In a statement that shocked even members of his own administration, President Biden recently said that the US military will defend Taiwan “if it comes to that.”
While Biden has been adamant about there being “no boots on the ground” in Ukraine so as not to prompt an actual shooting war between the US and the former Soviet Union, he seems to have no such qualms about China.
The president’s latest “open mouth – insert foot” moment came when – a reporter during a news conference in Japan asked Biden, “Very quickly, you didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?”
“Yes,” Biden replied.
“You are?” the incredulous reporter pressed.
“That’s the commitment we made,” the president doubled down.
Soon after the statement was made, the White House went into damage control mode, with a spokesperson telling news outlets that the administration’s policy “has not changed.”
“As the president said, our policy has not changed,” the spokesperson said. “He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”
The “One China policy” refers to the US recognition of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China but only acknowledges, without endorsing, Beijing’s claim that Taiwan is part of China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin expressed “strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition” to Biden’s comments: “China has no room for compromise or concessions on issues involving China’s core interests such as sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin considers Ukraine a part of historic Russia, and Xi considers Taiwan a part of China.
In October, Biden said the US would defend Taiwan if China attacked. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson responded by saying, “No one should underestimate the strong resolve, determination, and capability of the Chinese people to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity. China has no room for compromise.”
A defiant China launched military exercises in the disputed South China Sea as Biden’s trip to East Asia began Friday.
Asia expert Gordon Chang, author of ‘The Great US-China Tech War,” said the Biden administration is trying to backtrack previous indications that America fears China by proceeding with Taiwan discussions in the face of public warnings from Chinese officials. Chang told “Fox & Friends Weekend” on Sunday that China’s recent military drill is “connected” to Biden’s Asia visit because his joint statement with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol mentioned Taiwan directly.
“They are connected because, before Biden touched down in South Korea – the first stop on the trip – the Chinese publicly warned him not to talk about Taiwan, and so there was the joint statement between President Biden and President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea, which specifically mentions Taiwan,” Chang said. “There are going to be a lot of Taiwan discussions in Japan, the second and last stop on this trip – and so really what the United States was saying to Beijing is, “‘I’m not afraid of you anymore.'”
While Washington is required by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, it has long followed a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on whether it would intervene militarily to protect Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.
Despite the White House insistence that Biden’s “off-script” comments did not represent a change of policy, Grant Newsham, a retired US Marine Corps colonel and now a research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, said the meaning was clear.
“This statement deserves to be taken seriously,” Newsham said. “It is a clear enough statement that the US will not sit by if China attacks Taiwan.”