U.S. Invitation to Taiwan for Democracy Summit Tests Ties With China
The Biden administration invited Taiwan to participate in a meeting of democracies, further bucking Beijing’s long-pressed campaign to isolate the island diplomatically and testing a recent lessening of U.S.-China tensions.
The inaugural Summit for Democracy, a virtual gathering scheduled for Dec. 9 and 10, aims to bring together more than 100 democratic governments and excludes China, Russia and some other countries with authoritarian leaders. By inviting Taiwan, the Biden administration is broadening an effort to include the island in international forums, raising its profile as a bulwark against intimidation by Beijing, which claims Taiwan as its territory.
The stepped-up engagement between the two has triggered consternation in Beijing. While China security specialists said the invitation from Washington isn’t precedent-breaking, it is likely to irk the Chinese leadership.
In a virtual summit meeting earlier this month, President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping discussed differences over Taiwan, but largely decided to look beyond that and other strains from human rights to security to cool down the hostility between the two powers.
As part of the mood shift, the U.S. and China announced an agreement to work together on transitioning the world to cleaner energy. This week, the Biden administration said it would tap strategic petroleum reserves to release oil and curb high fuel prices and said Beijing would make a similar move.
Taiwan’s invitation to the democracy summit and a recent statement by Mr. Biden that he has considered a diplomatic boycott of February’s Winter Olympics in Beijing could mar the air of cooperation.
Mr. Xi, in their meeting, warned Mr. Biden against dividing the world into different ideologies and camps, saying it would bring back the dangers of the Cold War, according to the Chinese foreign ministry’s summary of the meeting.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Wednesday that China was opposed to the democracy-summit invitation and called on the U.S. to stop providing a platform for what he said were forces promoting Taiwan’s independence. “Playing with the fire of ‘Taiwan independence,’ you will eventually get burned,” Mr. Zhao said at a media briefing in Beijing.
A Biden administration official said the democracy summit didn’t come up during the Biden-Xi summit and that the administration’s position was that the U.S. would compete and disagree with China in some instances while cooperating on climate change and other global issues.
“Our China policy has been consistent since Day 1,” the official said. “These things are happening simultaneously with each other. It’s a multifaceted, complex dynamic.”
Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund, said the inclusion of Taiwan doesn’t establish a precedent for treatment of Taiwan, noting Taipei was included in the global coalition to defeat the militant group Islamic State.
The Biden administration is also likely to have avoided crossing a Beijing red line by keeping Taiwan’s participation at a lower official level, Ms. Glaser said. Attendees for many countries will include heads of government. Taiwan will be represented by its de facto ambassador in Washington, Bi-Khim Hsiao, and by Digital Minister Audrey Tang, the Taiwan Foreign Ministry said.
“China will likely respond in some way, but it will not lead to a major setback in the relationship,” Ms. Glaser said. “Taiwan will not be referred to as a country, its president will not participate.”
Washington has in recent years sought to bolster Taiwan, increasing contacts among higher level officials and maintaining robust arms sales. Military cooperation has edged up, with the U.S. deploying a small contingent of soldiers to the island to train Taiwanese soldiers.
The moves have alarmed Beijing. The Communist Party leadership has vowed to take Taiwan by force if necessary to complete a reunification of the country. Beijing has for decades forced governments to choose between recognizing it or Taipei, isolating Taiwan and keeping it out of international agencies like the World Health Organization.
Last month, when China marked the 50th anniversary of the United Nations’ recognition of Beijing as China’s legal government, Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement touting Taiwan as “a democratic success story” and calling for broad support for its “robust, meaningful participation throughout the U.N. system and in the international community.”
Taiwan’s inclusion in the democracies summit is supposed to highlight its vibrant democracy and respect for human rights, Taiwanese and U.S. officials said.
“We believe that Taiwan can make meaningful commitments toward the summit’s objectives of countering authoritarianism, fighting against corruption, and advancing respect for human rights at home and abroad,” the administration official said.