Opinion: Ahead of a U.S. summit, China tries to move the goalposts on the meaning of ‘democracy’

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Charles Burton is a senior fellow at the McDonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, and a non-resident senior fellow at the European Values ​​Center for Security Policy in Prague. He is a former professor of political science at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., and served as a diplomat at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing.

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When more than 100 world leaders meet this week at US President Joe Biden’s virtual Summit for Democracy, which aims to halt the spread of autocracy, they will focus on three themes: defending against authoritarianism, fighting corruption and upholding human rights. Promote respect.

However, the real catalyst behind the two-day conference is defending liberal democratic liberties against Chinese President Xi Jinping’s plan to take a “central stage in the world” by 2050 and establish a “leading global influence”. That effort is already underway, amid Beijing’s massive Belt and Road initiative to influence and destroy vulnerable democracies around the world.

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In the lead-up to the summit, China’s propaganda machine intensified. On Saturday, its State Council released a white paper titled China: Democracy That Works, which serves as the latest information on China’s global dominance. “China proposes to build a global community of shared future,” it reads, “and pushes for a new model of international relations.”

The next day, the State Department posted a 31-page diatribe, The State of Democracy in the United States. Like the White Paper, it describes China’s pretentious elections as more democratic than those of the US, even though the Communist Party’s general secretary openly declares that, “Party, government, military, civilian and academic; East, West, South.” , in the north and the center the party leads everything.

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The release also claimed that Beijing handled the COVID-19 pandemic better than Washington, and cited opinion polls in China as compared to conducting similar polls for Mr Biden in the United States. To show a very high approval rating for the communist regime. But these are trending claims.

“Surveys have shown that the level of public satisfaction with the government has remained above 90 percent for many years,” Beijing says. “It provides clear evidence of the efficacy and vitality of democracy in China.”

Few in China would dare to risk the consequences of not claiming to fully support the ruling dictatorship. The cold truth is that, in order to maintain control, the regime goes to extremes of censorship and digitally monitors the slightest disagreement.

Citing its own peculiar “democracy”, China neglects to mention that democracy is actually based on the principle of equal citizenship of all peoples. Whether it’s tennis star Peng Shuai’s demand that a retired politburo member be held accountable for sexual assault allegations, or that Uyghur, Tibetan and Chinese Christians have the right to practice their religion in the language and culture of their tradition, Or people are able to freely speak their views on matters of politics and society without fear of arrest, democracy is the universal right to civil liberties, the inherent right to be themselves and pursue their future freely.

The white paper makes it clear that China’s leadership predicts “a time of significant change of scale unseen in a century”, adding, “Today’s world is facing the challenges of excessive democracy.”

Taiwan has deservedly deserved to be one of the participants of Mr Biden’s summit, which is deeply troubling to China’s regime.

The summit itself reflects the delicate nature of democracy. For example, Turkey and Hungary are not invited to the convention, a sign that the US has lost these former allies to an anti-democratic powerful regime.

And while Canada has also been invited, so far we haven’t seen any expression of support for it from the Trudeau government. The organizers of the summit intend to achieve consensus on commitments to coordinated actions that address the spread of corrupt, human rights-violating authoritarianism. Will Canada step up and finally show some international leadership?

This will not be well received by China, as any such collective action coming out of the summit would challenge Mr. Xi’s corrosive global agenda. China may threaten economic coercion and trade retaliation to keep Canada and others in line.

But it remains to be seen whether Ottawa instead chooses to merely virtuously signal its support for democracy, but leave other countries to actually defend and defend it.

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