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Bad Timing by Biden

Feb 02, 2021
  • Zhou Xiaoming

    Former Deputy Permanent Representative of China’s Mission to the UN Office in Geneva

As he assumes office on Jan. 20, U.S. President Joe Biden has his work cut out for him. The coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 24 million Americans and taken more than 400,000 lives in the country, and shows no signs of abating. Meanwhile, the country’s economy has shrunk by about 4 percent over the past year.

A quick and powerful fix is urgently needed if the U.S. expects to turn the corner anytime soon.

But now, as if these two daunting tasks — saving the U.S. economy and tackling the coronavirus — were not enough to keep him busy, President Biden intends to organize and host a global summit on democracy during his first year in office to “mobilize collective action on global threats.” The specific aims of this summit are to “counter Russian aggression” and build a unified front “to deal with China.”

Biden will soon learn that the summit is ill-conceived, ill-timed and, more than likely, ill-fated.

Recent events have caused irreversible damage to the self-image of the U.S. as the bacon of democracy. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed weakness in its political system, making it increasingly look like a failed state. And the assault against the heart of U.S. democracy on Jan. 6 — the insurrection at the nation’s Capitol — has all but cancelled the memory of when the U.S. was admired as a model.

The violent siege at the Capitol during a joint session of Congress happened not just because of one man —although Donald Trump played an important role. Rather, it reflects a profound crisis in the U.S. system — an intensified political schism, rising social unrest and deepening racial tensions. The deadly insurrection was in large measure a rebellion by some Americans against the political elites in the country, and of fascism against U.S. democracy.

Moreover, despite being portrayed by much of the Western mainstream media as evidence that democracy can heal itself, the impeachment of Donald Trump will only delay healing, as millions of his supporters are likely to be encouraged to continue their fight.

It is ironic that at a time when the U.S. international reputation has plummeted to a historic low, the Biden administration would want to convene a summit to lead the charge in pushing democracy to the world. Would it expect the participants in the conference to imitate the U.S. example? Surely, the Biden administration would be well advised to put the house in order before venturing out to export its vision of democracy and the U.S. political system around the world. The timing of the planned summit could not be worse.

What’s more, the purposes of the event are insidious, to say the least. Analysts point out that Washington intends the summit to serve as a launching pad for the Biden administration’s ambitions to mold other countries in the image of the U.S. Given the country’s interventionist tradition, the U.S. often uses democracy as a weapon to attack countries that refuse to fall into line.

Just as Donald Trump incited the insurrection in the Capitol on Jan. 6, Washington has time and again fomented uprisings in other lands in the name of democracy. It is no exaggeration to say that the harmful effects that Washington-inspired democratic movements, such as the Arab Spring, have had on the rest of the world are equal to, if not greater than, Donald Trump’s supporters storming the Capitol. They often resulted in bloody conflicts and years of chaos and economic hardships for the local people.

Washington has yet to show any sign of remorse for the catastrophes it has brought to many parts of the world. On the contrary, the Biden administration is expected to place the championing of U.S.-style democracy at the heart of its foreign policy. In this context, Biden’s summit could play a useful role for Washington as a supposed vindication of its meddling in the domestic affairs of other countries and its quest for more of the same.

Moreover, the event create division in the world. The Biden administration plans to classify countries as either democracies or as autocratic nations by ideology, dividing countries into an “us” and “them” matrix. To maintain its dominant position globally, Washington will then attempt to expand its alliances — tilting at windmills and launching crusades against those it views as adversaries. As a result, countries would be played off against each other and dragged into costly and perhaps even deadly ideological warfare.

If such an eventuality sounds like a throwback to the Cold War, it may be because that assessment is not wide of the mark. The Biden administration’s push to form an alliance of democracies will undoubtedly increase mistrust and animosity among nations that would otherwise live in peace and harmony. If history is any guide, it will spell instability and conflict globally, and inflict untold suffering on many millions of people.

Apparently, in pursuing its own geopolitical goals, the Biden administration has chosen to sacrifice the interests of other countries. Thus, the proposed summit, as part a U.S. attempt to rally allies around its strategic objectives, is hollow and misguided — and especially so at a time when the coronavirus is raging around the world. It is critical that countries come together as one because the cooperation of all countries, “democratic” or otherwise, is indispensable to the success in the mankind’s battle against this plague.

As the World Health Organization has said repeatedly, nobody is safe until everybody is safe. Sowing discord and engineering conflicts among nations will not help the world, but it will help our common enemy attack the human race.

In our global village, we face shared problems: climate change, global terrorism, nuclear proliferation and pandemics, to mention just a few. These global issues demand global solutions that require all countries to collaborate and contribute. To create divisions is to undercut the very efforts necessary to address our common concerns, making cooperation among nations impossible just when it is needed most. For this reason, let us say no to Biden’s summit on democracy.

A story in the history of the Three Kingdoms of China tells of a time when King Cao Bi threatened to kill his brother, Cao Zhi, a famous poet in the second century BC. Cao Zhi wrote a poem in response in which he compares fratricide to cooking beans with beanstalks in the same pot. “A plaintive voice came from the pot,” he wrote. “Oh, why, since we sprang from the selfsame root, should you kill me with anger hot?”

By the same token, countries should refrain from attempting to split the international community for self-gain. In the world today, the destiny of all has never been more interwoven. Indeed, all members of the human species belong to one big family, and have a shared destiny. As such, it is imperative that they all work together for the common good. 

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