by Tom Rogan,
China reacted furiously on Thursday to the possibility that President Joe Biden might invite his Taiwanese counterpart, Tsai Ing-wen, to a virtual pro-democracy summit this December.
Testifying to Congress back in March, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked whether he would see that Taiwan was invited to the summit. Blinken responded that he was “absolutely committed to working on it.” However one interprets that commitment, the White House is clear about what the summit will involve. Its statement describes a “leaders’ summit” involving “heads of state.”
When I asked whether Tsai would be invited, a senior administration official said, “We have not extended invitations yet,” but added that, “To ensure the Summit captures as many viewpoints as possible, the United States has reached out to a regionally diverse set of countries that includes both well-established and emerging democracies.”
China isn’t happy about this possible U.S. invite to what it regards as a breakaway province.
In an editorial and video posted to Beijing’s propaganda Global Times‘s website, editor Hu Xijin warned that Tsai’s appearance on screen alongside other leaders would “gravely violate” China‘s red lines on Taiwan. Hu said it would “be a historic opportunity for [People’s Liberation Army] fighter jets to fly over the island of Taiwan.” This is a threat that China has made before. Still, Hu added, “We must put forward thunder-like measures before the crisis comes. We must be dauntless toward a showdown, and completely knock out the arrogance of the U.S. and Taiwan.”
Hyperbolic rhetoric aside, there’s no question that Tsai’s attendance at the summit would infuriate Beijing. Hu, who should be considered as speaking for China’s foreign policy chief, Yang Jiechi, says that “if the Taiwan military dares to open fire on the PLA fighters, the large number of missiles aimed at Taiwan’s military targets from the mainland and our bomber fleets will make a decisive answer and write history.”
Even if Taiwan is the particular sore spot, it’s not the Chinese Communist Party’s only complaint here. Hu says that the democracy summit itself would “definitely divide the world.”
This is true, of course, and would appear to be the Biden administration’s legitimate objective. After all, those nations that value the democratic rule of law have an interest in standing together against those nations that intend to tear down that order. China being the preeminent power in the latter camp. This summit is a good idea in itself. But the added utility of this summit is that it will force China into either accepting moral isolation, or pressuring democracies into refusing attendance at the summit. It’s a catch-22 for Beijing in that, if it makes the latter choice, China will further alienate Western democratic populations.
An example of China’s vulnerability in this regard is the escalating political divorce between the elected European Union Parliament and unelected European Union Council over a possible EU-China trade deal. China’s bullying of smaller nations such as Lithuania and the Czech Republic is also creating a backlash, fostering broader European skepticism toward China.
Put simply, the Biden administration is right to organize this summit and would be even more right to invite Taiwan to attend.