Joe Biden has invited Taiwan to a virtual democracy summit alongside more than 100 countries – a move that has sparked outrage from authoritarian China, which is not on the list.
Taiwan thanked Biden for his invitation and said the rally would be a rare opportunity for autonomous democracy to polish its glory on the world stage.
“Thanks to this summit, Taiwan can share its democratic success,” Presidential office spokesman Xavier Chang told reporters.
China has said it is “strongly opposed” to the inclusion of an island it considers “an inalienable part of Chinese territory”. Beijing claims self-governing Taiwan as part of its territory to be recaptured one day, by force if necessary.
>> Read more: With heightened rhetoric, is the United States moving away from “strategic ambiguity” over Taiwan?
The world conference was a campaign pledge by the US president, who 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 before a face-to-face meeting at its second edition next year.
The meeting has long been announced, but the guest list – posted on the State Department’s website on Tuesday – will be closely scrutinized.
Not surprisingly, the main rivals of the United States, China and Russia, are not included.
The invitation is a major coup for Taipei at a time when Beijing is stepping up its campaign to keep Taiwan away from international bodies.
Only 15 countries officially recognize Taipei above Beijing, although many countries have de facto diplomatic relations with the island.
The United States does not recognize Taiwan as an independent country, but it presents it as a rare model of progressive democracy in Asia and maintains it as a crucial regional ally.
China balks at any use of the word “Taiwan” or diplomatic gestures that could give the island a sense of international legitimacy.
“I agree that Taiwan is more than eligible – but it appears to be (the) only guest democratic government that the US government does not officially recognize. So its inclusion is a big deal,” tweeted Julian Ku, a professor of law at Hofstra University whose specialties include China.
India, often referred to as “the world’s greatest democracy”, will be present despite growing criticism from human rights defenders of the democratic setback under Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The same will be true of Pakistan, despite its turbulent relations with Washington.
Democracy in decline
Turkey, a US ally in NATO whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been called an “autocrat” by Biden, was not on the list.
The city-state of Singapore and Bangladesh, one of the most populous democracies in the world, was also not on the list.
In the Middle East, only Israel and Iraq were invited. The traditional Arab allies of the United States – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – are all absent.
Biden also invited Brazil, 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 not the far-right Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
On the African side, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Niger are invited.
“For this launch summit (…) there is a need to bring together a wide range of actors in the room: this allows a better exchange of ideas than setting the perfect bar for the qualification”, declared to l ‘AFP Laleh Ispahani of the Open Society Foundations. .
Rather than using the summit as an anti-China meeting, Isfahani urged Biden to address the “severe decline in democracy around the world – including relatively robust models like the United States.”
This summit is being held as democracy has suffered setbacks in countries where the United States had placed great hopes.
Sudan and Myanmar have experienced military coups, Ethiopia is at the heart of a conflict that could lead to its “implosion”, according to US diplomats, and the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan after the withdrawal American troops after two decades.