US President reaffirms pledge to defend Taiwan from Chinese invasion

Joe Biden says U.S. forces would take part in any battle for control of the island.
By RFA Staff
2022.09.19
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US President reaffirms pledge to defend Taiwan from Chinese invasion U.S. President Joe Biden in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, Sept. 15, 2022.
Reuters

UPDATED AT 5:08 A.M. EST ON 9-19-2022

Taiwan once again expressed its “sincere gratitude” after U.S. President Joe Biden said during an interview his country’s military would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.

Biden gave an exclusive interview to CBS “60 minutes” program on Thursday but the show was broadcast on Sunday. 

During the interview, the president was asked by CBS’s Scott Pelley if the U.S. would defend Taiwan, to which he 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.

This is the most explicit statement  so far by Biden regarding military support for the democratic island which Beijing considers “an inalienable part of China,” and one that provoked an angry response from China.

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 Taiwan independence, news agencies reported.

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

Washington officially abides by the One-China Policy and maintains a "strategic ambiguity" towards Taiwan. 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 commitment

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs “expressed its sincere gratitude to President Biden for reaffirming the U.S. government's rock solid security commitment to Taiwan,” in a statement on Monday 

The statement noted that since August, when U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made an official visit to Taiwan, “China has escalated military provocations in the Taiwan Strait.”

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” that would see an increase in 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 the CBS interview. 

Last October, replying to a similar question about defending Taiwan, Biden said the U.S. has “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.  

Confusion

“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 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 RFA.

“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 retaliation to Nancy Pelosi’s trip.

This story has been updated to include comment from China's foreign ministry.

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