Biden reaffirms US pledge to defend Taiwan from Chinese invasion

RFA staff
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Biden reaffirms US pledge to defend Taiwan from Chinese invasion U.S. President Joe Biden walks from the Rose Garden at the White House, in Washington, Sept. 15, 2022.
Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Taiwan once again expressed its “sincere gratitude” after U.S. President Joe Biden said during an interview that the American military would defend Taiwan if China invaded the island.

Biden made the remarks during an exclusive interview with “60 Minutes,” the CBS News show, that was recorded on Thursday but broadcast on Sunday night (U.S. Eastern Time). 

During the interview, CBS correspondent Scott Pelley asked the president if the United States would defend Taiwan, to which Biden replied: “Yes, if in fact there was an unprecedented attack.”

Pelley then asked Biden to clarify whether “U.S. forces, U.S. men and women, would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.”

“Yes,” the president replied.

Biden’s reply was his most explicit statement  so far as president regarding military support for the democratic island, which Beijing considers “an inalienable part of China,” and one that drew an angry response from the Asian superpower.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told a press briefing on Monday that Beijing had lodged “stern representations” with Washington.

She warned the U.S. not to send the “wrong signals” to those wanting Taiwanese independence, news agencies reported.

A White House official was quick to add after the CBS interview that the U.S. policy on Taiwan had not changed.

Washington officially abides by the One-China Policy and maintains a “strategic ambiguity” towards Taipei. Yet, according to the Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. is obligated to help the island with means to defend itself.

Earlier this month the U.S. State Department announced a U.S. $1.1 billion sale of military equipment to Taiwan despite strong protests from Beijing.

‘Rock solid’

In Taipei, the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday “expressed its sincere gratitude to President Biden for reaffirming the American government's rock solid security commitment to Taiwan.”

Since U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made an official visit to Taiwan in August, “China has escalated military provocations in the Taiwan Strait,” the ministry noted in a statement.

The Biden administration has repeatedly supported Taiwan with public speeches and specific actions, it said.

Last week the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the “Taiwan Policy Act of 2022,” which would increase military aid to the island.

“In the face of China’s military expansion and provocative actions, the Taiwanese government will continue to strengthen its self defense capabilities, firmly resist authoritarian expansion and aggression, deepen the close security partnership between Taiwan and the United States, and strengthen cooperation with all other like-minded countries to jointly and resolutely safeguard the Taiwan Strait,” the foreign ministry said.

China has yet to officially react to the news but Beijing has long protested against what it calls “U.S. interference in China’s internal affairs.”

Political analysts found themselves arguing over President Biden’s statement in his interview with “60 Minutes.”

While replying last October to a similar question about defending Taiwan, Biden said the U.S. had “a commitment to do that," prompting a White House spokesperson to quickly clarify that there was no change in the U.S. policy on Taiwan.  

“Time to stop describing these comments as ‘gaffes,’” Taylor Fravel, a China defense analyst at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote on Twitter, referring to Biden’s statement.

“The president appears to believe that the TRA (Taiwan Relations Act) contains a commitment to defend Taiwan, which is why he keeps saying ‘we have a commitment to do that’ and the White House keeps saying that U.S. policy remains unchanged,” wrote Bonnie Glaser, an Asia specialist at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Grant Newsham, a retired U.S. Marine colonel turned political analyst, said that in his opinion, “it is not a good thing if reporters, pundits, and analysts have to struggle to figure out what President Biden actually means.”

“We’ve seen similar statements by President Biden ‘walked back’ by his staff ... effectively saying the President didn’t really mean what he said,” Newsham told Radio Free Asia (RFA), an online news service affiliated with BenarNews.

“All in all, this latest statement just gives an impression of an administration that is confused and doesn't have a clear policy,” said the analyst who spent months studying Taiwan’s defense in detail.

Since taking office in January 2021, Biden has made similar remarks regarding Taiwan on at least four occasions.

Tensions have risen in the Taiwan Strait in recent months after China announced large-scale military drills around Taiwan in response to Nancy Pelosi’s trip.


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