Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials Previewing Day One of the Summit for Democracy
5:34 P.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Hi, everybody. Thanks so much for joining us on the call this evening. We’re going to talk a little bit about the Summit for Democracy, which, as my colleagues here will preview, is a little bit underway already.
By joining this call, just a reminder, you’re agreeing to the terms of the embargo for the call, which is until 5:00 a.m. Eastern time tomorrow. We are going to heavily preview some announcements.
For the awareness of those on the call but not for attribution, joining us on the call tonight are [senior administration official], over from the NSC side of things. And on the DPC side of things, we have [senior administration official].
So, with that, I’m going to hand it over to [senior administration official], who’s going to start with a few remarks, and then we’ll open it up to questions. Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks for that, [Moderator]. And hi, everybody. Thanks for joining and taking the time.
As [Moderator] mentioned, really pleased to be with all of you to discuss the second Summit for Democracy, which officially kicks off bright and early tomorrow morning but, as [Moderator] said, has already occasioned a pretty impressive series of events in Washington and around the world. And I’ll come back to that momentarily.
But first, let me just say at the top why the U.S. government is holding a Summit for Democracy for a second time around.
As President Biden has said, we’re currently at an inflection point when it comes to the future of democracy, both within the United States and globally.
When the President came into office, he said that a defining question at this moment is whether democracies will continue to deliver for their people in a rapidly changing world. So that’s really what the summit is about. It’s about shining a spotlight on a critical issue of our time and spurring action in line with the summit’s themes, which are strengthening democratic resilience, promoting respect for human rights, and advancing the fight against corruption so that, ultimately, democracies can continue to deliver for their citizens and address the world’s most pressing challenges.
Now, a lot has happened in the 15 months since we held the first Summit for Democracy. The world has witnessed profound change, first by emerging from a global pandemic and then also, of course, responding decisively as Russia brutally invaded its neighbor Ukraine in violation of the U.N. Charter.
And our take is that the events of 2022 put in stark relief what countless studies have already shown, that democratic government, grounded in the rule of law and the will of the governed, remain, for all its messiness and challenges, the best tool humanity has to unleash human potential, maintain international peace and security, grow prosperity, and uphold human dignity.
And two years into the Biden administration, to borrow a phrase that the President has mentioned multiple times, democracies have grown stronger, not weaker, and autocracies have grown weaker, not stronger. In short, democracy is proving its resilience.
So that’s the context in which President Biden and his four co-hosts from all corners of the world — the leaders of Costa Rica, the Netherlands, Zambia, and the Republic of Korea — will officially kick off the second Summit for Democracy in the morning.
So, from there, let me just say a few things about what we expect the President to announce tomorrow. At the first Summit for Democracy, President Biden launched what we called the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal, which committed just over $400 million in new foreign assistance programs and policies in key areas like fighting corruption, bolstering democratic reformers, supporting free and independent media, advancing technology for democracy, and defending free and fair elections. And a number of these programs were pretty innovative, whether they dealt with new ways to protect journalists from slap lawsuits to how they helped partner governments deploy digital technology.
Tomorrow, President Biden will announce another major investment by the U.S. government in the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal: up to $690 million in additional funding.
Additionally, as part of the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal, the U.S. will be making a series of announcements this week about the steps we and our partners are taking to ensure that technology works for and not against democracy. That’s going to be a major theme both of our agenda and of various initiatives that we announce.
We led off yesterday when the President signed a new executive order on the prohibition on use by the U.S. government of commercial spyware that poses risks to national security. And what the EO does is it establishes this U.S. policy that the U.S. government will not make operational use of commercial spyware that poses significant counterintelligence or security risks to the U.S. government or significant risks of improper use by a foreign government or foreign person, including to abuse the human rights of journalists, activists, or opposition political figures.
Tomorrow and then in more depth on Thursday, in an event we’re going to dedicate to our technology agenda, we’re going to announce the other steps we’re taking to counter the misuse of technology and the rise of digital authoritarianism as part of our broader tech agenda, from bringing other countries on board to regulate their own use of commercial spyware, to better protecting activists from cyber threats, to working with partners to better integrate human rights criteria in export control regimes.
