WASHINGTON: Risking China’s wrath, US President Joe Biden has invited Taiwan to a virtual summit on democracy along with more than 100 countries.
The conference was a campaign pledge by the US president, who has put 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, prior to an in-person meeting at the second edition next year.
The meeting was long advertised, but the guest list — which was published on the State Department’s website on Tuesday — will be scrutinized.
Unsurprisingly, America’s main rivals, China and Russia, are not among them.
But the United States has invited Taiwan, which it does not recognize as an independent country, but presents itself as a model democracy.
China eschews any use of the word “Taiwan” which lends a sense of international legitimacy to the democratic self-ruled island, which Beijing claims as part of its territory and has vowed to one day seize — by force if necessary.
The US action is guaranteed to further fuel tensions between the two superpowers.
“I agree that Taiwan is more than eligible, but it seems to be (the) only democratic government that has been invited and that the US government does not officially recognize it. So its inclusion is a big deal,” tweeted Julian Ku , a law professor from Hofstra University whose specialties included China.
India, often referred to as “the world’s largest democracy,” will be in attendance despite increasing criticism from human rights defenders of the democratic decline under Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
So is Pakistan, despite its volatile relationship with Washington.
Democracy in decline
Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was called an “autocrat” by Biden, did not make the list.
In the Middle East, only Israel and Iraq were invited. The US’s traditional Arab allies – 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, despite recurring tensions with Brussels over respect for the rule of law, Poland is represented, but Hungary’s far-right Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, is not.
On the African side, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Niger have been invited.
“For this kick-off Summit… there’s a reason to get a wide range of actors in the room: it makes for a better exchange of ideas than setting a perfect bar for qualification,” Laleh Ispahani told me. from the Open Society Foundations to AFP.
Rather than using the summit as an anti-China rally, Ispahani urged Biden to “address the serious decline in democracy around the world — including relatively robust models like the US”.
This summit is being organized because democracy has suffered from setbacks in countries that the US had high hopes for.
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 after the withdrawal of US troops after two decades.