U.S. President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping traded veiled barbs in their speeches to a United Nations general assembly meeting on climate change, with Xi hitting out at “ideological disputes” and Biden warning against authoritarianism and referring to the mass persecution of ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang region.
“The authoritarians of the world may seek to proclaim the end of the age of democracy, but they’re wrong,” Biden told the U.N.
“The future will belong to those who give their people the ability to breathe free, not those who seek to suffocate their people with an iron hand,” he said.
In a possible reference to China’s threat to invade the democratic island of Taiwan, Biden said the U.S. would “oppose attempts by stronger countries to dominate weaker ones, whether through changes to territory by force, economic coercion, technological exploitation, or disinformation.”
“We all must call out and condemn the targeting and oppression of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities when it occurs in — whether it occurs in Xinjiang or northern Ethiopia or anywhere in the world,” he said, in a reference to the mass incarceration and persecution of Turkic-speaking Uyghurs and other ethnic groups by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime.
Xi warned that “sooner or later, the threats faced by other countries will soon become your own challenges,” and called for an end to cliquishness and “zero-sum game” thinking.
“No country can seek to benefit from the difficulties of other countries, nor gain stability from the turbulence affecting other countries,” he said.
Larry Diamond of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and editor of the Journal of Democracy told an NED international forum that democratic values need to be reasserted even in democratic nations.
“We’re all in trouble. Nothing’s inevitable,” Diamond said. “The struggle for values is that we all need to renew and work on together.”
Changing balance of power
But he warned: “Authoritarian sharp power is now one of the biggest challenges we face to the future of democracy.”
“The changing balance of power in the world between the United States and our authoritarian adversaries … particularly between China and the United States, is the single most important and endangering change in the world from the 1990s,” Diamond told the panel.
“If we don’t understand intellectually and analytically and strategically the challenge that China poses to the future of freedom in the world, I’m sorry to say this; I’m going to be blunt: we will fail,” he said.
He said China is a rising power with an economy that will outperform that of the U.S. in the next decade, with military ambitions involving the invasion and annexation of Taiwan, whose 23 million people have never been ruled by the CCP, and who have no wish to become part of the People’s Republic of China.
“[China] has the fastest growing military in the world, has abandoned any notion that it should any longer hide its real intention, I believe will launch some kind of military, coservice assault to swallow Taiwan in the next five to six years, and is all over the world now trying undermine democracy, crush freedom as it has in Hong Kong,” Diamond said.
“[This] bears some similarities, more than people want to imagine or be forced to confront, with the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s … The logic is the same,” he said.
‘I feel obliged to speak’
Exiled former Hong Kong lawmaker Nathan Law said more international cooperation is needed to prevent the erosion of freedoms around the world.
“Today is the Mid-Autumn Festival, the equivalent to Thanksgiving when we properly will go home to dine with our families,” he told the panel. “I was absent last year, and I am absent this year, because I have lived a life of exile since last year, and I severed ties with my family after I left, because I am worried that my connection to them may endanger them.”
“A lot of fighters and campaigners in Hong Kong … are living life in exile, and more of us are in prison, or on the way to prison … and cannot meet their families on this particular day,” he said.
“Some very fine, young talents like Joshua Wong, they are all in jail … I feel obliged to speak for them,” he said, adding that he wants to save his friends and unite forces around the world to address the problem of rising authoritarianism.
“In our international system, there is not enough accountability [for] authoritarian regimes,” Law said. “We’ve been seeing the global rise of authoritarianism for more than a decade. We still haven’t sorted out ways and mechanisms [to] hold them accountable.”
Law said the case of Hong Kong has global implications, given that an international, free port could have its way of life eroded in just a short period of time.
“It shows an example of how precious our freedoms are, and how fragile. We have the responsibility to defend them … on a global level,” Law said.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.