Turning to our schedule of events, while the formal summit, as I mentioned, starts very early tomorrow morning, given the time zone change with our Korean partners who will be leading off the first panel, our civil society partners actually kicked us off yesterday with a series of more than 50 events they organized tied to the overall themes of the summit.
And these events took place in Washington, but they also took place in Nairobi and in Barcelona and in Timor-Leste and in over a dozen cities around the world.
And we really find it fitting that the week of a Summit for Democracy began with our civil society partners sharing their perspectives on how best to support and protect democracy worldwide. As with the message we’re sending with the four co-hosts in addition to the United States, it’s important to note that this is a global aspiration.
Then today, the U.S. government organized nine live and in-person thematically focused events in Washington, demonstrating how the U.S. with our international partners is leading progress in several areas critical to democratic renewal. And some of our senior-most department and agency leaders headlined these events.
So, for instance, Secretary Blinken hosted events on a just and lasting peace in Ukraine and separately on the imperative of gender equality. Treasury Secretary Yellen hosted an event on the importance of the fight against corruption. And Deputy Commerce Secretary Graves led an event with private sector companies who were making commitments to support democracy as part of this process.
Then tomorrow, President Biden will be joined in the morning at 6:00 a.m. by President Chaves of Costa Rica, Prime Minister Rutte of the Netherlands, President Yoon of the Republic of Korea, and President Hichilema of the Republic of Zambia in opening the formal summit.
Each of the co-host countries will then, over the course of the day, host a plenary session on a different theme that will include a number of other leaders. President Biden’s plenary will begin right around 11:30 a.m. tomorrow morning.
Throughout the day, we’ll also have interventions from noteworthy pro-democracy and human rights advocates who will have a chance to address governmental leaders. Among others, we’ll hear from Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the leader of the Democratic Opposition of Belarus; Lesther Alemán, a recently released political prisoner from Nicaragua; and Bryan Stevenson, the Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative here in the U.S., to discuss domestic democracy issues.
On Thursday, each summit co-host government will then host in its capital an in-person gathering with representatives both from foreign governments — mainly from their regions, but we’re also doing some cross-regional pollination — and non-governmental actors.
And so, what we think audiences will witness on March 30th, Thursday, is pretty unique. We’re going to have an ongoing summit in five locations on the same day, more or less simultaneously, around the world.
And as I mentioned before, the U.S.-hosted event on Thursday will focus on advancing technology for democracy.
Our foreign partners are going to focus their in-person events on March 30th on other thematic topics essential to the functioning of representatives and accountable government. So, the Costa Rican event is going to focus on the role of youth in democratic systems. The Dutch event will focus on media freedom. The South Korean event will focus on the fight against corruption. And the Zambian event will focus on free and fair elections.
And to each of these events, as a show of support, the U.S. government is sending high-level delegations to each of our co-host partner capitals. And I’d be happy to go through those details if folks would like.
I’ll close just by saying one last word about one other announcement we’ll be making tomorrow. Beginning with the first summit in 2021, at this point, we’ve brought together hundreds of leaders from governments, civil society, the private sector committed to strengthening democratic governance, protecting human rights, and advancing the fight against corruption.
Governments have made hundreds of commitments. We will, in all likelihood, hear about follow-through on those tomorrow and Thursday. NGOs have used the summit platform to expand their own work. And companies have taken action to improve democratic resilience through their business practices.
And the feedback we’ve gotten on all of this is that the work is ongoing and that it can and should continue after the conclusion of this summit. We really think of this as much more of a process than two defined meetings, although the meetings are important.
And so, to that end, we’re really pleased to share that the Republic of Korea has agreed to host a future third summit. So, we just want to say how thankful we are to our Korean partners for taking on that responsibility, which will be officially announced tomorrow morning.
So, with that, I will stop and take questions.
Q Hi, thank you for doing this. One, I was just wondering if you could put a little bit more layer — and I apologize if I missed it at the top of the call — on the major $600-plus million announcement on democratic renewal. How will that money be spent?
