President Joe Biden said the U.S. military would intervene to defend Taiwan in any attack from China, comments that appeared to break from the long-standing U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity” before they were walked back by White House officials.
Asked during a press briefing on Monday in Tokyo whether the U.S. would be willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan after not doing so in Ukraine, Biden said, “Yes — it’s a commitment we made.”
“We agree with the One China policy, we signed onto it and all the attendant agreements made from there,” Biden added. “But the idea that — that it can be taken by force, just taken by force, is just not — it’s just not appropriate. It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.
“It’s a burden that’s even stronger,” he added.
Earlier in the briefing, Biden had said that U.S. policy toward Taiwan “has not changed at all.” A White House spokeswoman repeated that comment after Biden’s remarks, saying the president reiterated the United States' “One China Policy” and its commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.
White House officials later said that Biden simply meant the U.S. would provide military equipment to Taiwan, not send troops to defend the island if China attacks, which would constitute a landmark shift in policy.
Since taking office, Biden has repeatedly used language about Taiwan that appeared to alter policy in place since around the time the U.S. switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing. Last year, Biden or his aides needed to clarify his remarks on Taiwan on at least four separate occasions, including his description of the island as “independent” — China’s oft-stated red line for an invasion.
His comments on Monday were particularly striking because they came at a high-profile event on his first trip to Asia. The U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan, which Biden has backed repeatedly during his time in Washington, is intended to minimize the risk of a direct conflict with China, which claims the separately governed island as part of its territory despite never controlling it.
Biden’s remarks angered Beijing, which has warned the U.S. repeatedly over its increased support for Taiwan. Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Monday said China deplored Biden’s comments and said the U.S. should refrain from sending the wrong message “to avoid causing grave damage to bilateral relations.”
“On issues bearing on China’s core interests, including its sovereignty and territorial integrity, there is no room for compromise or concession,” Wang said.
Yang Jiechi, Beijing’s top diplomat, last week issued a similar warning to national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
“If the U.S. side insists on playing the Taiwan card and goes further and further down the wrong road, it will certainly lead to a dangerous situation,” he said.
Taiwan thanked Biden for his remarks, saying they showed the U.S.’s promises toward the island were “rock solid.”
“Our government remains unwavered in its resolve to firmly defend Taiwan’s freedom, democracy and security,” Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We will continue to enhance our self-defense capabilities, and deepen cooperation with like-minded countries including the U.S. and Japan to jointly safeguard security in the Taiwan Strait and rule-based international order.”
In May 2021, Biden’s Asia czar Kurt Campbell told a Financial Times conference that there would be “significant downsides” if the U.S. declared it would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack. He called for maintaining “strategic ambiguity” toward the island, the newspaper reported.©2022 Bloomberg L.P. Visit bloomberg.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.