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Biden calls for hard work to strengthen democracies

WASHINGTON (AP), President Joe Biden wrapped up Friday's two-day democracy summit. This event was more about starting a global discussion about how to halt backsliding, than producing immediate results and expanding democracy’s reach.

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Biden calls for hard work to strengthen democracies

Biden and his fellow leaders announced plans to stop autocracies misusing big tech in order to suppress dissent, improve election integrity, strengthen independent media, and other modest efforts that, the president stated, would "seed fertile soil for democracies around the globe to blossom."

The U.S. president acknowledged that the path ahead was not easy for democracies in the face of rising authoritarianism across the globe.

"We are aware of the hard work ahead. We also know we can rise to the challenge," Biden stated in closing remarks of the virtual meeting.

Biden stated that the U.S. would invest up to $424 millions in the following year to support independent media and anti-corruption efforts.

Biden made the virtual summit a top priority in his first year of office. The administration wanted to use it as a launch point for more than 100 countries that were invited to work together at this difficult time for democracy. Biden stated that he would like to convene another gathering next year.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former NATO Secretary General, said that the summit was a good starting point for a year of action.

Rasmussen stated, "I hope that the 110 leaders will rally behind some basic principles for democracy societies and the goal should be to strengthen the voice and our efforts against the advancing autocracies such as China, Russia, and other autocracies."

President Biden has made it clear that the U.S. and its allies must show the world that democracies can be a better vehicle for societies that autocracies. This is the central tenet Biden's foreign policy outlook. He vowed to be more outward-looking than Donald Trump's predecessor's "America First" approach. But his first year has seen a "backward slide for democracy around world."

Recent months saw the ousting of Sudan's prime Minister in a military coup. Cuba increased its control over the internet following some of the largest protests in recent years on the island. In Myanmar, the military toppled the civilian government, imprisoning leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Biden repeatedly took China and Russia to task for suppressing democratic activists' voices and committing human right abuses. Biden avoided direct mention of Russia and China during his summit interactions, but their presence was felt.

This summit was organized as the Biden administration is pressing Russia's Vladimir Putin for a retraction after a large buildup of troops at the Ukraine border. This has caused growing concern in Washington, Europe and other capitals.

Biden warned Putin earlier this week of the "severe implications" if Russia invades.

China and Russia strongly criticized the summit. Their ambassadors wrote a joint essay before the gathering. They claimed that the decision of the Biden administration to host the summit was based on a Cold-War mentality, which would "stoke up ideological conflict and a division in the world."

Friday's announcement by the United States and Australia, Denmark, and Norway announced a joint effort to combat the misuse of technology and support human rights.

Part of the initiative calls for the establishment of a voluntary code for conduct to guide governments and tech companies in determining human rights criteria for exporting and licensing policies. The global charter for digital public good would allow governments, civil society groups and software engineers to declare principles for open-source tech products under the guidance of the global charter.

Samantha Power, U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator, stated that the United States will be more responsible for digital tools it exports. "All too often technology is imported to countries where it can be used to support human rights abuses from a hub of innovation such as the United States."

It was also scrutinized for inviting people to the summit by the White House. According to CIVICUS Monitor (a monitoring group for civic freedoms), only 5% of the 111 countries represented in the summit live in countries that fully respect the rights to free speech, protest, and other core civic rights.

Many countries, including India, Pakistan, Poland, the Philippines, and Pakistan were invited despite concerns raised both by civil society groups, the U.S. State Department, and civil society groups about anti-democratic trends and human rights concerns in these nations.

Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said that the invitations were not meant to be a stamp of approval and that the administration wanted a "diverse array of voices and faces" at the discussion.

Biden stated that it was also an opportunity for the United States, to look inwardly about strengthening its democratic institutions. He called on U.S. lawmakers, including the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, to pass voting rights legislation. While the legislation is supported by a large number of Democrats in Congress, it was blocked by Republicans in Senate.

Biden stated that "what's true all over the globe is also true in America." "The threshold liberty to democracy is the sacred right to vote, the freedom to vote and the right to have your vote counted."

Joe Biden
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