South Korea Plays Host to Global Democracy Summit, Rankling China

From March 18-20, South Korea hosted the third Summit for Democracy, a U.S.-initiated gathering of experts and leaders focused on addressing ‘democratic backsliding’ worldwide.

South Korea’s increasingly active role in global democracy promotion underscores its emerging status as a ‘Global Pivotal State’ — a concept that South Korean President Yoon Seok Yeol advanced after he rose to power in 2022.

That year, in an address to a prominent U.S. think-tank, Yoon’s foreign minister, Park Jin, said his country would “endeavour to do [its] part in preserving universal values including freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and embracing greater roles and responsibilities for resolving regional and global challenges in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.”

Beijing ‘opposes’ Summit guest list

That role has become a source of tension with China, South Korea’s largest trading partner. Beijing stated in no uncertain terms that it “firmly oppose[d]” Seoul extending an invitation to Taiwan to attend the Summit for Democracy.

Nevertheless, the Summit included an address by Taiwan’s Minister of Digital Affairs, Audrey Tang. In her remarks, Tang referred to “bad actors” — understood to be a reference to China — who reportedly tried to interfere in Taiwan’s January 13 election.

U.S.-based South Korea expert Andrew Yeo told the South China Morning Post that while Seoul has not gone as far as Washington and Tokyo in thinking about a “Taiwan contingency” — that is, a plan for how to respond if Taiwan is invaded by China — “we’ve seen the language shift” on the need to maintain “peace and stability" in the Taiwan Strait.