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China condemned the U.S.’s latest overture toward Taiwan, warning that ties between the two countries faced “huge risks” just weeks after U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to hold a video summit.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s call for greater participation by Taiwan in U.N. organizations violated the “one China” understanding between Beijing and Washington, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular news briefing Wednesday. Zhao dismissed the remarks as an attempt to generate sympathy for Taiwan’s cause on the world stage.

“If the U.S. continues to play the Taiwan card, it will surely bring game-changing and huge risks to China-U.S. relations,” Zhao said. Earlier, the Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing had urged Taipei to “abandon the illusion of relying on the U.S. for independence,” saying the island had “no right” to join the U.N. a half-century after its government was booted out.

How much the dust-up over Taiwan will impact U.S.-China ties, including the planned Biden-Xi video summit later this year, is unclear. The two sides have been sparring over Taiwan since open fighting stopped in the Chinese civil war more than seven decades ago, and were trading fresh blows even as the two presidents agreed to meet earlier this month.

The Chinese Communist Party claims Taiwan as its territory, even though it has never controlled the island, and has asserted the right to take it by force if necessary. Although the U.S. has recognized the People’s Republic of China as the “sole legal government of China” more than four decades ago, it never clarified its position on Taiwan’s sovereignty or whether it would use force to defend the island.

When the government in Beijing replaced Taipei’s as China’s representative at the U.N. in 1971, it allowed Taiwanese representatives to participate in some international organizations, such as the World Health Organization. Beijing has sought to roll back such arrangements since President Tsai Ing-wen was elected in 2016 and refused to accept that both sides are part of “one China.”

“Taiwan’s exclusion undermines the important work of the U.N. and its related bodies, all of which stand to benefit greatly from its contributions,” Blinken said in a statement. “The fact that Taiwan participated robustly in certain U.N. specialized agencies for the vast majority of the past 50 years is evidence of the value the international community places in Taiwan’s contributions.”

Although “tens of millions of passengers” traveled annually through its airports, Taiwan wasn’t represented at the International Civil Aviation Organization assembly, Blinken said, adding that Taipei was also absent from the World Health Assembly despite the world having “much to learn” from its pandemic response.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called for greater participation by Taiwan in U.N. organizations. | REUTERS
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called for greater participation by Taiwan in U.N. organizations. | REUTERS

Blinken’s comments come after Biden said last week the U.S. was committed to defending Taiwan from a Chinese attack, in some of his strongest comments yet as the administration faces calls to clarify its stance on the democratically ruled island. A White House spokesperson later said Biden wasn’t announcing a change in U.S. policy toward Taiwan, which calls for supporting the democracy’s self-defense and opposing unilateral changes in the status quo.

The Biden administration has struggled to balance the demands of those seeking greater support for Taiwan and others worried about a potential military confrontation with nuclear-armed China. After Biden in August equated the U.S.’s security commitment to Taiwan with its formal alliances with nations such as Japan and South Korea, the administration also clarified that its position was unchanged.

Xi took a veiled swipe at Washington’s efforts on Monday, saying in a speech marking the 50th anniversary of the U.N. shake-up that China “resolutely opposed hegemonism and power politics.” Xi argued that international rules could only be set by the U.N.’s 193 member states, a group dominated by developing nations with close trade and diplomatic ties to Beijing.

The Biden administration’s push for a greater U.N. role for Taiwan is one area of continuity with former U.S. President Donald Trump. Their efforts mark a departure from predecessors such as former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who during a 1998 visit to Shanghai embraced China’s “Three Nos” on Taiwan, saying among other things, that the U.S. doesn’t “believe that Taiwan should be a member in any organization for which statehood is a requirement.”

Subsequent American leaders brought China deeper into traditionally U.S.-led multilateral organizations, with former U.S. President George W. Bush advocating for its accession into the World Trade Organization in 2001. Many in Washington now argue that the policy failed to spur liberalization in China and express concern that Xi’s campaign to isolate Taiwan might culminate in an effort to take the island by force.

The Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper separately published an editorial accusing Blinken of trying to upgrade Washington’s approach toward Taipei and opening a “new offensive” on Taiwan. China won’t “step back an inch” on the issue, the Chinese-language edition of the nationalistic tabloid said, arguing that the call would be rejected by most U.N. members.

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