Pakistan, a Close Ally of Beijing, Backs Out of Biden’s Democracy Summit

Patrick Goodenough | December 9, 2021 | 4:27am EST
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Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in 2019. (Photo by Madoka Ikegami/AFP via Getty Images)
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in 2019. (Photo by Madoka Ikegami/AFP via Getty Images)

( – Pakistan has decided to skip President Biden’s “summit for democracy,” announcing on the eve of the two-day virtual event that it believes that it and the U.S. “can engage on this subject at an opportune time in the future.”

A diplomatically-worded statement from the foreign ministry in Islamabad offered no reason for the decision to turn down the opportunity to participate in the summit, but local observers suggested that China’s exclusion was an important factor.

Pakistan and China are close allies – “all-weather friends” – and Washington’s relations with both have undergone severe strain in recent years. China is vocally opposed to the summit, which Biden while campaigning for the White House promised to hold in his first year in office.

Why the State Department included Pakistan among the 110 invitees in the first place is puzzling, given its poor human rights record, documented history of support for terrorists in Afghanistan and Kashmir, and enforcement of blasphemy laws that disproportionately target religious minorities.

(For its part, Pakistan’s foreign ministry in its statement described Pakistan as “a large functional democracy with an independent judiciary, vibrant civil society, and a free media. We remain deeply committed to further deepening democracy, fighting corruption, and protecting and promoting human rights of all citizens.”)

Pakistan’s longstanding friendship with China broadened in recent years as it became a key partner in Beijing’s global Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.

Muslim and other critics of Beijing’s widely-condemned abuses against minority Muslims in Xinjiang have been appalled that Pakistan – the world’s second most-populous Islamic country – has played a leading role in efforts to defend those policies.

Islamabad’s decision to skip the summit comes a little more than a year after Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a congratulatory tweet to Biden just days after the November 2020 election, said he looked forward to his global summit on democracy.

Relations with the U.S. have continued to be chilly this year, however. Biden did not invite Pakistan to his leaders’ summit on climate last spring, and has yet to speak by phone to Khan.

Invited to respond to Pakistan’s decision, the State Department simply referred queries back to the Pakistani government.

‘As inclusive as possible’

The State Department’s decision to invite Pakistan to the summit for democracy was not the only one to stoke controversy in various quarters.

--China was angered by the invitation to Taiwan – a decision that drew bipartisan praise in the U.S. – with Beijing’s foreign ministry declaring that “those playing with fire with Taiwan independence forces will end up getting burned.”

(A senior administration official said this week Taiwan is a “leading democracy” that can make a meaningful contribution, but added, “We do stress that Taiwan has been and will be engaged in the summit in a manner consistent with U.S. ‘One China’ policy, which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three joint communiqués, and the Six Assurances.”)

--Hungary, the only European Union member not invited, responded by blocking any joint E.U. representation at the summit.

--Also raising eyebrows were the decisions to exclude Turkey – a deeply troubling U.S. partner but still the only NATO ally bar Hungary not to get an invite – and to include three countries ranked as “not free” by Freedom House – Angola, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Explaining its decision making process, the State Department says it “reached out to a regionally diverse set of well-established and younger democracies whose progress and commitments will advance a more just and peaceful world.”

It says the goal was to be “as inclusive as possible,” and that the U.S. seeks “to engage anyand allcountries that show a genuine willingness in making commitments that support the summit’s goals.”

“Inclusion or an invitation is not a stamp of approval on their approach to democracy, nor is exclusion a stamp of the opposite of that – of disapproval,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday when asked about some of the selection choices.

She also characterized the summit as “an opportunity to continue to strive to do better.”

During a visit to Sweden last week, Blinken suggested that the decision to exclude Turkey and Hungary was linked to what he called a “backsliding on democracy around the world, including in Europe, over the last decade.”

Blinken has also stressed that the event is billed a “summit for democracy,” not a “summit of democracies,” a point he made again during an interview on Tuesday.

“I would point out that this is a summit for democracy, not ‘democracies,’ by which I mean we have countries coming from different parts of the world,” he said. “So we want to make sure that there’s representation across the board.”

That does, however, mark a shift in emphasis from Biden’s 2020 campaign pledge, in which he said he would “bring together the world’s democracies” in a summit during in his first year in office.

China and Russia have led the criticism of the entire event.

“The U.S. claims to be a champion of democracy and human rights, but has hidden its dark past and hypocrisy today,” was the latest comment from the Chinese foreign ministry, on Wednesday. “The U.S. has no moral authority to judge whether the rest of the world is democratic or not.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused the U.S. of trying to monopolize the term “democracy” and create new dividing lines.

Cuba’s foreign minister in a tweet Wednesday called the summit “a sterile and hypocritical attempt to impose pre-established recipes which reveals anti-democratic behavior & open contempt for other peoples’ legitimate & sovereign will.”

The administration says a second, hopefully in-person, event is being planned for next summer or fall.

See also:
People’s Republic of China: ‘Does U.S. Have the Moral Authority or Legitimacy to Host Summit for Democracy?’ (Nov. 30, 2021)


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