By now, you’ve read four different perspectives on what Biden’s Summit for Democracy will mean for the Indo-Pacific. So what?

The key to unlocking Australia’s next move is translating analysis into action.  As part of a new Foreign Policy White Paper and refreshed International Development Strategy, the Australian Government should consider the following insights generated by this Inquiry.

Consensus and divergence

Drawing this all together, we found a strong degree of consensus on the following:

  • The imposition of western democratic templates on countries in the Indo-Pacific does not result in sustainable democratic reform.
  • In recent years, Australia has partly retreated from efforts to support good governance, human rights, civil society, free media and access to justice in the Indo-Pacific.
  • There remains significant need and ample opportunity for diplomacy and long-term development efforts to find space for civil society, create local demand for better governance and support service delivery in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Australia can do more, and is most effective when we support principles like pluralism, tolerance and accountability without being explicitly or loudly in the democracy promotion game. 

We found divergence on the following:

  • What constitutes democratic principles and the extent to which these are universally prioritised varies between contributors, particularly with respect to Southeast Asia.
  • Relatedly, contributors diverge when it comes to the value and impact of governance support through the Australian development cooperation program. This appears due to different expectations and ambition over what Australia is trying to achieve with its governance support – for example building central government capability versus fostering independent media.  

What next?

Some of the ideas that surfaced during the Inquiry were:

Domestic law reform 
Is Australia leveraging domestic financial regulation for regional democratic gain?  

Australia comes under scrutiny from time to time for its financial markets being the ‘Cayman Islands of the Pacific’.  Increasing transparency requirements for Australian company owners and the real estate industry would be a blow to corrupt figures and transnational organised crime groups in the region looking to hide proceeds of crime in the Australian financial market.  

More: Clancy Moore from Publish What You Pay has discussed this in The Guardian, and also take a look at The Pandora Papers through the ABC.

Cyber Security for development
Should Australia increase its focus on digital technology support in the Indo-Pacific? 

USAID administrator Samantha Power recently announced the modernisation of US democracy assistance to include “supporting governments to strengthen their cybersecurity and counter disinformation and helping democratic actors defend themselves against digital surveillance, censorship, and repression".  At the Summit, Australia was named by the US as one of a group of countries forming to address misuse of technology for human rights abuses.  The opportunity to set a new direction on cyber security for development could be considered as part of a new development strategy, or hybrid national security-development fund.  

More: See the media coverage on this from Alexandra Alper in the Sydney Morning Herald and ASPI’s Dr Huong Le Thu’s proposes a digital technology strategy in The Strategist.

Government policy settings 
Does Australia have the optimal policy and institutional settings to effectively approach democratic governance support in the region?  

An ageing White Paper, reductions in development budgets, a development strategy that does not explicitly prioritise democracy support and a thinning of Indo-Pacific governance expertise inside Government is a challenge.  Initiatives floated through the Inquiry include the modernisation or reconfiguration of a Centre for Democratic Institutions, a formal increase of funding through the development program to local organisations in the Indo-Pacific and the call for an integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy. 

More: Read The Asia Foundation essay in our publication Develop and the Asia Pacific Development, Diplomacy and Defence Dialogue’s Richard Moore and Melissa Conley Tyler in The Strategist.

What are other donors doing?

Here is a sample of initiatives donor Governments have announced at the first Summit for Democracy.

European Union
Protecting and empowering individuals
€704 million

Uphold all human rights, including by working towards the universal abolition of the death penalty, the eradication of torture and cruel and inhumane treatment, the fulfilment of basic needs, decent working conditions, the eradication of child labour, and a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. 

Building resilient, inclusive and democratic societies
€463 million

Support functioning pluralist, participatory and representative democracies, and protect the integrity of electoral processes. For example, engage civil society observers in election observation and support pro-democracy organisations, networks and alliances.

Promoting a global system for human rights and democracy
€144 million

Enhance strategic partnerships with key actors, such as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the International Criminal Court (ICC), regional human rights systems, national human rights institutions, the private sector, and the Global Campus of Human Rights.

Safeguarding fundamental freedoms, including harnessing the opportunities and addressing the challenges of digital and new technologies – €195 million

Create and maintain an environment conducive to the full exercise of all fundamental freedoms both offline and online. For example, help strengthen the capacity of independent, pluralistic and quality media, including investigative journalists, bloggers and fact-checkers, to provide the public with reliable information through responsible and professional reporting. It will support civil society in fostering online media literacy and digital skills and in promoting an open, global, free and secure internet equally accessible to all.

United States
Partnerships for Democracy - $55 million

Capitalise on democratic openings with assistance that will incentivise further democratic progress. Through Partnerships for Democracy, USAID will surge assistance across sectors to countries that have shown a willingness to further their own democratic reforms. When possible, USAID will seek to expand assistance in a country’s health, energy, or business sectors—whatever is most needed—should the government commit to developing and sustaining democratic systems.

International Fund for Public Interest Media - $30 million

A new multi-donor fund designed to enhance the independence, development, and sustainability of independent media, especially in resource-poor and fragile settings. 

Powered by the People - $15 million

Focusing not on supporting the NGOs and civil society organisations usually partnered with, but the often leaderless mass movements—many powered by women and young people—at the heart of most democratic transitions. This will help the movements with the momentum to shake the halls of power, help them learn from each other. Powered by the People will give movement leaders, activists, civil society organisations, and international experts a platform to connect and access resources to improve the effectiveness of collective action.

Media Viability Accelerator - $5 million

For decades, the donor community and USAID have advanced public interest media through trainings and reforms. But all the training in the world won’t matter if media outlets aren’t financially viable. The Media Viability Accelerator aims to respond to this moment. This will bring together local media outlets with an array of experts who have extensive industry experience, to help them make the leap to digital platforms, to help them better serve local markets, to help them bolster bottom lines with stronger revenue, and help them generate content that keeps audiences engaged.

Empowering Anti-Corruption Change Agents Program - $5 million

This effort will help activists build coalitions and design effective advocacy campaigns, using cutting edge research on social and behavioural change. It will also expand support to networks of investigative journalists, like those who cracked the Pandora Papers. And it will support the brave people who risk their lives to expose corruption, whether that’s by helping them install gates and cameras at their office, access counselling services, or shore up their digital security so they don’t get hacked.


Read more from Canada on their Government website.

Read more from the United Kingdom on their Government website.

At the time of publication, there were no Summit for Democracy related announcements from Australia. The address from Prime Minister Scott Morrison is available on the Summit for Democracy YouTube channel. 

Inspiration for this Quarterly Inquiry.
Each Lab inquiry is inspired by research. This inquiry was sparked by the work of The Asia Foundation and The Governance Lab at New York University on The 100 Questions Initiative.

The 100 Questions Initiative is presented by The Governance Lab at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering with initial funding support from Schmidt Futures. It is supported by a global advisory board comprising data science and subject matter experts from the public, corporate and non-profit sectors. The project seeks to map the world’s 100 most important questions on the most critical domains, including gender, migration and governance, that could be answered if datasets and data science were unlocked and leveraged to their full potential, in a responsible manner. Learn more at

Australia can do more, and is most effective when we support principles like pluralism, tolerance and accountability without being explicitly or loudly in the democracy promotion game. 

Initiatives floated through the Inquiry include the modernisation or reconfiguration of a Centre for Democratic Institutions, a formal increase of funding through the development program to local organisations in the Indo-Pacific and the call for an integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy.