US democracy summit ends with Biden predicting hard work ahead

US president and fellow leaders announced initiatives to enhance election integrity, bolster independent media and stop abuse of big tech

US President Joe Biden on Friday wrapped up his two-day democracy summit, an event that was more about starting a global conversation about how best to halt backsliding than producing immediate results or expanding democracy’s reach.

Mr Biden and fellow leaders announced initiatives to enhance election integrity, bolster independent media, stop the abuse of big tech and other modest efforts that the president said would “seed fertile ground for democracies to bloom around the world".

But the US president also acknowledged the path ahead was difficult for democracies amid a rise of authoritarianism around the globe.

“We know how hard the work is that’s going to be ahead of us. But we also know that we are up to the challenge,” he said in closing remarks at the virtual meeting.

All told, Mr Biden pledged the US would spend up to $424 million in the next year around the world to support independent media, anti-corruption work and more.

The administration sought to frame the summit — a gathering Mr Biden had made a priority during his first year in office — as a launching point for international collaboration at a difficult moment for democracies.

Mr Biden said he wants to convene a follow-up gathering in person next year.

The president has repeatedly made the case that the US and like-minded allies need to show the world that democracies are a far better vehicle for societies than autocracies.

It is a central tenet of Mr Biden’s foreign policy outlook — one he vowed would be more outward looking than his predecessor Donald Trump’s “America First” approach.

But his first year in office has been a period that he says has been marked by a “backward slide” for democracy around the globe.

In recent months, Sudan’s prime minister was ousted in a military coup, Cuba tightened control of the internet after some of the biggest protests on the island in years and Myanmar’s military toppled the civilian government and jailed leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mr Biden has repeatedly taken China and Russia to task and neither country was invited to the summit, something they say is stoking an ideological rift.

“No country has the right to judge the world's vast and varied political landscape by a single yardstick,” ambassadors to the US Anatoly Antonov of Russia and Qin Gang of China wrote in a joint essay last month.

As Mr Biden hosted the gathering on a wall of television screens in the White House, rival China trolled the summit with mocking propaganda, including a rap song in English saying that Americans "sell democracy like they sell Coca-Cola".

The summit was held as the Biden administration has been pressing Russia’s Vladimir Putin to step back after a build-up of troops on the Ukrainian border that has created growing concern in Washington and European capitals.

Mr Biden this week said he had warned Mr Putin of “severe consequences” if Russia invaded Ukraine.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Updated: December 10th 2021, 10:36 PM