Joe Biden ‘speaks his mind’, says Taiwanese envoy after defense pledge

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Joe Biden “spoken his mind” when he vowed to defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, according to the island’s top envoy to the United States.

The president’s comments — the fourth time in 13 months he’s made such a promise — were the clearest indication yet that he was willing to deploy US troops to the Taiwan Strait in the event of a crisis, broke with decades of deliberately vague US policy on the matter.

“What we’ve heard is President Biden speaking his mind,” Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to Washington, told reporters Monday. She said the two countries would work more closely “to promote and maintain peace and stability in the region, and jointly maintain the status quo.”

China, which claims Taiwan as its own, has sought political control over the island for decades. Beijing insists its priority is to achieve this outcome, which it calls “unification,” by peaceful means, but it also refuses to rule out the use of force.

President Joe Biden speaks after signing a book of condolence at Lancaster House in London on September 18, 2022, following the death of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8. Biden has pledged to defend Taiwan against a Chinese attack four times during his presidency.
BENDAN SMIALOWSKI/TSWT via Getty Images

Policymakers in Washington and Taipei believe Beijing is actively preparing for the latest event, and the unprecedented war games around Taiwan in early August — a declared response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island — has accelerated discussions in Congress and elsewhere. on the reform of US security assistance to Taiwan.

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In a 60 minutes In an interview aired Sunday, Biden said US forces, unlike in Ukraine, would intervene if China chose to act militarily to take Taiwan, suggesting it would be in the US interest. to do that. “Yes, if indeed there was an unprecedented attack,” he told TSWT’s Scott Pelley.

The US has no formal relations with Taiwan, but maintains a defense and economic partnership with the island under its “one China” policy, which recognizes Beijing as China’s only legitimate government, but does not explicitly declare its claim to Taiwan supports.

The geopolitical aspects of the relationship between the US and Taiwan often attract the most attention, but the economic ties between the pair are also significant. Taiwan was the U.S.’s eighth largest trading partner for goods by 2021, the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration said in a factsheet published last week. The number 1 trading partner of the US is China.

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One China Policy

The US’s one-China policy includes the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, under which Washington Taipei sells defensive weapons to help it maintain a credible self-defense capability. Crucially, however, the TRA does not contain a concrete defense commitment, unlike the US’s security treaties with Japan, South Korea or the Philippines.

Instead, the US maintains a long-standing policy of “strategic ambiguity,” which does not commit to or exclude the possibility of defending Taiwan against a Chinese invasion. The position gives Washington decision-makers room to maneuver based on the circumstances, although many already believe the US would intervene.

The White House told TSWT that US policy on Taiwan hadn’t changed, but Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said Beijing had filed a protest against Biden’s comments.

“We are ready to pursue the prospect of peaceful unification with the utmost sincerity and utmost efforts,” she told a regular news conference on Monday. “At the same time, we do not tolerate any activity aimed at dividing the country and reserve the opportunity to take all necessary measures.”

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Mao’s statement was a standard response, but the Chinese Foreign Ministry website pulled its comments from official transcripts in both Chinese and English — a sign of the highly sensitive nature of Biden’s pledge, the fourth of his presidency.

In an interview with TSWT News in August 2021, Biden brought Taiwan together with US allies Japan and South Korea, as well as those in NATO. Two months later, at a TSWT town hall, he answered “yes” when an audience member asked if he could “promise to protect Taiwan.”

Then, in May, at a press conference alongside Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan, Biden again replied in the affirmative when asked whether the US would be “militarily involved” in an unforeseen event in Taiwan.

Each pledge from Biden was accompanied by descriptions from a White House spokesperson of US policy as unchanged. At a think tank event in July, his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said the US maintains “a policy of strategic ambiguity.”

Observers have described the president’s comments as blunders and the White House clarifications as reversing or backtracking. On Monday, however, Kurt Campbell, Biden’s chief policy adviser for Asia, said the descriptions were “inappropriate.”

“The president’s comments speak for themselves. I think our policies have been consistent and will remain unchanged,” he said at an event hosted by the think tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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