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In the Indo-Pacific region, democracy is strongly established in several countries and is taking root in others. Some of the region’s democracies—Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, and New Zealand— have shown great resilience and progress in combating COVID-19. The successful response to COVID-19 by established democracies in the Indo-Pacific provides a powerful counterpoint to those who argue authoritarian countries alone can manage this kind of external shock. This should come as no surprise as the Indo-Pacific is the only region that has seen recent overall improvements in freedom, even as the last decade has seen global declines. The region’s democracies have made significant progress in advancing democratic values, even as they may differ in meaning, and have even produced broad programming to support good governance practices. An increasingly aggressive and assertive China and the COVID-19 pandemic threaten to destabilize these governance gains, which would disrupt weaker states and stoke potential for spill-over effects to occur in other Indo-Pacific countries.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has developed a multi-sectoral approach for the region under the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS); however, the economic fallout and frustration from COVID-19 threatens to disrupt several of the governance objectives as part of the agency’s strategy. As a result, USAID must adapt its strategy to better address the unique challenges that the pandemic has created, including further democratic backsliding, human rights abuses, corruption, and malign foreign influence and disinformation. This brief focuses on the role that USAID can play in promoting the governance pillar of the IPS, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.