TOKYO — President Joe Biden said Monday that if China invaded Taiwan, the US would engage militarily, adding that the commitment to preserve the island is “much stronger” following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It was one of the most powerful presidential comments in decades in favour of Taiwan’s independence.
When asked if he was willing to get engaged militarily to defend Taiwan if China invaded, Biden responded “absolutely” at a news conference in Tokyo. He continued, “That’s the commitment we made.”
The United States has traditionally avoided making such an explicit security guarantee to Taiwan, with which it no longer has a mutual defence treaty, preferring instead to maintain a policy of “strategic ambiguity” about how far it would be willing to go. The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which governs U.S. relations with the island, does not require the United States to intervene militarily if China invades, but it does make it American policy to ensure Taiwan has the resources to defend itself and to prevent it from being
Biden’s comments, according to a White House official, do not reflect a policy shift for the US, a point emphasised even more forcefully by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who was asked by reporters if Biden’s response meant the US would do more to help Taiwan than it has done to help Ukraine, and whether the US was committing to send troops to Taiwan in the event of an invasion.
“Our One China policy has not altered, as the president stated,” Austin said at the Pentagon. “He reaffirmed that policy, as well as our commitment to maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” He further emphasised our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to assist Taiwan in acquiring the necessary defence capabilities. So, once again, our policy does not apply.
However, mainland China, which considers Taiwan to be a rogue colony, reacted angrily to Biden’s statements.
Biden’s remarks drew “strong discontent and uncompromising resistance” from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin. “On matters concerning China’s vital interests, such as sovereignty and territorial integrity, China has no space for compromise or concessions.”
“China will take firm steps to protect its sovereignty and security interests, and we will do what we say,” he continued.
Biden said any attempt by China to use force against Taiwan would “simply not be appropriate,” adding that it would “dislocate the entire area and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”
In recent years, China has increased military provocations against democratic Taiwan in an attempt to intimidate it into adopting Beijing’s demands for unification with the communist mainland.
“They’re flirting with danger right now by flying so close and undertaking all the manoeuvres,” Biden said of China.
The United States acknowledges Beijing as China’s government and has no diplomatic connections with Taiwan under the “one China” policy. The United States, on the other hand, maintains unofficial contacts, including a de facto embassy in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, and contributes military weapons for the island’s defence.
Biden stated that he “expects” China not to attempt a forcible takeover of Taiwan, but added that this “depends on exactly how strong the world makes plain that that type of action will result in long-term disapproval by the rest of the community.”
He went on to say that deterring China from attacking Taiwan is one of the reasons why Russian President Vladimir Putin must “pay a high price for his barbarism in Ukraine,” lest China and other countries think such behaviour is acceptable.
Biden promptly ruled out putting US soldiers in direct battle with Russia, citing a desire to avoid escalation with nuclear-armed Russia. However, the US has sent billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine, which has helped the country hold off Russia’s onslaught better than expected.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Joanne Ou expressed “sincere welcome and gratitude” in response to Biden’s statements.
“The international community is very concerned about China’s threat to the security of the Taiwan Strait,” Ou stated. “Taiwan will continue to improve its self-defense capabilities and deepen cooperation with the US, Japan, and other like-minded countries to jointly defend the security of the Taiwan Strait and the rules-based international order, while promoting peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,” the statement said.
It’s not the first time Biden has promised to defend Taiwan against a Chinese attack, only for administration officials to claim that nothing had changed. “Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” Biden said at a CNN town hall in October when questioned about using the US military to defend Taiwan.
The White House has clarified or walked back Biden’s views on a number of foreign policy issues. Even though no legal determination had been made on the topic when Trump branded Putin a war criminal in March, Jen Psaki, then the White House press secretary, stated the president was “speaking from his heart.”
“This man cannot remain in power,” Biden said of Putin during a speech in Poland in March. Officials from the White House rushed to clarify that Biden was not advocating for regime change in Russia.
Biden’s new remarks on Taiwan come only days before he publicly announced the long-awaited Indo-Pacific trade pact, which excludes Taiwan.
Taiwan is not a signatory to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, according to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan. The framework is intended to allow the US to work more closely with key Asian economies on issues such as supply chains, digital trade, clean energy, and anticorruption.