by Francesco Fontemaggi
Joe Biden has invited Taiwan to a virtual summit on democracy alongside more than 100 countries — a move that sparked indignation from authoritarian China, which is not on the list.
Taiwan thanked 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 told reporters.
China said it “firmly opposed” the inclusion of an island it regards as “an inalienable part of Chinese territory”. Beijing claims self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory to be re-taken one day, by force if necessary.
The global conference was a campaign pledge by the US president, who has placed the struggle between democracies and “autocratic governments” at the heart of his foreign policy.
The “Summit for Democracy” will take place online on December 9 and 10 ahead of an in-person meeting at its second edition next year.
The meeting was long advertised, but the guest list — published Tuesday on the State Department’s website — will be closely scrutinized.
Unsurprisingly, America’s main rivals China and Russia are not on it.
The invitation is a major coup for Taipei at a time when Beijing is ramping up its campaign to keep Taiwan locked out of international bodies.
Only 15 countries officially recognize Taipei over Beijing although many nations maintain de facto diplomatic relations with the island.
The US does not recognize Taiwan as an independent country but it holds it up as a rare model of progressive democracy in Asia and maintains it as a crucial regional ally. It opposes any change to Taiwan’s status by force.
China balks at any use of the word “Taiwan” or diplomatic gestures that might lend a sense of international legitimacy to the island.
“I agree Taiwan more than qualifies — but it does seem to be (the) only democratic govt invited that the US govt does not officially recognize. So its inclusion is a big deal,” tweeted Julian Ku, a Hofstra University law professor whose specialties include China.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said it would be represented at the summit by its de facto US ambassador Bi-khim Hsiao and digital minister Audery Tang, who is one of the world’s few openly transgender national politicians.
India, often called “the world’s biggest democracy,” will be present despite increasing criticism from human rights defenders over democratic backsliding under Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
So too will Pakistan, despite its checkered relationship with Washington.
Democracy in decline
Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was dubbed an “autocrat” by Biden, did not make the list.
The city-state of Singapore and Bangladesh — one of the world’s most populous democracies — did not make the list either.
In the Middle East, only Israel and Iraq were invited. The traditional Arab allies of the US — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — are all absent.
Biden also invited Brazil, which is led by controversial far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
In Europe, Poland is represented, despite recurring tensions with Brussels over respect for the rule of law, but Hungary’s far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban is not.
On the African side, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Niger are invited.
“For this kick-off Summit… there’s a case for getting a broad set of actors into the room: it provides for a better exchange of ideas than setting a perfect bar for qualification,” Laleh Ispahani of the Open Society Foundations told AFP.
Rather than using the summit as an anti-China meeting, Ispahani urged Biden to address “the serious decline of democracy around the world — including relatively robust models like the US.”
This summit is being organized as democracy has suffered setbacks in countries where the US had placed great hopes.
Sudan and Myanmar have experienced military coups, Ethiopia is in the midst of a conflict that could lead to its “implosion,” according to US diplomats, and the Taliban took power in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US troops after two decades.
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