The Biden administration included Taiwan among the 110 invitees to its upcoming democracy summit, the State Department announced on Tuesday night, a move that’s intended to show solidarity with a key regional partner but risks angering China.
Taiwan was invited to join nations, including the U.K. and Japan, at the Dec. 9-10 virtual summit, the State Department said on its website Tuesday. The online gathering is an event Joe Biden vowed to host while a candidate for president 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 U.S. 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’s because only a handful of nations — the U.S. not among them — recognize it as sovereign.
China has assailed nations, companies and international organizations 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 coming years.
Zhu Fenglian, a spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said Wednesday that her government opposes “any official interaction between the U.S. and China’s Taiwan region. This stance is clear and consistent. We urge the U.S. to stick to the one-China principle and the three joint communiques.”
Biden’s planning for the summit 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: Invitees included Brazil, the Philippines and Poland, all countries that have 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 U.S. struggled to find any invitees aside from Israel. In the end, Iraq was also included.
Biden has frequently characterized democracies’ battle against autocracies as an essential geopolitical challenge of the 21st century. In a speech to Congress in April, he said the U.S. must push back against 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,” Biden said at the time, referring to 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 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 Monday that said the U.S. “fell victim to authoritarian tendencies itself, and was knocked down a significant number of steps on the democratic scale.”