As President Joe Biden announces the long-awaited Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) in Tokyo, one U.S. economic partner is notable by its glaring absence. To avoid offending Chinese sensibilities, Taiwan is excluded.
The agreement is intended to commit several nations to improve supply chains, digital trade, and clean energy. Though the president’s itinerary was Seoul and then Tokyo, it’s clear that countering China is the focus of the trip — Biden’s first to Asia.
Chinese Communists consider Taiwan to be merely a breakaway republic. Declarations of a coming reunification with Beijing are louder and more frequent than in recent years, and many believe the government is closely watching Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for direction.
There is no question that China considers the American-led pact to be an antagonistic move. Foreign Minister Wang Yi called his South Korean counterpart Park Jin last week. Wang urged him to block the “risk of a new Cold War” and avoid confrontation.
Anticipating the agreement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin also cast aspersions on the effort. He accused the U.S. of building “exclusive cliques” and fostering “turmoil and chaos.” He further urged Biden to pursue international peace and economic development.
Reflecting this, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan confirms that Taiwan is not one of the countries signing up for the pact.
The significance is not lost on Congress as a bipartisan group of senators urged Biden this week to include Taiwan. In a press release, they declared including the island nation will signify “rock solid commitment” by the U.S. A similar letter signed by 200 House members went to Biden’s desk in March.
Taipei repeatedly expressed interest in recent months in being included in the IPEF. It is speculated, however, that other countries in the pact would not want to sign on to an agreement seen as an anti-China agreement.
Marking the president’s visit, China began military drills in the South China Sea on Thursday that included nuclear-capable H-6 bombers flown over the area. The Liaoning aircraft carrier is also on a mission in the Sea of Japan.
It is very unlikely that the Biden administration will make moves viewed as openly antagonistic to China. With the war in Ukraine, last year’s bumbling pullout from Afghanistan, and numerous issues at home, Taiwan just slides further down the list.