Beijing, which was not invited to the virtual gathering on Thursday and Friday, has reacted with scorn and derision, denouncing the summit as an "exercise in hypocrisy
" to promote US hegemony.
Further infuriating Beijing, Taiwan, a self-ruling democracy it claims as part of its territory, was invited
, as was Nathan Law, a pro-democracy activist and former legislator from Hong Kong now exiled in London.
In response, China has ramped up propaganda efforts in a bid to promote an alternative model of "democracy," twisting the definition of the term to fit its own authoritarian one-party system.
"This is a preemptive strike against Biden's Democracy Summit," said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, an expert on Chinese politics at Hong Kong Baptist University. "Now China feels that it needs to be not only on the defensive, but also on the offensive as well."
Over the weekend, Beijing held its own two-day virtual International Forum on Democracy
, joined by politicians and scholars from more than 120 countries.
In his keynote speech, Huang Kunming, the ruling Communist Party's propaganda tsar, extolled China's so-called "whole-process people's democracy" -- a concept put forward by Chinese leader Xi Jinping -- describing it as a "true democracy that works."
Huang later expounded on the theory, confusingly insisting it "integrates process-oriented democracy with results-oriented democracy, procedural democracy with substantive democracy, direct democracy with indirect democracy, and people's democracy with the will of the state."
In tandem to the event, China's cabinet, the State Council, released Saturday with fanfare a white paper titled "China: Democracy That Works."
"There is no fixed model of democracy; it manifests itself in many forms. Assessing the myriad political systems in the world against a single yardstick and examining diverse political structures in monochrome are in themselves undemocratic," the 13,000-word document said.
By most international standards, China is the opposite of a democracy. The ruling Communist Party has held onto power for more than seven decades since the founding of the People's Republic of China. There is no separation of powers, independence of the judiciary, freedom of association, expression and opinion, periodic free and fair elections by universal suffrage or independent media -- which are essential elements of democracy defined by the United Nations
And China sits squarely near the bottom of most international rankings on political and personal freedoms, including the annual "freedom score
" given by Washington-based NGO Freedom House, based on 25 metrics of political rights and civil liberties.
Chinese activists calling for democracy are routinely silenced, harassed and jailed, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died in prison in 2017 after spending almost a quarter of his life behind bars.
Of course, none of this is mentioned in China's latest propaganda offensive. Instead, it is attempting to muddy the waters as to what constitutes a democracy, said Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago.
"This is a struggle over the global discourse on democracy. They (Chinese officials) have got used to the idea that if you assert something and repeat it enough times, you can actually go a long way," he said.