President Joe Biden on Wednesday opens his second "Summit for Democracy" with pledges of nearly $700 million in funds and a joint alliance against surveillance technology as US concern mounts over China and Russia.
Hoping to show a more global front after his US-focused inaugural summit in 2021, Biden will co-lead the mostly virtual meeting with the president of South Korea -- who also agreed to host the next summit -- as well as the leaders of Zambia, Costa Rica and The Netherlands.
But the 121-member gathering comes as rights groups allege backsliding in countries invited to the summit including Israel and India, both close US partners whose prime ministers have been accused of growing authoritarianism.
Biden will announce $690 million in US funding to promote democracy overseas including through programs to manage free elections, advance independent media and strengthen action against corruption, a US official said, a fresh commitment after $424 million offered at the first summit.
The Biden administration will also announce a joint effort with around 10 partners to counter the misuse and proliferation of spyware -- which the United States fears has become a growing tool of China as its technological clout increases.
The effort will come two days after Biden banned the US government from using commercial spyware programs and as Biden's Republican rivals lead a controversial push in Congress to ban TikTok, the popular Chinese-owned video-sharing app.
"The idea here is these technologies of course have lawful applications, but have also been shown to be heavily misused by authoritarian states," the US official told reporters ahead of the summit.
"We want to kind of get states on the record in terms of promoting rules of the road for their use."
- Walking line on invitations -
Biden took office vowing to restore US credibility on democracy after the norms-shattering presidency of Donald Trump, whose supporters rampaged at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 instead of accepting the Republican tycoon's defeat.
But Biden has come under fire from some allies for seeking to work with leaders from whom he once promised greater distance including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Egypt's military ruler turned president Fattah al-Sisi and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has led Turkey for two decades.
None of the three leaders were invited to the summit. The United States also shunned Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban has challenged liberal values, as well as a number of close US partners including Bangladesh, Singapore and Thailand.
Israel will take part but Biden on Tuesday made clear his unease over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bid to diminish the independence of the judiciary, which the right-wing leader finally paused after mass protests and a general strike.
"Like many strong supporters of Israel I'm very concerned," Biden told reporters. "They cannot continue down this road, and I've sort of made that clear."
The United States has mostly stayed silent over India, seen as a bulwark against China, where authorities under Prime Minister Narendra Modi have clamped down on media and last week expelled opposition leader Rahul Gandhi from parliament.
Biden also invited India's historic rival Pakistan, where Imran Khan a year ago was ousted as prime minister and hit by a slew of charges, although Islamabad, a close partner of China, said it would work with the United States bilaterally rather than participating in the summit.
- China, Russia cry foul -
The United States has identified China as the sole long-term adversary to threaten the US-led liberal international order.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said the summit "hypes up confrontation" and will "stoke division in the name of democracy."
The United States has invited Taiwan, a self-governing democracy, even though it does not recognize it as a state, and has given prominent space to Ukraine as it fends off a Russian invasion.
Russia's ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, accused the United States of hypocrisy, pointing to the country's problems of "racism, gun violence, corruption and social inequality."
"Democracy is not built on templates, but is a product of the internal development of a particular society," he wrote in an essay.
"We have seen the disastrous consequences of the attempts to forcibly export American democracy to Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan."