On 9 December the US State Department invited 110 countries to participate in the Summit for Democracy in the World, but China is not on the list of invitations. In truth, there are many nations not invited: for example many Arab countries, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, and then Putin’s Russia, but also Orban’s Hungary and Erdogan’s Turkey. Ok, none of these countries could ever honestly be defined as a “beacon” of democracy in the world, therefore, as we would say today, the decision “is there”. But what unleashed the lightning in Beijing was the invitation addressed instead to the small island – yes, certainly democratic, indeed, the only Chinese democracy in the world – of Taiwan. Outside of Beijing, inside Taipei, Joe Biden clearly said to his “rediscovered friend” (after the very cordial virtual meeting between the two last week) Xi Jinping and – as always in similar cases – lightning and thunderbolts departed from Beijing, fueled by from the fire of Chinese indignation. Again, thankfully, it’s just words, not missiles and aircraft carriers. Thank god.
And while Putin also complained about the decision, also declaring his support for his Chinese friend, Audrey Tang – Taipei minister of digitization, who together with the “de facto” ambassador in Washington, Hsiao Bi-khim, will represent the island at the summit – he declared: “The invitation acknowledges the efforts made in recent years by Taiwan in promoting the values of democracy and human rights”.
In short, the cordial greetings, even “extra protocol”, seen between the two, and the relaxed and friendly atmosphere during the long videoconference meeting last Monday, did not change Biden’s mind about where he is at home, between Beijing and Taiwan, democracy. And if we were to imagine a hypothetical phone call from Xi complaining to “friend” Joe about the point, Biden’s answer would be a classic: “don’t take it,” friend “Xi: nothing personal”. Instead, when we talk about what for Beijing is only a “rebellious province”, an integral part of the “Chinese motherland” and destined – better sooner than later, they say – to reunite with the “one and only China” that exists and can exist to the world, in the parts of the Forbidden City they take it “personally”. And in fact, the reaction of Chinese diplomacy arrived, promptly and immediately, this morning, through the mouth of the spokesman of the Foreign Ministry, Zhao Lijian: “This is a serious mistake. Taiwan has no status in international law other than being an integral part of China. We oppose any official interaction between the United States and the Chinese region of Taiwan ”.
A script already seen, whenever someone in the world – especially the United States, but not only them – “dares” to speak (officially) with Taiwan, visit (officially) Taiwan, define (officially) athletes in some sporting competition – or the team – “from Taiwan” instead of “Taipei” etc. etc … Unthinkable then, for China, to go openly to speak of Taiwan as an independent state, perhaps recognizing (officially) its existence and even allowing it to open a real embassy on its territory, as the very small Lithuania did recently , incurring the most violent reactions from Beijing. The penalty, according to the Communist Party in power in China for over 70 years – under a recent provision – for anyone “recognizing or facilitating in any way” the independence of Taiwan, has the flavor of a real curse: ban perennial to set foot in China, Hong Kong and Macao, with immediate arrest for those who try, and a “life” criminal sentence, up to life imprisonment. Anathema also extended to family members and relatives. If it is not the biblical curse “to the seventh generation”, we are close to it.
But Beijing has always used also and above all other means – less “spectacular” but certainly more effective – to bring those few who insist on recognizing Taiwan “to reason”. For example, it is doing so in recent times with Honduras, one of the 15 countries that still maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which in the case of Tegucigalpa date back to 1941, that is, before the government of the Republic of China, led from Chiang Tsai Chek, fled to the island, after losing the civil war against Mao Zedong’s Communists. In short, a “historical” ally of Taipei. But in a few days, on November 28, the Central American country will choose a new president, and from Taipei they fear – rightly – a decisive and historic “change of direction”. The favorite in the polls, the candidate of the left-wing Libre party, Xiomara Castro, said verbatim that – if elected – she intends to open relations with China, abandoning Taiwan to its fate. According to the outgoing president, Juan Orlando Hernández, who last week had been in Taiwan on an official visit with his wife and had met the Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen, to celebrate 80 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries, these are the China’s usual “false promises”, which with the sound of promises of investments and aid, has managed to further weaken the already small group of nations that recognize Taipei’s independence. In addition to Honduras – which is probably preparing to leave – in fact, only Guatemala, Nicaragua and Belize remain in Latin America. And Beijing’s “briefcase full of money” diplomacy has proven to be very effective. This is demonstrated by the recent decision of two small Pacific states, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands, to cut ties with Taipei, in September 2019, after receiving very “concrete” offers from Beijing.
It should also be added that Biden’s decision to exclude China and instead include Taiwan at the upcoming summit for Democracy also represents a “good opportunity” to reiterate the ambiguity of the American position on Taiwan and relations with the “rebel island. “. On the one hand, in fact – and Biden himself reiterated this during the virtual summit with Xi – the US has always recognized the principle so dear to Beijing of “one China”, to the point of not having officially recognized the Republic of China of Taiwan (only a handful of states in the world do it, we have said, and among these there is the Vatican … but it is not known for how long), on the other hand they provide weapons, military support, technological resources and maintain relationships very direct with Taipei, going so far as to “oblige” himself to militarily defend the island in the event of an attack (by China, of course: who else could ever think of attacking these poor Taiwanese?).
However, Biden does not seem willing to change his mind, and the envelopes with the invitations on the desk of the US State Department do not seem destined to change any recipient. Recently – and we have also told it here from these columns – Xi jinping had officially argued that the one managed with an iron fist by the Communist Party in China is a true democracy, also adding his firm belief that the Western world – what according to Beijing he “defines himself” democratic “according to questionable canons – he does not have the tools to judge China because, curiously and literally, Xi added,” judging a democracy from the outside is not democratic “. The impression is that Joe Biden did not believe him. He probably thought he was joking.