Biden seeks to clarify remarks on 'independent' Taiwan

11/17/2021 02:00 PM
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U.S. President Joe Biden. Photo from the White House
U.S. President Joe Biden. Photo from the White House's Facebook page

Washington, Nov. 16 (CNA) The United States is not encouraging Taiwan independence, but it's up to Taiwan to decide, U.S. President Joe Biden said late Tuesday after generating confusion with a comment suggesting Taiwan is "independent."

Speaking with reporters in New Hampshire, where he was promoting his recently signed infrastructure law, Biden said he told Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in their virtual meeting Monday that the U.S. would abide by the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA).

He then said of Taiwan: "It's independent. It makes its own decisions."

Biden later clarified, however, as he was about to leave New Hampshire, that "we are not encouraging independence" and that "we're not going to change our policy at all."

When asked specifically about the "independent" comment, Biden replied: "I said that they have to decide, they, Taiwan, not us."

"We're encouraging that they do exactly what the Taiwan Act requires," he said, likely referring to the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) that has served as a cornerstone of U.S. policy toward Taiwan since official diplomatic ties were severed that year.

"That's what we're doing. Let them make up their mind. Period," he said.

It was unclear what part of the TRA Biden was referring to since it makes no specific mention of Taiwan independence or deciding for itself on the issue of independence, something Beijing has said it will not accept and will stop by force if necessary.

The comments came after Biden, in his meeting with Xi, reiterated his administration's commitment to the "one China" policy under which the U.S. "acknowledges" the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.

However, Biden also underscored that the U.S. "strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," according to a readout of the meeting.

Speaking to reporters following the Biden-Xi meeting, a senior administration official reiterated that the U.S. does not support Taiwan's independence.

It was just the latest comment by Biden to cause confusion on U.S. policy on China and whether it was changing longstanding positions.

In October, Biden suggested that the U.S. would defend Taiwan if it were attacked by China, something Washington had never said before to maintain ambiguity on the issue.

The White House later issued a statement saying that U.S. policy on the issue had not changed.

Also on Tuesday, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said U.S. engagement with China will intensify at multiple levels to ensure that competition between the two powers does not veer into conflict.

Sullivan said in a Brookings Institution webinar that the two leaders had agreed that "we would look to begin to carry forward discussion on strategic stability."

"President Biden did raise with President Xi the need for a strategic stability set of conversations...that that needs to be guided by the leaders and led by senior empowered teams on both sides that cut across security, technology and diplomacy."

"You will see at multiple levels an intensification of the engagement to ensure that there are guardrails around this competition so that it doesn't veer off into conflict," he said.

(By Chiang Chin-yen and Joseph Yeh)

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