President Joe Biden has again confirmed that U.S. troops would defend Taiwan in the event of an attack from China, the clearest recent statement Biden has made about how far the United States would go to support Taiwan militarily.
In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday evening, Biden told host Scott Pelley that the United States would defend Taiwan “if in fact there was an unprecedented attack.” China claims Taiwan, a self-governing democracy that is home to 23 million people, as its own territory, and has asserted it could one day use force to take control of the island.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine more than six months ago, Biden has emphasized several times that U.S. military forces would not fight Russian troops on Ukrainian soil. Pelley pressed Biden on whether the situation would be different in the event of an attack on Taiwan.
“So unlike Ukraine, to be clear, sir, U.S. forces – U.S. men and women – would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion?” Pelley asked.
“Yes,” Biden replied.
The interview is the latest of several occasions in which Biden has said that the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense militarily if China were to attack. Each time, White House officials emphasized that his remarks did not represent any change in U.S. policy.
A Biden administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the issue, pointed to remarks the president made in May, when he told reporters that the practice of strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan remained. At the time, he did not elaborate and did not explicitly say he would send U.S. troops to Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.
“He also made clear then that our Taiwan policy hasn’t changed,” the official said. “That remains true.”
A representative from the State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday.
The “60 Minutes” segment erroneously stated that U.S. policy since 1979 has recognized Taiwan as part of China. Under the United States’ “one-China policy,” the American government under various administrations has for decades acknowledged Beijing’s view without taking a position on the status of Taiwan’s sovereignty.
Under the Taiwan Relations Act, which was signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, the United States agreed to provide Taiwan with arms to defend itself, and “to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.” The language neither guarantees nor rules out the possibility of military intervention, though the United States has long practiced “strategic ambiguity” when it comes to what it would do.
In the “60 Minutes” interview, Biden appeared to refer to the Taiwan Relations Act when asked what Chinese President Xi Jinping should know about Biden’s commitment to Taiwan.
“We agree with what we signed onto a long time ago,” Biden told Pelley. “And that there’s one-China policy, and Taiwan makes their own judgments about their independence. We are not moving – we’re not encouraging their being independent. That’s their decision.”
Tensions between the United States and China – as well as between China and Taiwan – have escalated in recent months. Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, Biden sent an unofficial delegation of former U.S. defense and national security officials to Taiwan, an effort to show that the United States’ commitment to Taiwan “remains rock solid,” an administration official said at the time.
Last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) traveled with a congressional delegation to Taipei, becoming the first House speaker to visit Taiwan since Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) did so in 1997. There, the delegation met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, and Pelosi repeatedly affirmed the United States’ “commitment to” and “enduring friendship” with Taiwan.
The visit angered Beijing. Under the Chinese Communist Party, Beijing has for decades pursued a global pressure campaign to diplomatically isolate Taiwan’s democratically elected government by poaching its diplomatic partners and fiercely opposing exchanges between Taipei and foreign officials.
China conducted expanded military exercises near Taiwan leading up to and after Pelosi’s visit, calling them a warning to “provocateurs” who challenge Beijing’s claims over Taiwan. Beijing also imposed sanctions on Pelosi and her immediate family, and canceled military dialogues and suspended climate talks with the United States.
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