President Joe Biden said the US would come to Taiwan’s defense if China were to attack, a stance that appeared to shift Washington’s delicate longtime policy of “strategic ambiguity”.
“Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” Mr. Biden said Thursday when asked at a CNN town hall whether American forces would protect the island if Beijing invaded.
Washington has never officially said what it would do in case of conflict, and later clarified that its position hadn’t changed.
Beijing claims Taiwan as its own territory and has significantly increased military and political pressure in recent weeks, pushing tensions to their highest level in decades.
Mr. Biden’s remarks prompted a furious reaction from Beijing.
COOPER: "Are you saying that the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense?"
QUESTIONER: "If China attacked?"
BIDEN: "Yes, we have a commitment to do that." pic.twitter.com/YTgxMaD4MP
— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) October 22, 2021
The US should “act and speak cautiously on the Taiwan issue,” warned Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin on Friday. “China has no room for compromise on issues involving its core interests.”
China’s ramped-up military activity is raising worries that it may try to assert sovereignty over the island’s 24 million citizens by force, fears heightened by a recent crackdown on the previously semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong.
This isn’t the first time Mr. Biden’s comments regarding Taiwan, a democracy of 23.5 million people with its own government, foreign policy, and military, have caused confusion.
In August, he said the US had a “sacred commitment” to “respond” if anyone invaded its allies, including Taiwan, prompting administration officials to make clear that policy hadn’t shifted. Washington is required by law to provide Taiwan with a way to defend itself.
Taiwan’s presidential office noted the Biden administration’s “rock-solid” support and said their position not to give in to pressure or “rashly advance” remained the same.
Relations between Taiwan and China are at their worst in more than 40 years, said Taiwanese defense minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said earlier this month, adding that China was capable of mounting a “full-scale” invasion by 2025.
In early October, Beijing flew a record 150 warplanes near the island’s airspace – including the nuclear-capable H6 bomber, which would be used to strike in the event of invasion – in a show of force around both Beijing’s National Day on Oct 1 and Taipei’s on Oct 10.
Beijing often engages in saber-rattling around such high-profile days, but governments and experts are alarmed as recent actions have been coupled with escalating rhetoric and the issue has become a sore point in the already-delicate relationship with Washington.
Military experts also say China’s provocative actions heighten the risk of an accident or miscalculation that could spark conflict.
China’s harassment appears to be getting quite crass – a Chinese pilot apparently insulted the mother of a Taiwanese combat air traffic controller, according to one radio broadcast posted online by aviation fans.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace earlier this week called on China to find a peaceful way to resolve the situation.
A Chinese military spokesman responded in state media by repeating its stance that Taiwan is Chinese territory and describing incursions as “legitimate combat readiness patrol.
Beijing’s stern warnings to other countries not to back Taiwan seem to be having the opposite effect.
A Taiwanese government delegation is currently visiting three eastern EU countries – Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Lithuania – and earlier this week, the European Parliament pushed to deepen ties with Taiwan and start work on an investment deal with the island.
The EU also in recent days reiterated its support for Lithuania in a row with China after Vilnius agreed to host a de facto Taiwan embassy. Beijing recalled its envoy in August and demanded Lithuania do the same.
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