During a CNN town hall discussion on Thursday, President Joe Biden vowed to protect Taiwan if it is attacked by China.
During the town hall, a member of the audience noted a suspected August Chinese hypersonic missile test and asked “What will you do to keep up with them militarily? And can you vow to protect Taiwan?”
Biden replied, “Yes and yes.”
Biden then said, “We are — militarily, China, Russia, and the rest of the world knows we have the most powerful military in the history of the world. Don’t worry about whether we’re going to — they’re going to be more powerful. What you do have to worry about is whether or not they’re going to engage in activities that will put them in a position where there — they may make a serious mistake.”
“And so, I have had — I have spoken and spent more time with Xi Jinping than any other world leader has,” Biden continued. “That’s why you have — you know, you hear people saying, ‘Biden wants to start a new Cold War with China.’ I don’t want a Cold War with China. I just want to make China understand that we are not going to step back. We are not going to change any of our views.”
CNN host Anderson Cooper then asked, “So, are you saying that the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked?”
“Yes,” Biden said. “Yes, we have a commitment to do that.”
The actual U.S. position towards Taiwan has been one of ambiguity since the 1970s when the U.S. recognized the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the official Chinese government and began adhering to the so-called “One China Policy” which holds that Taiwan is a part of China.
While holding to the One China Policy and recognizing the PRC as the official Chinese government, the U.S. has also provided Taiwan with defensive equipment. In August, the Biden administration approved the sale of 40 self-propelled howitzers for the island which governs itself independently of the Chinese mainland.
A White House spokesperson told Reuters that Biden’s Thursday town hall comments were not meant to represent a change in the U.S. policy towards Taiwan.
“The U.S. defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act,” the White House spokesperson said. “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.”
AFP reported Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin also faced questions about the U.S. policy towards Taiwan during a visit to NATO headquarters on Friday.
“As we’ve done over multiple administrations, we will continue to help Taiwan with the sorts of capabilities that it needs to defend itself,” Austin said in response to questions from reporters. “And so, we’ll stay focused on those things. And I won’t engage in any hypotheticals with respect to Taiwan.”
Responding to Biden’s town hall comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory. The Taiwan question is purely China’s internal affairs that allow no foreign interference. On issues that bear on China’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and other core interests, no one shall expect China to make any compromise or trade-offs.”
“No one should underestimate the resolve, the will and the ability of the Chinese people to defend their national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Do not stand on the opposite side of the 1.4 billion people,” Wang continued. “We urge the US to earnestly abide by the one-China principle and stipulations in the three China-US joint communiques, be prudent with its words and actions on the Taiwan question, and avoid sending wrong signals to the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces, lest it should seriously damage China-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”