Washington: Bangladesh is out, Pakistan is in. Singapore is out, Democratic Republic of Congo is in. Turkey is out, Iraq is in. As the US, and much of the world, gears up for Joe Biden’s virtual democracy summit scheduled for December 9-10, it’s clear that American interests in various countries, regions and other stakes played a large role in making of the guest list.
From South Asia, apart from India, Pakistan made it to the list, despite a general agreement that the democratic setup there is uniquely defined. Nepal, which went through paroxysm of political instability in 2020 is in the list. Both countries, are neighbours of China and subjects of Chinese influence. The US perhaps hopes to play a soft power role as a counter influence. Many western commentators say India itself is “backsliding” in its democratic credentials.
Bangladesh’s exclusion is more curious. Its main opposition party, BNP, has not played a role in the last two elections which may have tilted the balance. It is also a fact that the US has had close ties with BNP over the years which may have influenced the decision.
Sri Lanka is out of the list, largely because of the nature of its democracy and possibly the Rajapaksas’ close ties with China. Maldives is in, perhaps largely because the 2018 elections were free and fair and the Ibu Solih government has resolutely pushed back against Chinese influence-peddling.
In Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have made it to the list, but not US ally, Singapore, which is a curious miss. West Asia will be represented by Israel and Iraq. Hungary got left out, largely because of US dislike for Viktor Orban, but Czech Republic and Poland are in.
The summit, according to the US state department’s statement, will revolve around three key themes - Defending Against Authoritarianism; Addressing and Fighting Corruption; and Promoting Respect for Human Rights. “Leaders will be encouraged to announce specific actions and commitments to meaningful internal reforms and initiatives that advance the summit’s goals,” the statement said.