US President Joe Biden spoke at a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishidar after their bilateral meeting on May 23, 2022 at the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo, Japan.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
President Joe Biden on Tuesday stressed that the United States has not changed its strategic policy on Taiwan, a day after he angered Beijing when he said his administration was willing to use military force to defend the island.
Biden met with the leaders of Japan, India and Australia at their second so-called Quad Leaders Summit, which ended in Tokyo on Tuesday.
The US president surprised many delegates when he suggested on Monday that the United States could keep troops in Taiwan if China invaded. When asked by a reporter if he was “willing to engage militarily to defend Taiwan,” Biden said “yes.”
The remarks came as world leaders came out of decades of surprising U.S. policy that warned China against using force on Taiwan – but decided to remain unclear about how much it would protect the island.
The president made his remarks after concluding talks with world leaders in Tokyo on Tuesday.
“The policy has not changed at all,” he said, referring to whether his earlier remarks signaled an end to the US approach to strategic ambiguity followed by American diplomats for decades. “I said that when I made my statement yesterday.”
Biden’s initial announcement, during his first trip to Asia as president, sparked tensions between the United States and the communist Chinese government, who believe Taiwan cannot exist as a part of its territory and as a sovereign nation.
It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post. Still, the White House was quick to send a restrained message to CNBC in an email.
A White House official told CNBC in an email: “As the president has said, our policy has not changed. He has reaffirmed our commitment to one China policy and peace and stability throughout the Taiwan Strait.”
One China holds that the Communist People’s Republic of China is the only legitimate government in China and recognizes informal relations with the people of Taiwan.
The White House official added, “He reiterated our commitment to provide Taiwan with military means to defend itself under the Taiwan Relations Act.”
Chinese communist leaders, however, were not convinced.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin warned on Monday that “no one should underestimate the determination, determination and capability of the Chinese people to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“No one should stand up against the 1.4 billion Chinese people,” he added.
This is not the first time that White House aides have tried to temper the president.
In March, Biden sparked a political firestorm when he said in Poland that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot stay in power.” Later that day, a White House official tried to make it clear that Biden was “not discussing Putin’s power or regime change in Russia.”
Former Defense Department analyst Dewardrick McNeil stressed that the president’s remarks were not wrong.
“It simply came to our notice then that this was not the case with President Biden,” said David Cook, chief of The Christian Science Monitor’s Washington bureau. “This is a very deliberate statement intended to send a signal not only to Beijing, but also to Taipei,” said the Taiwanese capital.
The promise of US military intervention would also go beyond the provisions of the US-China-Taiwan relations law, which has guided geopolitical policy in Asia since 1979.
The law obliges the United States to “maintain the power of the United States to prevent the use of force or other forms of coercion that could threaten the security of the people of Taiwan, or the social or economic system.”
While the law does not force Washington to use U.S. military force to protect Taiwan from Chinese aggression, it has long been seen as a false promise to maintain order on the self-governing island.
McDonnell added, “Biden wants to make it clear to the world that US commitments mean something.”
McNeil, now a policy analyst at Longview Global, says Biden probably believes many of the assumptions based on US “strategic ambiguity” policy are questionable.
He explained that the assumption included some assumptions that China’s military capabilities would not exceed those of Taiwan and that talks between Beijing and Taipei would lead to a peaceful solution.
While the U.S. president may still believe in the one-China policy as the Communist Party’s control over China, Biden’s remarks may reflect a desire to modernize the “strategic ambiguity” policy for those old assumptions.