And then second, could you talk a little bit about how the U.S. — you know, 15 months later after the first summit during the administration, how you would rate progress on protecting and reviving democracy here has been — and particularly, when the administration has been facing some criticism on things like how they’ve countered, how they’ve reacted on action in Saudi Arabia, in Egypt, and even more recently in Israel? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. Thanks, Aamer. Good to talk to you again. So we’d be happy to send around — we’ve actually put out a couple of factsheets on the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal both when we announced it back at the first summit in December, and then we put out an update over the course of the interval between the two summits. So that’ll provide a lot of this detail.
But as I mentioned, it’s divided, essentially, into five pillars. One is supporting free and independent media; two is combating corruption; three is bolstering democratic reformers and supporting human rights; fourth is advancing technology for democracy; and fifth is defending free and fair elections.
And so, under each one of those categories, departments and agencies, primarily but not exclusively, the State Department and USAID, have launched a number of new programmatic efforts. And I will spare everyone kind of ticking through them one by one; there are quite a few. But in all cases on the programming, these are new programs that were essentially designed to update our foreign assistance in the democracy, human rights, and governance space to address more modern challenges.
And so, the re-up is going to be significantly more than what we announced in ‘21 and is going to continue to advance those ongoing programs, which again are only in most cases about a year old at this point.
In addition to that, the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal also contains policy initiatives. And again, we can shoot the details over to you, but a lot of what we’re doing the second time around, beyond the big number around the foreign assistance programming, deals with those policy areas. And the one in particular where we really feel like we’re leaning in is the Advancing Technology for Democracy agenda.
So I mentioned the prohibition on use of commercial spyware. We will also make — we’ll have a little bit more to say about this tomorrow, but a number of additional announcements around, essentially, a three-part plan for our technology agenda: our affirmative case — what we’re standing for by way of supporting technology that works for democracy; then what we’re standing against, what we’re trying to counter — the misuse of technology and rise of digital authoritarianism. And then third, we’ll have a series of announcements around looking forward in terms of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence.
And that’s really what our thematic day on Thursday is going to be all about.
So I’ll move to your second question. I mean, the issue around rating progress is really a tough one, of course. One can look at this from a number of different ways.
What I will say broadly in terms of the idea that we’re at a little bit of an inflection point, credible external organizations like Freedom House that document democracy and human rights around the world have really identified that 2022 was something of a turning point.
That doesn’t necessarily dictate the future, as we all know. The whole point of the Summit for Democracy process is to continue to work on this topic and to shine a spotlight and to spur action. But we do feel like there’s a momentum shift, and we’re looking to capitalize on that.
And I think to the point of your question, that has a lot to do with U.S. foreign policy. And I won’t get into the particulars on any one bilateral relationship, but I think we can stand by our record when it comes to raising human rights issues with competitors and adversaries and security partners alike.
Q Hi. Thank you. I just — can you walk through — I see there’s a video address by the Taiwan Minister of Digital Affairs. Is Taiwan participating — to what extent is Taiwan participating in the summit/were they invited to participate in the summit? This was obviously a factor in the initial summit 15 months ago. Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks, Josh. Yes, you’re right. Taiwan was invited back in — at the first summit in 2021 and has remained actively engaged in the Summit for Democracy’s various processes. They were engaged in the — what we call our “focal group,” which was a group of governments and other partners who continued to plan in between the two summits and otherwise have demonstrated continued commitment to strengthening democratic resilience at home and abroad.
So they were once again invited, and that was consistent with our unofficial relationship and the United States’ One China policy, which has not changed and remains guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiqués, and the Six Assurances.
And I’ll just close out by saying Taiwan has been invited to attend in a manner that is consistent with our longstanding policy, which remains unchanged and essentially will mirror the approach we took in 2021.
Q Yeah, hello?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi, George, go ahead.
