Opinion – Daigo Oliva: Democracy Summit with the presence of authoritarians mirrors Biden’s crossroads


As soon as the omicron started to scare the world, the reactions of Joe Biden and Xi Jinping were exemplary of one of the crossroads that the Democrat lives in his first year in office.

On the one hand, the American president calmed tempers by saying that the new variant was a cause for concern, but not for panic. On the other, the Chinese leader announced a donation of 1 billion doses of vaccine against Covid-19 to Africa. It was the speech against action.

This week, Biden will again waste his breath at a summit, this time on democracy, to which Xi was not invited — the US government maintains that the Asian country does not have the credentials to debate the issue. There really isn’t, it’s a dictatorship.

But many of the guests don’t have such credentials either, because the criteria for such meetings are strategic interests, not indices that measure the quality of democracy.

In any case, Biden will speak out, painting a worn-out landscape in which Americans lead the free world. In the audience, Jair Bolsonaro, Indian Narendra Modi and Filipino Rodrigo Duterte.

Even if they listen to what the Democrat has to say, these authoritarian leaders will know there is little to fear. What will the summit establish to punish those who disrespect the professional press, for example?

Does the US, tainted by images of the Capitol invasion, have the morale to demand anything? What’s more: the previous summit, the Climate one, so much touted by Biden’s administration in the first months of government, did what end?

Brazil is a character that illustrates this lack of action well. Pressed by Washington to announce more significant commitments to combat deforestation before the event in April, and urged to demonstrate practical action before COP26 in November, the country has never seen even the shadow of a sanction.

Thus, the “carrots and sticks” tactic, that is, the promise of reward (the carrots) combined with the threat of retaliation (the sticks), has been looking more tasty than painful, and Biden, better known for his gogó than for the attitudes.

Paradoxically, the most concrete initiatives of this American administration so far, the infrastructure and social benefits packages, approved with great difficulty in Congress, were not enough to reverse the low approval rate in the president’s popularity polls.

Is there lack of publicity for government actions or time for projects to become concrete benefits in Americans’ lives? Good news takes a while to arrive.

If Biden can’t make passing proposals that are sure to make a difference in the US a friendlier image, a democracy summit filled with authoritarians won’t help either. Not with many nice words.


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