On Monday, President Joe Biden said the U.S. would respond militarily if China were to invade Taiwan, but a White House official walked back his comments moments later.
“You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons,” a reporter said as Biden held a news conference in Tokyo alongside Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kushida. The reporter then asked, “Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?
“Yes,” Biden replied. “That’s the commitment we made.”
Biden then said the U.S. will continue to adhere to the so-called “One China Policy,” which holds that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is the sole legal government of China and acknowledges, without necessarily endorsing, the PRC’s position that Taiwan is part of China’s territory. “But the idea that [Taiwan] could be taken by force, just taken by force, is just not appropriate. It’ll dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”
NBC reported that shortly after the press conference, a White House spokesperson walked back Biden’s remarks about Taiwan.
“As the President said, our policy has not changed,” the White House official said. “He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”
The U.S. has continued to arm Taiwan for years through the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. The act does not guarantee the U.S. will intervene militarily on Taiwan’s behalf.
The Biden administration has, thus far, ruled out a U.S. military intervention in Ukraine but has continued to arm Ukrainian forces in their ongoing fight against invading Russian forces. Biden’s comments suggested the U.S. would intervene militarily in a manner beyond simply arming Taiwan as it has with Ukraine. The White House official’s remarks, by comparison, indicated the U.S. would continue to arm Taiwan if it was invaded by Taiwan, but made no guarantee the administration would commit U.S. forces to defend the island nation.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) criticized the conflicting statements about Taiwan coming from the Biden administration.
“I’ve long said that we should change our Taiwan policy from ‘strategic ambiguity’ to ‘strategic clarity’: the United States will come to the defense of Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack,” Cotton said in an emailed statement. “As usual, strategic clarity and military strength is the best way to deter China. Given President Biden’s apparent policy shift in off-the-cuff remarks at a press conference in Japan, followed by anonymous White House aides trying to ‘walk back’ his statement, it’s now essential that President Biden restate our new policy of strategic clarity in clear, deliberate remarks from a prepared text. Otherwise, the continued ambiguity and uncertainty will likely provoke the Chinese communists without deterring them—the worst of both worlds.”
Earlier in his remarks at the press conference, Biden warned that Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine could embolden China to mimic Russia by invading Taiwan. Biden said if the U.S. and other nations don’t maintain punitive sanctions against Russia, “what signal does that send to China about the cost of attempting to take Taiwan by force?”
Biden said the U.S. continues to adhere to the One-China Policy, “But that does not mean that China has the ability as the — excuse me — the jurisdiction to go in and use force to take over Taiwan.”
“We stand firmly with Japan and with other nations not to let that happen and my expectation is it will not happen it will not be attempted,” Biden continued. “My expectation is a lot of it depends upon just how strongly the world makes clear that that kind of action is going to result in long-term disapprobation by the rest of the community.”