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Will the Summit for Democracy Change Anything?

Biden wants the summit to push back against authoritarianism. It could also backfire.

By , an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy.
U.S. President Joe Biden
U.S. President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress in Washington on April 28. Melina Mara/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Biden’s Summit for Democracy kicks off, the United Kingdom and Canada announce diplomatic boycotts of the Beijing Olympics, and Saudi Arabia cracks down on cosmetically enhanced camels

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Biden’s Summit for Democracy Kicks Off 

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Biden’s Summit for Democracy kicks off, the United Kingdom and Canada announce diplomatic boycotts of the Beijing Olympics, and Saudi Arabia cracks down on cosmetically enhanced camels

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Biden’s Summit for Democracy Kicks Off 

For months, the Biden administration has billed the Summit for Democracy as a key opportunity to push back against rising authoritarianism. “The crisis we face is real,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. “We must be clear-eyed and united in our determination to rise to this moment.”

But as the summit kicks off today, it’s increasingly unclear whether it can actually help advance these goals—or if it could actually backfire.

Who’s invited? The summit, which convenes leaders from 110 countries, has already drawn criticism for a questionable guest list. For an event that is focused on countering authoritarianism, many of the invited countries—Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, and Iraq, to name a few—have decidedly poor democratic track records. The lack of an invite can also be contentious: Hungary, a NATO ally and the only European Union country not invited, has called its exclusion “disrespectful.”

The White House insists that its list was designed to maximize diversity. “Inclusion or an invitation is not a stamp of approval on their approach to democracy,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “Nor is exclusion a stamp of the opposite of that—of disapproval.” 

Two countries that did not score an invite? China and Russia, which have each publicly attacked the summit in recent days. Beijing, in particular, responded by saying its system also embodies a kind of democracy—one that is more stable and prosperous than that of the United States. “There is no fixed model of democracy; it manifests itself in many forms,” the Chinese government said. 

Another path forward? To successfully renew democracy, more fundamental action is required, Hélène Landemore writes in Foreign Policy. The erosion of key U.S. political institutions must push Washington to consider whether these political systems are even worth restoringor if it is time to build new models of democratic decision-making.

“The only way to rectify those mistakes is to rework the design—to fully reimagine what it means to be democratic,” Landemore writes. “Tinkering at the edges won’t do.”

What We’re Following Today

Beijing Olympic boycott grows. The United Kingdom and Canada have decided not to send top officials to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, joining a growing number of countries that are taking diplomatic action to protest China’s human rights abuses. In recent days, the United States, Australia, and Lithuania have all announced their diplomatic boycotts of the Winter Games. 

Beijing was clearly irritated by their announcements. After learning of Australia’s boycott, Wang Wenbin, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, accused Canberra of “political posturing” and “blindly following” the United States. He added: “Whether they come or not, nobody cares.”

Biden’s carbon neutral push. The Biden administration plans to make the U.S. government carbon neutral by 2050, according to a new executive order signed Wednesday. Under the order, the government will slash its carbon emissions by 65 percent by the end of the decade.

The United States will “lead by example in order to achieve a carbon pollution-free electricity sector by 2035 and net-zero emissions economy-wide by no later than 2050,” the White House said. “Through a whole-of-government approach, we will demonstrate how innovation and environmental stewardship can protect our planet.” 

Keep an Eye On

India’s deadly helicopter crash. India’s highest-ranking military official, Chief of Defense Staff Bipin Rawat, was killed after a military helicopter he was traveling in crashed in heavy fog in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The incident also claimed the lives of 12 other people, including Rawat’s wife. 

The Indian Air Force is investigating the crash, although there weren’t immediate signs of foul play. “[Gen Rawat] brought with him a rich experience of serving in the Army. India will never forget his exceptional service,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted. “His passing away has saddened me deeply.”

China’s press freedom problem. China has become the world’s “biggest captor” of journalists, according to a new report released by Reporters Without Borders. At least 127 journalists are currently detained by Beijing, the report said, while local journalists are required to undergo training on subjects including so-called Xi Jinping thought.

Beijing has “restored a media culture worthy of the Maoist era,” said Christophe Deloire, the organization’s secretary-general. “It is a nightmare.”

Quarantine or nightclub? Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin has come under fire for going clubbing hours after a close contact tested positive for COVID-19. Initially, Marin said, she was told that she did not need to quarantine because she had been fully vaccinated. When a subsequent text message to her work phone—which she did not bring with her—advised her to isolate, she did not see it until she returned home at 4 a.m. “I should have used better judgement on Saturday evening,” Marin said. “I am very sorry.”

Odds and Ends

Saudi authorities have disqualified more than 40 camels from competing in the country’s annual camel beauty pageant after learning they had undergone cosmetic alterations. Since camels are assessed on the shapes of their heads, necks, and humps, cosmetic procedures are strictly prohibited under official contest rules. But this didn’t stop dozens of breeders from injecting them with Botox, fillers, and extra hormones—likely to improve their chances of scoring up to $66 million in prize money. 

Christina Lu is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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