. The U.S. government’s first national strategy to combat corruption includes efforts to curb illicit financing, hold corrupt persons accountable, maintain and strengthen the multilateral anti-corruption framework, and promote diplomatic engagement and leverage foreign assistance resources to advance relevant anti-corruption policy goals.
Corruption harms human rights everywhere
“Corruption harms democracy and undermines human rights, and it is a challenge that almost all developing countries face.” Jennifer Lewis, an anti-corruption official with the U.S. Agency for International Development, said just that at a Brookings Institution event previewing the Democracy Summit. She did not name China.
She said systemic corruption, including corruption in the judicial system, hurts human rights, often at the bottom. She also cited data from Transparency International, a German-based anti-corruption research organization, which found that in some 15 countries in Asia, nearly 20 percent of the population must pay extra bribes to receive medical treatment even when they need public health services.
She stressed that the international community must act collectively to establish more transparent and accountable “systemic anti-corruption” measures.
In China, for example, despite official claims that the Chinese people have health insurance and 95 percent coverage, there is a hierarchy of health insurance in China, with retired officials receiving special care and treatment. This is a well-known reality.
A report by the China Power project group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank, notes that despite the increase in health insurance coverage, the high deductibles of the Chinese population are related to the profit-making model of Chinese hospitals.
The report notes that as of 2015, drug costs accounted for 40% of total health care spending in China, well above the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average of 20%. The cost of medical care for Chinese citizens out of their own pockets also sometimes varies dramatically, with a 2014 survey of urban and rural areas in Suzhou showing that the reimbursement rate for rural medical insurance was only 57%, well below the approximately 70% for urban medical insurance.
China’s export of the digital totalitarian model (Reuters photo)
China’s Export of the Digital Totalitarian Model – A New Threat to Democracy
On the other hand, the democracy summit will also focus on the persecution of human rights through the misuse of technology. White House officials also foreshadowed new U.S. initiatives in promoting independent and free media.
Marti Flacks, director of the Human Rights Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said in a telephone briefing in response to a question from our correspondent, “China is not only using technology to persecute human rights, it’s exporting that technology to other countries, undermining the development of democracy around the world and jeopardizing human rights. I have mentioned this in my contacts with U.S. government officials. I expect that through this summit, the Biden administration will propose concrete practices on this point, so that countries can take collective action.”
In recent years, the Chinese Communist Party has taken advantage of the “One Belt, One Road” initiative to export face recognition surveillance systems to Central Asia and Africa.
Guangzhou-based technology company CloudWalk, for example, signed an agreement with Zimbabwe to establish a national-level face recognition program with the support of the Chinese government.
When Zimbabwe erupted in January 2019 with popular protests against hyperinflation, the government also borrowed from China’s experience by cutting off the internet and using a Chinese-aided surveillance system to crack down on the marches, already raising concerns about the outward export of Chinese-style digital totalitarianism.
Cross-Border Persecution by the Chinese Communist Party
On the eve of the Democracy Summit, Freedom House warned that the summit should focus on the totalitarian state’s ability to demonstrate long-arm jurisdiction and transnational persecution through the international system and technology.
A number of experts spoke of the threat to the personal safety of Uighurs abroad, even in democratic countries.
Speaking at the event, Siena Anstis, senior legal counsel at Canada’s Citizen Lab, said that while the persecution of many high-profile people often gets attention, there are many cases of transnational persecution of Uighurs and other ordinary Chinese people that need more attention. Frankly, he said, there is no coordinated solution that countries can respond to.
While it is not easy for democracies to reach consensus, the need for democracies to be more united in their response to authoritarian challenges is a consensus that has emerged from civil society to national officials in the run-up to the Democracy Summit.