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Biden says US would defend Taiwan from China attack

Biden says US would defend Taiwan from China attack

3 min. 22.10.2021 From our online archive
White House spokesperson later said that Biden didn’t announce a change in US policy toward Taiwan
US President Joe Biden
US President Joe Biden
Photo credit: AFP

President Joe Biden said the US 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.

Biden answered “yes” when asked during a CNN town hall Thursday whether he could pledge to protect Taiwan. “I don’t want a Cold War with China -- I just want to make China understand that we are not going to step back, we are not going to change any of our views,” Biden told host Anderson Cooper in Baltimore. 

Pressed whether he would come to Taiwan’s defense if China tried to attack, Biden responded: “Yes, we have a commitment to do that.”

A White House spokesperson later said that Biden didn’t announce a change in US policy toward Taiwan. The US would continue to uphold its commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act, support Taiwan’s self-defense and oppose unilateral changes in the status quo, the spokesperson said. 

The Biden administration has faced growing calls to clarify the American commitment to defending Taiwan as Chinese President Xi Jinping ramps up diplomatic and military pressure against its popularly elected government. Beijing considers Taiwan part of Chinese territory and has reserved the right to use military force to bring the island under its control. 

Although the US recognized the People’s Republic 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 Taiwan, a policy sometimes called “strategic ambiguity.” The US has continued to maintain informal ties with Taipei and sell it weapons under the Taiwan Relations Act, which Biden voted for as a senator. 

Unlike the defense treaty with Taiwan that it replaced in 1979, the law doesn’t obligate the U.S. to intervene in the event of an attack. China has repeatedly warned that restoring such a security relationship would violate the “one China” agreement that cleared the way for the establishment of diplomatic ties between Washington and Beijing.

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

Earlier this month, Biden said he and Xi had pledged to “abide by the Taiwan agreement,” even though no one agreement by that name exists. He appeared to be referring to a series of US-China communiques that have provided the foundation for diplomatic ties between the two countries over the past four decades.

In 2001, then-President George W. Bush made a similar pledge to protect Taiwan, saying he would order “whatever it took” to help the island defend itself. Then-Senator Biden wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post criticizing the remarks, which he called “ambiguous strategic ambiguity.” 

Taiwan has been at the centre of displays of military might by both China and the U.S. in recent weeks, with the People’s Liberation Army sending scores of warplanes into the island’s air-defense-identification zone. The exercises coincided with naval drills in nearby waters by the US and several allies, including Japan and the UK. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian last week reiterated Beijing’s argument that Washington is to blame for stoking tensions in Taiwan and the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait. “The U.S. side should take China’s position and concerns seriously, earnestly abide by the one-China principle and the stipulations of the three China-U.S. joint communiques, and stop making irresponsible remarks on Taiwan and maritime issues,” Zhao said. 

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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