U.S. troops will defend Taiwan if China attacks, Biden reaffirms

09/19/2022 12:24 PM
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Photo taken from the Facebook of White House @facebook.com/WhiteHouse
Photo taken from the Facebook of White House @facebook.com/WhiteHouse

Taipei, Sept. 19 (CNA) United States President Joe Biden on Sunday reaffirmed that U.S. troops would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, in the clearest statement he has made on this issue since taking office.

While the statement appears to be a deviation from Washington's longstanding policy of "strategic ambiguity," a White House official later said that U.S. policy on Taiwan has not changed.

In an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes" that aired on Sunday evening, Biden told host Scott Pelley that the U.S. would defend Taiwan "if in fact there was an unprecedented attack."

Since Russia invaded Ukraine more than six months ago, Biden had emphasized several times that U.S. military forces would not fight Russian troops on Ukrainian soil.

Pelley pressed Biden on whether the situation would be different in the event of an attack on Taiwan.

"So unlike Ukraine, to be clear, sir, U.S. forces -- U.S. men and women -- would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion?" Pelley asked.

"Yes," Biden replied.

After the interview, a White House official said U.S. policy on Taiwan has not changed, according to "60 Minutes."

Over the past few decades, the U.S. has intentionally maintained a stance characterized as "strategic ambiguity" regarding whether it would come to Taiwan's defense in the event of an attack by China.

Under this stance, Washington leaves it unclear whether the U.S. would do more than just provide Taiwan weapons and would instead send troops to help it fight a war with China.

This is intended to not only deter Beijing from attempting an invasion, but also discourage Taiwan from taking bold actions that could lead to a war, by not committing the U.S. to fighting on its behalf.

Since taking office in January 2021, however, Biden has repeatedly used language that appears to diverge from this longstanding policy.

In August 2021, Biden told ABC News that the U.S. had "made a sacred commitment" to defend its NATO allies, and the same held for Taiwan.

At a CNN town hall event in October 2021, a participant referred to recent reports that China had tested a hypersonic missile. He asked Biden if he could "vow to protect Taiwan," and what he would do to keep up with China's military development.

President Biden replied "Yes and yes."

Biden was then asked a second time by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper if the U.S. would come to Taiwan's defense in the event of an attack by China. Biden replied: "Yes, we have a commitment to do that."

On May 23, Biden made a similar remark during a visit to Tokyo.

Speaking in Tokyo on the second day of his visit to Japan, he said "yes" when asked if he was willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if China invaded.

"That's the commitment we made," he added.

"We agree with the One-China policy, we signed onto it and all the attendant agreements made from there," Biden added.

"But the idea that it could be taken by force, just taken by force, is just not -- it's just not appropriate. It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine."

On these three occasions, administration officials later walked back the comments and signaled that America's Taiwan policy had not changed.

Washington does not have a mutual defense treaty with Taiwan and there is no talk, at least publicly, of signing one.

Meanwhile, during the CBS interview, Biden appeared to refer to the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) when asked what Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) should know about Biden's commitment to Taiwan.

"We agree with what we signed onto a long time ago," Biden told Pelley. "And that there's one-China policy, and Taiwan makes their own judgments about their independence. We are not moving -- we're not encouraging their being independent. That's their decision."

TRA has been the cornerstone for Washington in handling unofficial relations with Taipei after it changed diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979. The Act includes clauses that require it to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, but does not commit the U.S. to joining a war if it breaks out, by sending its soldiers to fight.

Asked to comment on Biden's latest comments and the joint statement, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) spokeswoman Joanne Ou (歐江安) expressed the government's gratitude toward Biden and his administration for "reaffirming its rock-solid support" for the country.

"The latest comments once again highlight the fact that China's increasing threat across the Taiwan Strait has raised widespread concern in countries around the world," Ou said.

She added that Taiwan will continue to work with the U.S. and other like-minded countries, while beefing up its self-defense capabilities to jointly safeguard the rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific region.

(By Joseph Yeh)

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