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Beijing has been wary of warming ties between Washington and Taipei. Photo: Reuters

Biden democracy summit invitation to Taiwan ‘risks crisis in China-US ties’

  • Taipei says it wants to attend the gathering in December, saying it shares values with the United States
  • Researcher warns that consequences would be unprecedented
China and the US could face their most serious diplomatic crisis in decades if the White House invites Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen to a democracy summit in December, mainland Chinese observers warn.
The White House announced on Wednesday that US President Joe Biden would host dozens of elected world leaders for a virtual “Summit for Democracy”, a move widely seen as an attempt to counter Beijing’s influence.

The foreign ministry in Taipei said on Thursday it aimed to attend the summit, saying Taiwan would strive to defend democracy and human rights with the US and other like-minded countries.

“The theme of the summit includes defending against authoritarianism, fighting corruption and promoting human rights, which are the values shared by Taiwan and the United States,” Regine Chen, deputy director of North American affairs at Taiwan’s foreign ministry, said in Taipei.

“We are working hard to coordinate with the Biden government to secure a place at the summit.”


‘Our commitment to Taiwan is rock solid’, US says about mainland China’s intimidation in the region

‘Our commitment to Taiwan is rock solid’, US says about mainland China’s intimidation in the region

Beijing sees Taiwan as a breakaway province to be taken back under its control, by force, if necessary, and has been wary of warming ties between Taipei and Washington.


Beijing’s sovereignty over the island is one of its red lines in relations with other countries, a position China’s new ambassador to the US stressed after a meeting with US deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman on Thursday.

“The Taiwan issue is the most important and most sensitive issue in Sino-US relations and I’ve reiterated the position of the Chinese government to [Sherman],” ambassador Qin Gang said after the meeting.

Taiwan, US agree to hold regular talks on coastguard cooperation

Lu Xiang, a senior researcher on China-US relations with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said there would be “unprecedented consequences” if Tsai went to the summit.

“I think this would definitely cross the bottom line of China, and the Chinese government would never tolerate it,” he said. “I believe that the situation, if it happened, would be far worse than the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis.”

That crisis erupted after then-Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui made an unofficial visit to his alma mater, Cornell University, despite opposition from Beijing.


The People’s Liberation Army fired missiles into waters around the island as warnings and the US responded by sending two aircraft carrier battle groups to the region. The carrier Nimitz later transited the strait.


Chinese military activity around Taiwan ‘potentially destabilising’, White House says

Chinese military activity around Taiwan ‘potentially destabilising’, White House says

Taiwan-US ties improved dramatically under the administration of Donald Trump and Biden appears to be taking a similar approach.


Last week, the Biden administration approved US$750 million in arms sales to the island, including 40 self-propelled artillery units. Beijing vowed to retaliate.

Beijing also said on Friday that it opposed talks between Taiwan and the US on cooperation between their coastguards, which could include joint drills near the island, saying it is sending a wrong signal to Taiwanese pro-independence forces.

This comes after senior diplomats from the US, Japan, India and Australia – known as the Quad alliance – held another meeting on Thursday saying they had discussed “the importance of peace and security in the Taiwan Strait”.

Zhu Feng, director of the Institute of International Studies at Nanjing University, said the West was trying to turn the Taiwan issue into a matter of human rights and freedom, while Qin was trying to deliver a message “that China would never compromise”.

“The Taiwan issue has posed a great challenge to Sino-US relations, and the US and China need to emerge from the downward spiral of conflict over Taiwan,” Zhu said.

New submarine hints at China’s search for stealth ahead of potential Taiwan war: analysts

Pang Zhongying, an international relations expert at Ocean University of China in Qingdao, said hopes of improving ties between the two countries would fade if the Biden administration played the Taiwan card in December.


“Taiwan may need the card of the democracy summit but to China this is about sovereignty,” he said. “If Biden moves forward on that path, there’s little chance of the two countries repairing bilateral ties this year.”

Additional reporting by Lawrence Chung

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Warning of ‘most serious’ crisis if US invites Taiwan to democracy summit