President Joe Biden said the US would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, in a strong warning to Beijing one month after China held large-scale military exercises in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei.
Asked in an interview on Sunday with CBS News’s 60 Minutes whether he would deploy US forces to defend Taiwan from Chinese military action, Biden replied: “Yes, if in fact there was an unprecedented attack”.
When pressed again on whether the US would send forces to defend Taiwan, in contrast to the situation in Ukraine, the president said: “Yes”.
Biden has issued three similar warnings in the past, but Sunday was the first time he has done so since China reacted furiously to Pelosi’s visit with the unprecedented move of firing ballistic missiles over Taiwan.
Biden made a similar statement about defending Taiwan in Japan in May. At the time, he said US policy on Taiwan had not changed, but his comments have been viewed as diluting Washington’s decades-long policy of “strategic ambiguity”.
Under the policy, the US does not specify whether it would defend Taiwan, in an effort to discourage Taipei from declaring independence and deter China from using force to press its claim of sovereignty over the island.
Some experts have urged the Biden administration to adopt a policy of “strategic clarity” — sending a stronger message to Beijing as the Chinese military increases its aggressive activity around Taiwan. But others said his comments had created a new kind of confusion.
The White House said on Sunday that, notwithstanding Biden’s clear comment about defending Taiwan, US policy on Taiwan was the same.
“In my view, ‘strategic ambiguity’ is being eroded, but what is replacing it is closer to ‘strategic confusion’ than ‘strategic clarity’,” said Bonnie Glaser, a China and Taiwan expert at the German Marshall Fund.
“China has long assumed that the US would defend Taiwan if attacked, so these statements only reinforce the People’s Liberation Army’s planning. I suspect that China focuses greater attention on US capabilities to defend Taiwan, which many people question.”
Biden’s remarks to came days after the Senate foreign relations committee passed the Taiwan Policy Act, a bill to authorise $6.5bn in funding for weapons and military training for Taiwan. The bill would also force the president to impose sanctions on major Chinese state-owned banks if Beijing escalated its aggression towards Taiwan, which could include actions such as a blockade or the seizure of Taiwan’s offshore islands.
US and Chinese officials are also discussing the possibility of Biden and his counterpart Xi Jinping meeting in person for the first time as leaders at the G20 summit in Indonesia in November.
China accuses the US of diluting the “one China” policy, under which the US recognises Beijing as the government of China but only acknowledges, without endorsing, its view that Taiwan is part of China.
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