United States President Joe Biden on Thursday warned world leaders of a "backward slide" in democracy around the globe and urged them to champion a form of a government that he said needs concerted work to be sustained through an "inflection point in history."
Biden's remarks came at the outset of a two-day, virtual "Summit for Democracy", which hosted more than 100 participants representing governments, civil society and private-sector leaders.
"In my view, the choices we make ... in this moment are going to fundamentally determine the direction our world is going to take in the coming decades," Biden said. "Will we allow the backward slide of ... democracy to continue unchecked, or will we together have a vision ... and courage to once more lead the march of human progress and human freedom forward?" The Washington Post reported.
"In the face of sustained and alarming challenges to democracy, universal human rights, and all around the world, democracy needs champions," Biden said as he kicked off the summit, adding this summit "has been on my mind for a long time," reports CNN.
The President continued: "I wanted to host this summit because ... here in the United States we know as well as anyone that renewing our democracy and strengthening our democratic institutions requires constant effort."
"American democracy is an ongoing struggle to live up to our highest ideals and to heal our divisions and recommit ourselves to the founding idea of our nation captured in our Declaration of Independence, not unlike many of your documents," Biden said.
He cited voting rights as an example, urging Congress to pass legislation to counter restrictions that have been enacted in many Republican-led states since last year's election.
Biden said the Justice Department would double the number of lawyers defending and enforcing voting rights laws, adding: "We should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder."
Biden also listed a handful of foreign aid initiatives that the United States is undertaking to foster democracies, including steps to bolster independent media and combat corruption. Other initiatives aim to advance the role of women and girls in civic life and bolster the availability of an open Internet.
Speaking from a table where he was joined by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Biden addressed world leaders displayed on a large screen in front of him.
"In my view, this is the defining challenge of our time," he said. "Democracy — government of the people, by the people, for the people — can at times be fragile. But it also is inherently resilient and capable of self-correction and is capable of self-improvement."
The three overarching themes of Biden's summit are defending against authoritarianism, addressing and fighting corruption, and promoting respect for human rights. Attendees are asked to make meaningful commitments to furthering democracy in their countries.
According to the White House, Biden will host an in-person summit next year, with invitations going to countries that live up to the commitments this week.
Countries not invited to this year's summit include China, Russia, Hungary and Turkey.
The summit has its origins in Biden's rebuke of his predecessor during the presidential campaign. As a candidate in 2020, Biden outlined in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs the ways in which he said Donald Trump had diminished the credibility and influence of the United States.
In an article entitled "Why America Must Lead Again: Rescuing U.S. Foreign Policy After Trump," Biden promised, if elected, to "take immediate steps to renew U.S. democracy and alliances, protect the United States' economic future, and once more have America lead the world."
Vice President Harris is scheduled to address the summit later Thursday.
The virtual gathering of leaders is focused on combating corruption, defending against authoritarianism and promoting human rights. It's part of a broader theme Biden has frequently reinforced throughout his time in office -- that the global competition of the 21st century is one defined by democracies versus autocracies and America has a responsibility in ensuring democracies prevail.