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Biden says ‘Yes’ will defend Taiwan from China, White House backtracks afterward

Joe Biden. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)
September 19, 2022

President Joe Biden made a new vow to defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion during an interview with CBS’ ”60 Minutes” program that aired Sunday evening. The White House walked it back immediately.

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In the interview, ”60 Minutes” correspondent Scott Pelley asked Biden what China should know about the U.S. commitment to Taiwan.

Biden offered his interpretation of the so-called One China Policy and the U.S. policy of strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan’s independence, stating.

“There’s the One China policy, and Taiwan makes their own judgments about their independence,” Biden said. We are not moving– we’re not encouraging their being independent. We’re not– that– that’s their decision.”

Pelley then asked if U.S. Forces would defend the island.

“Yes, if in fact there was an unprecedented attack,” Biden replied.

As Biden began to describe defending Taiwan from an attack, the ”60 Minutes” segment cut to a statement by the White House that said the U.S. policy toward Taiwan has not changed. “60 Minutes” noted that official U.S. policy has been to not say definitively whether it would intervene on Taiwan’s behalf.

This is not the first time the White House has backtracked on Biden’s comments about Taiwan. During a CNN town hall event in October of last year, Biden was asked if the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked.

“Yes,” Biden said at the time. “Yes, we have a commitment to do that.”

Shortly after Biden made those comments, a White House official said they were not meant to represent a change in the U.S. policy towards Taiwan.

In May, Biden was again asked if he would “get involved militarily to defend Taiwan.” Biden again said, “Yes, 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. “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.”

The White House again softened Biden’s position.

“As the President said, our policy has not changed,” a 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.”

Even after the White House backtracked from Biden’s latest comments about defending Taiwan, the Chinese government still condemned his remarks.

During a Monday press conference, Reuters reported Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said the U.S. should handle Taiwan-related issues “carefully and properly”, and not send “wrong signals” to Taiwan independence separatist forces.

“There is only one China in the world, Taiwan is part of China, and the government of the People’s Republic of China is the only legitimate government of China,” Mao said.

She also hinted at China’s desire to assert control over Taiwan, stating, “We are willing to do our best to strive for peaceful reunification. At the same time, we will not tolerate any activities aimed at secession.”