Q Yes, hi. President Zelenskyy spoke at the first summit. What is his participation in this summit and how much does Ukraine’s fight for — to keep its democracy overshadow or affect this summit?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks for that. So President Zelenskyy will speak again. He is scheduled to speak in President Biden’s plenary session tomorrow at 11:30 as one of the number of world leaders. And as you may have caught in my intro, we also held today an event hosted by Secretary Blinken on parameters for a just and sustainable peace in Ukraine that was attended by a number of foreign ministers.
So Ukraine, of course, a major geopolitical event over the course of the last year, absolutely essential in terms of the bravery that the Ukrainian government and people are showing in defending their democracy from brutal aggression. So it is very much a part of the second summit.
That said, we should be clear, the first summit was before Russia’s renewed invasion of Ukraine, and that’s because democracy was under stress in any number of different ways, both from external actors, of course, as Russia’s invasion illustrates, but also there are, as we’re all well aware, many domestic challenges, whether from the rise of populist leaders or because of the impacts of technology and the communication space and so on. So there’s a lot to discuss outside of the context of Ukraine as well.
Q Yes. Just wanted to ask you about how the countries that were invited this year that were not there last year or the last time around were selected and, vice versa, some countries that were there before and are no longer there. Like, what was the criteria for the selection of invited countries?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you for that question. So just to clarify one point before I get into the new invitations, there were no invitations from the first summit that were rescinded for the second summit. So all those that were invited to the first summit were extended an invitation the second time around.
We did invite a handful of additional governments to the second summit that did not receive an invitation to the first. I’ll just mention those quickly: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Liechtenstein, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Mauritania, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Honduras.
And there’s a huge range of experience and depth of democratic consolidation in those countries, obviously each a unique case. But what I’ll say by way of criteria for additions is we really see this as a process by which to spur positive reform when it comes to the summit’s themes of democratic renewal and respect for human rights and the fight against corruption.
There’s an incredibly broad swath of countries invited to participate in this process, from those with deeply consolidated democracies all the way through governments that have some democratic institutions and some non-democratic institutions.
But in all cases, what we’re looking for is positive will to move in the right direction. And we really want to use the summit itself and the process to put wind in the sails of actors who are interested in positive steps in this regard. So there’s a story to be told for each of the new additions in that regard.
Q Hey, thanks so much for doing this call. You mentioned a three-part agenda on what you’re standing for in terms of technology and then a series of announcements on what you’re looking for in terms of emerging technology. I’m wondering if you might be able to offer any substance on this call on what we can expect from those announcements.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, I’ll say just a little bit more. And then, again, I think we’re going to do a call that’s going to go into more depth on this tomorrow.
I mentioned the executive order on commercial spyware. Tomorrow, we are going to also announce that we are entering into — or, we have a kind of joint commitment on efforts to counter the proliferation and misuse of commercial spyware with a handful — somewhere on the order of around ten — different foreign partners who are committed to taking steps like what we did through the executive order.
Similarly, we will be announcing that we’ve come to the text of what we’re calling “guiding principles” on how rights-respecting governments should use surveillance technology, more broadly. And so the idea here is these technologies, of course, have lawful applications but have also been shown to be heavily misused by authoritarian states, and so we want to get states on the record in terms of promoting rules of the road for their use.
Then I’ll just mention one more in this regard. At the first summit, we launched something we called the Export Controls and Human Rights Initiative, which is a process by which participating countries agree to better integrate human rights criteria in their export control regimes.
And at the first summit, we announced that we would work with partner countries to develop a code of conduct. And so there’s been a lot of diplomatic spade work that’s gone into that process over the past year or so, and we’ll be launching with a number of partners that code of conduct to advance the conversation around how we can control those sorts of tools.
On the shaping emerging technologies front, we’ll also be making a few announcements. So, here at the White House, the Office of Science and Technology Policy will be releasing its national strategy on advancing privacy, preserving data sharing and analytics, and NIST, at the Commerce Department, is going to launch a new resource center on artificial intelligence for risk management purposes.
So, more to come on that and more tomorrow.
Q Got it, thank you.
MODERATOR: All right, that concludes our call this evening. Thank you all for your time. Looking forward to talking more about this tomorrow. Take care.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, everyone.
6:02 P.M. EDT