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Summit for Democracy opens in Seoul in mega-election year

Yoon to preside over session on "Technology, Elections, and Fake News" at global virtual leaders summit

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : March 17, 2024 - 16:02

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South Korea is set to launch the three-day Summit for Democracy on Monday, with a focus on fostering democracy for future generations, particularly in this pivotal year of elections -- a fundamental pillar of democracy.

South Korea is the first country outside of the United States to host the Summit for Democracy singlehandedly.

Pioneered by the Biden administration, the international gathering brings together governments and nongovernment stakeholders from around the world with the goal of advancing democratic renewal as well as countering authoritarianism and democratic backsliding.

Under the theme, “Democracy for Future Generations,” the summit comes at a critical juncture as more than 60 countries, collectively home to nearly half of the world‘s population of 8 billion people, have held or are scheduled to hold national elections this year.

President Yoon Suk Yeol will notably preside over the second session of the virtual summit plenary, focusing on “Technology, Elections and Fake News,” on Wednesday, according to the South Korean presidential office on Friday.

The virtual summit will be jointly opened by Yoon, alongside Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and Kenyan President William Ruto. The leaders of Denmark, South Korea and Kenya will each host their respective sessions in that order.

The first session will primarily discuss inclusive societies and the empowerment of young people, while the third session will explore the topics of the global south and governance partnerships.

Kweon Ki-hwan, South Korea‘s deputy foreign minister for multilateral and global affairs, underscored the significance of the Summit for Democracy, emphasizing the timing of the international gathering in his text contributed to the South Korean government’s official website for the event, which was released Thursday.

Kweon emphasized that the summit is taking place at a crucial juncture, with new AI technologies emerging as threats to democracy. He pointed out that mounting concerns over the dissemination of false information, facilitated by deepfake technology, have also had detrimental effects on elections and democracy.

Kweon further elaborated that the summit‘s primary focus is on the “impact of rapidly advancing technologies such as AI on democracy for future generations and the response required from the international community.”

The presidential office also highlighted another pivotal aspect of the Summit for Democracy: instilling confidence in younger generations worldwide in democracy and providing a platform for them to amplify their voices.

The Korean government plans to unveil initiatives aimed at empowering young people to contribute to strengthening global democracy

The summit is scheduled to commence with a ministerial conference and multi-stakeholder roundtable under the theme of “Artificial Intelligence, Digital Technology and Democracy” on Monday.

South Korean Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be present at the ministerial conference, alongside other ministerial and vice-ministerial-level delegates.

Tuesday is designated for events led by civil society. The program is comprised of various activities organized by domestic and international civil society groups, governments, international organizations, academia and others. A total of 52 thematic discussions and workshops, along with 11 booth exhibitions, are scheduled, South Korea‘s Foreign Ministry said Friday.

“The government‘s hosting of the third Summit for Democracy reflects the international community’s high trust and expectations in our democratic leadership,” the presidential office said Friday in a statement.

“Our aim with this summit is to contribute to the advancement of global democracy by sharing Korea‘s experiences and achievements in nurturing and developing democracy with the international community.”

The Foreign Ministry also emphasized that the “hosting of the summit will contribute to realizing the government‘s vision of becoming a globally pivotal state that contributes to the freedom, peace and prosperity of the international community.”

The third Summit for Democracy convenes around 300 delegates, comprising government officials, representatives from international organizations, academia and civil society, to engage in discussions on policy enhancements and strategic pathways aimed at shaping a better future for generations to come, according to the official website of the summit.

The first summit was hosted by US President Joe Biden in December 2021, while the second summit was co-hosted by South Korea, Costa Rica, the US and Zambia in March 2023.

In a bipartisan letter sent to Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Friday, the US Congress commended and applauded South Korea for hosting the crucial gathering, particularly “amidst the backdrop of ongoing destabilizing provocations” by North Korea.

The letter underscored the significance of South Korea, a US treaty ally, hosting the summit, underscoring that the alliance was established “based on shared democratic values.”

“The US-ROK alliance, forged in blood over 70 years ago, started as a bulwark for democracy against communism,” the letter read, referring to South Korea by its official name, the Republic of Korea.

“Having risen from the ashes of war ... the Republic of Korea became one of the closest allies of the United States and a vibrant democracy that best exemplifies the alliance’s joint efforts to defend democracy around the world.”