Strategic Ambiguity With Taiwan Is Dead, Says Biden

Tensions between the United States and China have been ratcheted up a notch after Vice President Joe Biden made clear that the United States would respond militarily to any Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

In an interview broadcast Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” President Joe Biden said that the United States would defend Taiwan “if in fact there was an unprecedented attack” on the self-governing island.

Without specifying what a “unprecedented” attack on Taiwan would entail, President Joe Biden has now said four times since August 2021 that the United States would use military force to defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion. With each new development, U.S. officials have backtracked on statements that seemed to end the longstanding policy of “strategic ambiguity” regarding their willingness to defend Taiwan.

This statement by Biden reflects the administration’s realization that China’s increasing military intimidation of Taiwan necessitates a more forceful deterrence from the United States. Because China is afraid that the island is headed inexorably toward independence, they have been harassing it.

Having happened four times in a row, I think we can all say with some degree of certainty that it was not a gaffe. According to Oriana Skylar Mastro, a center fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute of International Studies, “what’s happening is that there are people in the administration who think that by demonstrating a greater willingness to defend Taiwan, that’ll help reestablish deterrence.”

The United States will now take a more firm stance against the possibility of Chinese aggression thanks to Vice President Biden’s promise to defend Taiwan with military force. And it reflects growing concerns about Beijing’s intentions after it conducted live-fire military drills around the island following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taiwan last month, and after Chinese military aircraft repeatedly violated the median line separating Taiwan and China.

Former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and current vice president for international security and diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute Daniel Russel told POLITICO, “No previous president has chosen to prejudge the decision that he will take in the event of a hypothetical Chinese military action.” In a sit-down interview, “the White House would have understood that this topic would be certainly fair game and one would have expected to prepare the president for the answer that he wanted to give,” as one commentator put it, “[it] doesn’t really have the hallmark of an off-the-cuff remark.”

Cheers erupted in Taipei in response to Biden’s comments.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry of Taiwan issued a statement on Monday thanking Vice President Biden for reiterating the United States’ “steadfast and rock-solid” security commitment to Taiwan.

However, Beijing was outraged by his remarks.

U.S. comments “severely violate the U.S. commitment to not support Taiwan independence,” the spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, Mao Ning, said on Monday.

“Reunification with Taiwan,” a territory the CCP has never ruled, is a “historical task” in the eyes of the CCP. Xi Jinping’s legitimacy as he campaigns for a third term as China’s leader next month hinges in large part on this. Directing the Chinese government’s Taiwan Affairs Office, Liu Jieyi, in July said that “national reunification” — Beijing’s shorthand for a Taiwan takeover — was a “inevitable requirement” of Xi’s hawkish “national rejuvenation” policy.

 

A white paper released by the Chinese government last month stated, “We will not renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all necessary measures” in reference to Taiwan.

Several documents, including the U.S.-China Three Communiqués, the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, and the 1982 Six Assurances, define the nature of the United States’ relationship with Taiwan. A key provision of the TRA states that the United States will “retain the capability of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.” Nothing in those treaties or declarations requires the United States to use military force to defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion. However, the TRA implies that the United States plays an active role in preserving the status quo on the island.

Some Republicans in Congress praised Biden for his remarks.

It’s good to see the president stand firm on the issue of Taiwan’s defense once more. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement, “I hope this is the end of flip flopping on U.S. security interests for Taiwan.”