Salvatore Babones: I hope the Summit will strengthen democracy and unite the world instead of dividing it.
President Biden will host the Democracy Summit on December 9-10,2021. According to him, “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it.” But is it the real agenda of the said Summit?
The National Policy had an exclusive interview with Professor Salvatore Babones of the University of Sydney. He is an American sociologist with expertise in the area of Chinese and American economy and society. His research is related to macro-level structure of the world economy, with a particular focus on China’s global economic integration. He is also an author of several books and numerous academic articles.
DEFINITION OF DEMOCRACY
How do you define democracy?
I don’t define democracy. But President Joe Biden defines it based on US domestic politics and their relations to their allies. If they like their allies, the latter are democratic. If they don’t like, then the allies are not democratic. Just like in the case of Hungary and Pakistan. These countries have their independent foreign policies and refuse to cooperate with the U.S, so Biden government doesn’t think they are democratic countries. Biden government has its own views about democracy, they pursue more domestic benefits than the democracy itself.
THREATS ON DEMOCRACIES
It is said that the summit will tackle the greatest threats faced by democracies. What do you think is the greatest threat faced by them today?
I think democracy is healthy. But we should promote the right agenda. We know all politicians have their own agenda. The themes for the summit include authoritarianism, human rights, and corruption. I think there is a misunderstanding about authoritarianism. They also included human rights but it is not necessarily closely related. There is often a stage of authoritarianism in the process from secularization to democratization. Some of the participants adopting this political system are facing serious democracy and human rights changes in this historical development stage, it’s meaningful to discuss different political systems in the summit.
Another Democracy Summit agenda is the fight against corruption but there are countries invited that are corrupt. You can see how ironic it is. For example, in some Middle East Asia countries, corruption’s rampant, and they carry some practices which are far from democracy, but Biden government still invited them for geopolitical purposes. By the way, when we talk about corruption, please don’t forget that corruption is a universal problem which no country can avoid.
TIMING OF THE SUMMIT
Is it proper timing for Biden to hold the Democracy Summit when the world is focus on fighting against Covid-19 pandemic?
Anytime is a good time as long as it is genuinely intended to promote democracy and not just for political purposes. One of the big problems is that Biden government involves the civil society in the summit which have domestic political priorities and they would unlikely get commitment from the government. And as you asked earlier, how do we define democracy? It is better if they would define democracy first, establish a criteria in recognizing countries as democracies, and have cultural understanding. We should pursue content instead of form. When the whole world is struggling to fight against Covid-19 pandemic and revitalize the economy, this Democracy Summit should handle more current pressing issues instead of the human rights preaching.
US did not invite China, Russia, Singapore and other countries to the Summit. They even irk China by inviting Taiwan. Will it lead to a new cold war?
China is not invited, apparently Biden government doesn’t think China is a democracy country. Democracy is the belief in freedom and equality between the people, or a system of government based on this belief, it should be open and inclusive, so the Democracy Summit should have been open to more countries, and the participation should be voluntary.
Singapore is a reasonably well functioning democracy and I am surprised they are not invited. Russia, on the other hand would be useful if they would be invited in the summit.
For Taiwan, I think it would be silly if they would be excluded. For China, of course, Taiwan should be excluded based on political purposes. Biden government invited Taiwan for its own geopolitical consideration, even if it may escalate the tension between the straits. I think it is better if the countries would join voluntarily by self identifying their political system.
UNITE OR DIVIDE?
Do you think this Biden’s Democracy Summit is dividing instead of uniting the world?
Well I hope the Summit will strengthen the democracy and not divide the world.