President Joe Biden said U.S. military forces would defend Taiwan from “an unprecedented attack,” his latest pledge of support as his administration seeks to deter China from increasing military pressure on the democratically elected government in Taipei.
Biden made the remark during an interview with “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday, while distancing himself from the question of whether Taiwan is or should be independent. Interviewer Scott Pelley asked the president if U.S. forces would “defend the island.”
“Yes, if in fact there was an unprecedented attack,” Biden replied, according to a transcript provided by the broadcaster. Pelly then asked if that meant U.S. soldiers would defend Taiwan in the case of a Chinese invasion, unlike the current situation in Ukraine, and the president again said “yes.”
Earlier in the interview, Biden had said the U.S. stood by its “One China” policy, in which it has avoided formal recognition of the government in Taipei or providing it a binding security guarantee.
“We agree with what we signed onto a long time ago. 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,” he said. “That’s their decision.”
At a news briefing Monday in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning urged the U.S. to “fully understand the extremely important and highly sensitive nature of the Taiwan question and abide by the one China principle.”
Failing to do so, she added, could cause “further damage to China-US relations and peace and stability across the Strait.”
Biden has made similar statements on at least four other occasions as president, spurring protests from Beijing and adding new uncertainty to Washington’s longstanding policy of “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan. China claims Taiwan as its territory, even though the Communist Party has never controlled it, and hasn’t ruled out force to prevent its formal independence.
“China has long assumed that the U.S. would intervene to defend Taiwan, so these statements don’t change PLA plans,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund, referring to China’s military. “If Biden is serious about defending Taiwan, he’ll attach a much higher priority to bolstering the U.S. military’s capability to defend Taiwan if attacked.”
U.S. relations with China have deteriorated further in the wake of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to the island last month, with China cutting off climate and military talks and holding its most provocative military exercises near Taiwan in decades. Still, there’s been no indication that the tensions have scuttled plans for Biden and Xi to hold their first face-to-face summit in November.
That could yet change if Congress passes the Taiwan Policy Act, which is now under discussion in Washington. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would formally designate Taiwan a “major non-NATO ally” and give it more military hardware, even as the White House has expressed concerns over the legislation.
“The biggest problem we have is that what the White House says is our Taiwan policy and what Biden says is our Taiwan policy contradict each other,” said Lev Nachman, assistant professor at National Chengchi University.
“Even though this is not the first time Biden has made such comments, today’s context makes them hit extra hard because of the Taiwan Policy Act’s ongoing debate and the recent Chinese military drills in the Taiwan Strait,” he added. “The worry is that this will exacerbate Taiwan’s current high-tension moment rather than reduce it.”
The Taiwanese Foreign Ministry expressed “sincere gratitude towards President Biden’s reiteration that the U.S. government has rock-solid security commitments to Taiwan,” the agency said in a statement, praising the administration for showing that “it supports Taiwan through multiple public remarks and specific actions.”
In May, Biden said “yes” when asked if the U.S. was prepared to become “involved militarily” if it had to. White House officials later said Biden simply meant the U.S. would provide military equipment to Taiwan, not send troops to defend the island if China attacks.
Back then, China’s Foreign Ministry expressed “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” to Biden’s previous remarks, saying the U.S. risked undermining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. President Xi Jinping reaffirmed China’s resolve to defend its claim to Taiwan in a call with Biden in July, telling the U.S. leader that “those who play with fire will perish by it.”
The U.S. announced another round of weapons sales to Taiwan this month, totaling over $1 billion. “We’ve been adamant about being committed to Taiwan’s self-defense and moving that forward,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said last week.
Meanwhile, Biden reiterated U.S. financial commitments to Ukraine, saying the support will continue “as long as it takes.”
The U.S. has provided more than $15 billion of aid to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, with Biden pledging $600 million in additional weaponry this month. The Ukrainian president renewed his pledge Sunday to retake all Russian-controlled territory, after recent gains in Kharkiv and other regions.
Asked whether Ukraine is winning, Biden said it’s “not losing the war,” although the carnage and destruction make it “hard to count that as winning.”
He warned President Vladimir Putin of a “consequential” response if Russia were to use chemical or tactical nuclear weapons in its war.
“It’ll be consequential,” Biden said. “They’ll become more of a pariah in the world than they ever have been. And depending on the extent of what they do will determine what response would occur.”
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