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Biden worried over the state of democracy worldwide

December 9, 2021

At the start of the virtual Summit for Democracy the US President warns democracies around the world is in danger. He calls it the "defining challenge of our time."

US President Joe Biden makes opening remarks at the virtual Summit for Democracy
US President Joe Biden wants to draw a clear line between democracies and powerful autocracies or dictatorshipsImage: Tasos Katopodis/CNP/Zuma/imago images

United States President Joe Biden on Thursday warned of a global slide in democracy, saying international trends were "largely pointing in the wrong direction."

He called it a critical moment for fellow leaders to redouble their efforts to bolster democracies to "determine the direction our world will take in the next decade.”

Speaking at the start of a two-day virtual Summit for Democracy Biden said "democracy doesn't happen by accident and we have to renew it with each generation."

He called it the "defining challenge of our time."

China and Russia were not invited

A total of 110 world leaders are participating in the summit, but the gathering has drawn backlash from countries including China and Russia that were not invited to participate.

Over the weekend China held its own own virtual "International Forum on Democracy." It involved politicians and scholars from more than 120 countries, according to state-owned CGTN's reporting. 

Chinese Communist Party officials said Biden's efforts to force others to copy the Western democratic model were "doomed to fail."

That is exactly why the "Summit for Democracy is so important," Laura Thornton, director and senior fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund, told DW. 

"We need to keep in mind that autocrats are having their own summits. They're exchanging lessons learned along with surveillance technology and other methods of coercion. So we really have a job ahead of us to defend our democracies," she said.

Biden delivers remarks at the virtual Summit for Democracy,
More than 100 world leader were invited to attend the virtual 'Summit for Democracy' but not China and RussiaImage: Tasos Katopodis/CNP/Zuma/imago images

Growing threat to democracy

Germany's new Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned that democratic values were under threat the world over.

"In the face of rising nationalism and right-wing populism, as well as disinformation campaigns and hate speech, we must strengthen our own democratic institutions, both internally and externally," Scholz said.

He added that democracies needed to show that they were "more effective and sustainable in serving people's needs and rights" 

Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen warned the threat was not only coming from nation states: "New technologies and large tech companies are increasingly setting the stage for the democratic dialogue, sometimes with more emphasis on reach than on freedom of speech.''

Ukraine's President  Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who took part in the summit and later spoke by phone with Biden, wrote on Twitter: "Democracy is not a given, it must be fought for."

Biden wants concrete action

Holding the "Summit for Democracy" was one of Biden's campaign pledges, he has said he wants concrete action to come from it. 

Biden promised the US would invest $424 million worth in programs aiming to help protect media freedoms, combat corruption and support free elections around the world.

He said it was a chance to "lock arms and reaffirm our shared commitment to make our democracies better, to share ideas and learn from each other, and to make concrete commitments of how to strength our own democracies.

lo/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)