A flurry of tweets from Chinese diplomats referred to the event as “the so-called summit of democracy,” while a Russian political commentator writing for a Chinese state-run newspaper compared the US initiative to “a brothel lady who educates morale.” [sic] for school students.
“[China and Russia] “I see this as an opportunity to exacerbate cynicism in the political West and undermine any headlines emerging from this summit,” said Jessica Brandt, director of policy for the Artificial Intelligence and Emerging Technology Initiative at the Brookings Institution.
It’s a familiar book, the kind of influence process the United States will likely have to contend with for years as it competes with repressive governments to shape global opinions on governance, according to analysts.
“You really see this concerted effort [from China] to undermine American democracy and present an alternative view,” said Kenton Thibaut, a China-based fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Laboratory.
The “Democracy Summit” is one of the Biden administration’s most well-known efforts to advance democratic standards. The conference will include virtual meetings on Thursday and Friday and will feature representatives from 100 governments, along with civil society groups and journalists, according to the White House.
“We approach this week with humility and confidence. Humility in that we want to listen and learn and not be ashamed of our imperfections; confidence in our continuing quest for a more perfect union,” Under Secretary of State for Civil Security and Democracy Ezra Zia said Tuesday.
Chinese and Russian officials are trying to undermine this message.
The Chinese and Russian ambassadors to the US expressed their anger that the summit was “anti-democratic” in a joint opinion piece published by the US National Interest in late November. Chinese and Russian diplomats have wrongly referred to their countries as democracies.
Brett Schaefer, a senior fellow who tracks disinformation at the Coalition for Guaranteeing Democracy, said “democracy” was the most popular hashtag on Twitter for Chinese diplomatic and other government accounts in the past week.
“It was really one of the messaging priorities [for China] for weeks.”
When asked how the Biden administration might counter the Russian and Chinese accounts of the summit, a senior administration official said: “Today, many authoritarian governments are promoting the lie that societies only by restricting the actions of citizens can ensure prosperity and the security of the truth.”
Tipu said that despite China’s authoritarian political system and well-documented human rights abuses, the country’s propagandists see promoting Chinese notions of governance as a path to legitimacy on the world stage.
“This is very much in line with what China has been trying to do over the past two years, which is to redefine certain concepts on the world stage, including human rights and democracy,” she told CNN.
Some experts hope the summit will provide concrete steps to combat the damage disinformation is doing to democracies by spreading lies about elections or the coronavirus.
Nina Jankovic, a fellow at the Wilson Center, urged the Biden administration to rally support for a coalition to counter anti-democratic disinformation being pushed by China, Russia and other countries.
“Disinformation from foreign actors and domestic sources threatens the firm foundation of democracies around the world and plays a major role in many of the world’s crises,” Yankovic told CNN. “It is important for the Biden administration to emphasize that truth is a cornerstone of both the Biden era and the democratic society it hopes to build.”