Joe Biden ‘speaking his mind’, Taiwan envoy says after defense pledge

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

The president’s statements — the fourth time in 13 months — were the clearest indication so far that he was prepared to send American forces into the Taiwan Strait in the event of a crisis, and thus to do with decades of deliberately vague US policy break on this topic.

“What we heard is that President Biden spoke 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 together uphold the status quo.”

China, which claims Taiwan as its own, has sought political control of the island for decades. Beijing insists on achieving this result, which it calls “unification,” by peaceful means, but does not rule out the use of force.

Joe Biden recommits to defending Taiwan
President Joe Biden speaks after signing a book of condolence on September 18, 2022 following the death of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8 at Lancaster House in London. Biden has promised to defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack four times during his presidency.

Policymakers in Washington and Taipei believe Beijing is actively preparing for the latter eventuality, and its unprecedented war games over Taiwan in early August — a declared response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island — have fueled discussions in Congress and elsewhere on US reform to speed up security aid to Taiwan.

in one 60 minutes In an interview that aired on Sunday, Biden said that unlike in Ukraine, American forces would intervene if China decided to use military action to seize Taiwan, implying that it was in the US interest to do so would lie. “Yes, if indeed there has been an unprecedented attack,” he told CBS’ Scott Pelley.

The US has no formal relationship with Taiwan, but maintains a defense and economic partnership with the island as part of its “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing as China’s sole legitimate government without explicitly supporting its claim on Taiwan.

The geopolitical aspects of US-Taiwan relations often attract the most attention, but the economic ties between the two are also significant. Taiwan was the U.S.’s eighth-largest commodity trading partner in 2021, the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration said in a fact sheet released last week. The USA’s No. 1 trading partner is China.

A China policy

The only US policy on China includes the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, under which Washington sells defensive-type weapons from Taipei to help it maintain a credible self-defense capability. Crucially, however, the TRA does not contain a specific defense obligation, in contrast to the security treaties between the USA and Japan, South Korea or the Philippines.

Instead, the US adheres to a long-standing policy of “strategic ambiguity” that neither codifies nor excludes the possibility of defending Taiwan from a Chinese invasion. The position gives decision-makers in Washington leeway depending on the circumstances, although many already believe the US would intervene.

The White House told CBS that US policy toward Taiwan had not changed, but Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said Beijing had protested Biden’s remarks.

“We stand ready to pursue the prospect of peaceful unification with the utmost sincerity and effort,” she said at a regular news conference on Monday. “At the same time, we do not condone activities aimed at dividing the country and reserve the option to take any necessary action.”

Mao’s statement provided a standard response, but the Chinese Foreign Ministry website removed her comments from its official transcripts in Chinese and English – a sign of the highly sensitive nature of Biden’s promise, the fourth of his presidency.

In an interview with ABC News in August 2021, Biden lumped Taiwan in with US allies Japan and South Korea, as well as those in NATO. During a CNN Town Hall two months later, he replied “yes” when a member of the audience asked if he “could pledge to protect Taiwan.”

Then in May of this year, at a press conference alongside Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Biden again affirmed whether the US would be “militarily involved” in a Taiwan contingent.

Each of Biden’s promises was accompanied by a description of US policy by a White House spokesman as unchanged. At a think tank event in July, his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said the US would maintain “a policy of strategic ambiguity.”

Observers have called the president’s remarks a slip and the clarifications from the White House about-faces or walk-backs. On Monday, however, Kurt Campbell, Biden’s top policy adviser for Asia, said the descriptions were “inappropriate”.

“The President’s statements speak for themselves. I think our policy has been consistent and unchanged and will continue,” he said at an event hosted by think tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Joe Biden ‘speaking his mind’, Taiwan envoy says after defense pledge

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