The Copenhagen Democracy Summit and what it says about Taiwan’s Future

On May 10 and 11 of 2021, Denmark hosted the Democracy Summit in Copenhagen. Denmark received some backlash from the Chinese government as President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan was invited to the Summit.

China views Taiwan as their territory, making this invitation to the Democracy Summit look like EU acknowledgment of Taiwan’s independence, angering China. Beyond just an invitation, Kofod also referenced recent international tensions with China, stating “We need to stand firmer, respond faster and stronger, when universal values like human rights and freedom of speech are under pressure”. Kofod is referencing recent EU sanctions that were put in place to chastise China for the human rights abuses occuring in Xinjiang against Muslim Uighurs. This all comes at a time when China is increasing military activity within Taiwan’s Air Defense identification zone as reported by Reuters.

U.S. news reports that “Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod, who said he was preparing a new ‘value-based’ foreign policy and security strategy, denounced as ‘deplorable’ recent sanctions imposed by China against the EU.” These sanctions were in response to the EU sanctions regardings China’s human rights violations. The United States has also shown to be in line with the EU as The New York Times reports that “the Biden administration has said that America’s support for Taiwan is “‘rock solid’”. China is not taking these criticisms lightly as Reuters details that “The Chinese embassy in Denmark criticized the event on Monday, saying ‘anti-China’ activities by foreign forces and separatists to promote independence for Taiwan and Hong Kong were ‘bound to fail’.” 

It is important for powerful countries to stand up for Taiwan’s independence and autonomy, especially as China toes the line with Taiwan, potentially threatening war with increased aircrafts in the area. That being said, Minister Kofod’s stance in standing strong behind Taiwan at the Democracy Summit could result in heightened tensions and more prompt military action from China. An opinion piece in the New York Times outlines the danger in making a democratic relationship with Taiwan official. Simply in terms of military force and geography, “Taiwan is roughly 100 miles from mainland China but 5,000 miles from Honolulu. Within 500 miles of the island, mainland China boasts 39 air bases. The United States possesses two.” Because of these obvious barriers, Western countries such as the United States and Denmark could only be destabilizing Taiwan’s current state of prosperity and independence. Even if the island continues to live in a world of international ambiguity, the support they now openly have from western countries may force them to bear the anger of Chinese Armed Forces.

China and Taiwan have an extremely turbulent history. Following World War II, Japan was forced to relinquish Taiwan as a territory and China looked to control it once again. According to the BBC, following the Communist Revolution, China’s old government regime, the Kuomintang, fled to Taiwan. This left Taiwan with a different government system than the communist regime on the mainland. In the 1980s, China tried to get Taiwan to sign onto a “one state, two systems” policy that would make them a territory of China’s but with an extreme amount of autonomy. Taiwan rejected this policy but loosened restrictions with the mainland. Until 2000, they coexisted mostly without any diplomatic communication and a refusal on the part of Beijing to admit Taiwan’s independence. With the election of a democratic leader who backed Taiwanese independence in 2000, China’s anger about their lack of control of the island has only been rekindled within the past two decades. On the international scene, Taiwan’s legal status is incredibly ambiguous. While Taiwan’s autonomy is widely recognized, any direct actions in support of Taiwan as an independent state results in rising tensions with China. Beginning with Trump’s presidency and through Biden’s administration today, the United States and EU have begun to more actively support Taiwan, leading to the conflicts at the Democracy Summit this past week.

With a growing international discontentment towards China from the West, tensions only continue to grow between these international super powers. Specifically, there is worry that China and Taiwan could be facing off with military action very soon. EU sanctions against China due to human rights violations do not help to soothe the growing strain between China and the EU. A culmination of these problems, most prominently increased outward support for Taiwan draws this autonomous island into great peril, meaning the world should be prepared for conflict in this area and find ways to support Taiwan and its democracy.