President Joe Biden criticized China on Wednesday for using “coercive” methods to pressure Taiwan and said their behavior is undermining peace and stability in the region, the Associated Press reported.
Biden delivered his critical remarks during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) East Asia Summit.
Following his comments on Taiwan, the White House told the Associated Press that Biden “reiterated the U.S. commitment to the international rules-based order and expressed concern over threats to that order. He made clear that the United States will continue to stand with allies and partners in support of democracy, human rights, rule of law, and freedom of the seas.”
Biden’s comments come as China has carried out record-setting military flights around Taiwan for months and has conducted beach landing drills like those likely to be used in an invasion of the island. Earlier this month, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said, “China will take all necessary measures to resolutely crush all attempts at ‘Taiwan independence.’”
Biden’s public condemnation of China’s coercion of Taiwan comes a week after he said during a CNN town hall appearance that the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked. “Yes, we have a commitment to do that.”
Biden’s comments about defending Taiwan are significant because while Taiwan governs itself as an independent nation, China considers the island part of its territory.
While Biden said the U.S. has a commitment to defend Taiwan against China, the true U.S. relationship towards the island is more ambiguous. The U.S. does provide defensive equipment to Taiwan, and under the Taiwan Relations Act does not preclude the potential to respond militarily if Taiwan is attacked. At the same time, the U.S. has recognized the People’s Republic of China as the true Chinese government and has recognized Taiwan as part of China, under the One China Policy.
After his comments at the CNN town hall last week, the Biden White House later said that Biden was not indicating any change in the U.S. position towards Taiwan.
“The U.S. defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act,” a White House spokesperson said last week. “We will uphold our commitment under the Act, we will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo.”
In one recent move in September, the U.S. and the United Kingdom announced a plan to begin transferring nuclear-propulsion technologies for submarines to Australia. The agreement is seen as a move to bolster Australia’s naval forces and act as a check on China’s ambitions in the Pacific.