U.S.-hosted summit highlights urgent need to bolster democracy’s foundations

To stave off the expansion of authoritarianism in China and Russia, efforts must be made to strengthen the foundations of democracy and broaden its base. It is hoped that cooperation will be deepened to maintain a free and open international order.

A gathering called the Summit for Democracy hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden was held online. Leaders of about 110 countries and regions, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, were invited to discuss democracy.

Biden expressed alarm over a global backward slide among democracies and called for bolstering the fundamentals of democracy, such as the rule of law and freedom of expression.

The regression of democracy seems attributable to China’s growing influence and the decline in the prestige of the United States under the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump. When a Swedish research institute color-coded countries by regime type, autocracies outnumbered democracies in 2019.

It is significant that the United States will regain its global leadership under the Biden administration and lead the fight against authoritarianism.

It should be noted that Taiwan was invited to the summit, and that an executive branch official who is a minister without portfolio attended. This can be said to have strongly impressed that Taiwan is a member of the democratic camp.

Under pressure from China, Taiwan has been excluded from international organizations, such as the World Health Organization, and has not been able to participate in meetings of such bodies even as an observer. Japan, the United States and the European Union must continue taking measures to prevent Taiwan from becoming isolated.

The summit left uncertainty over the criteria for invitations. Among countries whose leaders have been criticized for their iron fists, the Philippines and India were invited to the summit while Thailand was not.

It is possible that countries that were not invited to the summit could interpret such treatment as “exclusion” from the democratic camp and move closer to China and Russia. The United States said it plans to hold this gathering in person next year. A certain degree of tolerance will likely be needed to bring a wider range of countries and regions together.

China has fiercely opposed this U.S.-led summit and touted the superiority of “Chinese-style democracy.”

It is true that different countries have different forms of democracy, but China’s system of restricting the human rights and freedoms of its people is hardly a democracy. Respect for human rights is a universal value that is also stipulated in the U.N. Charter. Criticism of China does not amount to interference in domestic affairs.

At the summit, Kishida stressed the importance of like-minded countries taking concerted steps against actions that undermine basic values.

The United States alone cannot be left with the task of uniting and reinforcing the democratic camp. Japan should play a bigger role and lead this camp together with the United States.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 12, 2021.