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Biden’s Democracy Summit Convenes as U.S. Hits a ‘Rough Patch’

“This is the defining challenge of our time,” Mr. Biden said, reprising a theme from his 2020 campaign, during which he argued that Mr. Trump had undermined democracy at home and coddled dictators abroad.

Aiming to put substance behind that rhetoric, the White House announced on Thursday that Mr. Biden planned to work with Congress to spend about $424 million to support independent news media overseas, combat corruption, aid activists, advance technology and defend fair elections. The administration also intends to combat “digital authoritarianism” through greater export controls of technologies that can empower surveillance states.

Particulars of how such initiatives might work were being discussed at the summit in sessions on elections, technology, the rule of law and human rights.

The summit’s two main foils, Russia and China, denounced the event before it even began. Last Friday, China’s foreign ministry issued a report depicting an American government ruled by dollars and paralyzed by division and, citing the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, said that “the gunshots and farce on Capitol Hill have completely revealed what is underneath the gorgeous appearance of the American-style democracy.”

Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman last month called it “pathetic” that the United States “claims the right to decide who is worthy of being called a democracy and who is not.” The two nations even teamed up in the form of an unusual joint opinion essay by their respective ambassadors to Washington, which charged that the summit was based on a “Cold War mentality” that divided the world into competing blocs.

Gergely Gulyás, a leading member of Hungary’s parliament, said his country “does not have the same serious democratic problems as the United States,” citing the millions of Americans who believe the 2020 election result was fraudulent, Hungarian news media reported.

But the event drew supportive words from participants on Thursday. “Democracy is not a given, it must be fought for,” Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, wrote on Twitter. Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, said that his country’s support for democracy in Eastern Europe was “a beautiful task, but it has its consequences. It has made us the target of the Kremlin propaganda.” (Freedom House, a democracy advocacy group, finds that Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party has rolled back some of that country’s democratic progress, but still rates the country just below the United States in terms of political freedom.)

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