Biden includes Taiwan among 110 invitees to December democracy summit

Taiwan's inclusion follows a series of steps the US has taken in recent weeks to demonstrate support for a key ally.
Taiwan's inclusion follows a series of steps the US has taken in recent weeks to demonstrate support for a key ally.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - The Joe Biden administration has included Taiwan among 110 invitees to its upcoming democracy summit, the State Department announced on Tuesday night (Nov 23), a move that is intended to show solidarity with a key regional partner but risks angering China.

Taiwan thanked Mr Biden for the invitation and said the gathering would be a rare opportunity for the self-ruled democracy to burnish its credentials on the world stage. 

“Through this summit, Taiwan can share its democratic success story,” Presidential Office spokesman Xavier Chang said. 

China said it “firmly opposed” the inclusion of an island it regards as “an inalienable part of Chinese territory”. China regards Taiwan as a renegade province awaiting reunification with the mainland, by force if necessary. 

Taiwan was invited to join nations, including Britain and Japan, at the Dec 9 to 10 virtual “Summit for Democracy”, the State Department said on its website on Tuesday.

The online gathering is an event President Biden vowed to host during his election campaign last year, with the goal of rallying like-minded countries around efforts to fight corruption and authoritarianism and advance human rights.

The final list leaves out several ostensible US partners such as Turkey, a member of Nato, underscoring the challenge the administration faced in pinning down the invitees.

Including Taiwan may be the most controversial decision the administration has made about the summit, even though the island does have one of Asia's more vibrant and free-wheeling democracies.

That is because only a handful of nations - the United States not among them - recognise it as sovereign. China has assailed nations, companies and international organisations that treat the island as an independent entity.

Most recently, Beijing downgraded ties with Lithuania's government after Taiwan opened a diplomatic office in the Baltic nation.

Taiwan's inclusion follows a series of steps the Biden administration has taken in recent weeks to demonstrate its support for a key ally even as it seeks to ratchet down tensions with Beijing, which claims the self-governing island as its own territory.

China has increased military flights near Taiwan and some analysts have warned that President Xi Jinping may be preparing for an invasion in the coming years.

Ms Zhu Fenglian, a spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said on Wednesday that her government opposes "any official interaction between the US and China’s Taiwan region. This stance is clear and consistent. We urge the US to stick to the one-China principle and the three joint communiques".

Mr Biden's planning for the summit has also proved to be a challenge as the administration has grappled with questions over which other countries to invite and which to leave out. The final guest list reflects that challenge: The invitees included Brazil, the Philippines and Poland, all countries that have arguably seen democratic backsliding.

In the end, some countries that were invited appeared to be on the list more as an inducement to institute more democratic principles rather than because they fit neatly into the category of "democracy". Angola, Pakistan and Serbia also made the list.

Another sore spot was the Middle East, where the US struggled to find any invitees aside from Israel. In the end, Iraq was also included. The US’ traditional Arab allies – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – are all absent. 

In Asia, India, often called “the world’s biggest democracy”, will be present despite increasing criticism from human rights defenders over democratic backsliding under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. So will Pakistan, despite its chequered relationship with the US. Singapore and Bangladesh are excluded. 

Mr Biden has frequently characterised democracies' battle against autocracies as an essential geopolitical challenge of the 21st century. In a speech to Congress in April, he said the US must push back against Mr Xi and other leaders who seek to show that their system of government is better for their people.

"He's deadly earnest about becoming the most significant, consequential nation in the world," Mr Biden said at the time, referring to Mr Xi. "He and others - autocrats - think that democracy can't compete in the 21st century with autocracies because it takes too long to get consensus."

Yet after developments, including former president Donald Trump's continuing refusal to accept his re-election defeat and the Jan 6 attack on the US Capitol by some of his supporters, critics have questioned the state of American democracy.

The Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance issued a report on Monday that said the US "fell victim to authoritarian tendencies itself, and was knocked down a significant number of steps on the democratic scale".