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China warns Biden that inviting Taiwan to his democracy summit is a ‘mistake’ after Xi told him he was ‘playing with fire’

Biden has made boosting democracy worldwide a major goal, and invited the democratically governed island to his upcoming summit. ...
biden xi jinping
Then-Vice President Joe Biden met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2011.

  • China said the US made a "mistake" in inviting Taiwan to Biden's upcoming democracy summit.
  • Xi Jinping recently warned that Biden was "playing with fire" when it comes to Taiwan. 
  • Tensions over Taiwan have contributed to an extraordinarily thorny dynamic between the US and China.

The Chinese government warned President Joe Biden that inviting Taiwan to the upcoming democracy summit he's hosting was a "mistake."

China opposes "any official interaction between the US and China's Taiwan region," Zhu Fenglian, a spokesperson for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, said on Wednesday, per The Guardian. 

A list of participants in the summit was published on Tuesday, revealing that Taiwan was among the 110 invitees. The summit is set to occur virtually on December 9 and 10.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.

The US-China relationship is at a historic low, with tensions over Taiwan at the heart of the rift. 

Last week, Chinese leader Xi Jinping cautioned Biden against promoting Taiwanese independence, stating that the US was "playing with fire" when it comes to Taiwan. The Chinese government considers Taiwan, a self-governed island democracy, to be a breakaway province. 

"Such moves are extremely dangerous, just like playing with fire," Xi said during a virtual meeting with Biden last Monday, per the official Xinhua News Agency. "Whoever plays with fire will get burnt," Xi added.

"We have patience and will strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification with utmost sincerity and efforts," Xi told Biden. "That said, should the separatist forces for 'Taiwan independence' provoke us, force our hands or even cross the red line, we will be compelled to take resolute measures."

Biden has not explicitly called for Taiwanese independence, but has sent mixed messages in terms of US policy toward Taiwan. Biden and other US officials have reiterated their position that China and Taiwan should negotiate their relationship peacefully.

The US cut off formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979 when it established official ties with China's foreign government. But Washington has continued to have a robust, unofficial relationship with Taiwan, and under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 the US is committed to providing the island with defensive weapons. 

"The US will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability," the law states.

The US has generally upheld a policy of "strategic ambiguity" toward Taiwan — intentionally being vague about how it would respond if China attacked. But Biden in October seemingly committed the US to Taiwan's defense if China invaded, which led the White House to walk back on his comments. 

Biden has made boosting democracy worldwide a major foreign policy goal, and on the campaign trail vowed to hold a summit focusing on this. He entered the White House less than a month after a violent insurrection at the US Capitol, which Secretary of State Antony Blinken said damaged America's ability to promote democracy

"American democracy is not a model for anybody right now, but that doesn't mean democracy is not a model," Archon Fung, the Winthrop Laflin McCormack Professor of Citizenship and Self-Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, told Insider in January. "If you're interested in democracy, don't look at American democracy — especially not right now — on how to have a good democracy. There's a lot of other places that are doing it much better and we should be learning from them."

Fung said Biden's democracy summit was a "great idea," but went on to say that the goal of such an event should be "what we can learn from other places to make America that city on a hill that we would all love it to be."

The US was listed as a "backsliding democracy" for the first time in an annual report from the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. The report warned of the decline of democracy worldwide, stating that the number of countries "moving in the direction of authoritarianism is three times the number moving towards democracy." 

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