U.S. President Joe Biden said Monday, May 23, that if the Chinese government were to launch an attack against Taiwan, the United States would intervene “militarily” and come to the self-ruling island’s defense.
Biden made the remarks during a press briefing with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, where he is currently on a week-long “alliance boosting” tour of Asia to visit South Korea and Japan.
“You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan from a [People’s Republic of China (PRC)] attack if it comes to that?” a reporter asked, to which Biden replied, “Yes. That’s a commitment we made.”
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”We agree with the ‘One-China’ policy. We signed on to it, and all the attendant agreements made from there, but the idea that it can be taken by force, just taken by force, is (just not) appropriate,” he said, adding that, “the United States made a commitment and we support all we’ve done in the past, but that does not mean that China has the ability and jurisdiction to go in and use force to take over Taiwan.”
After the speech, however, the White House downplayed the comments, saying they don’t reflect a change in U.S. policy regarding Taiwan.
Biden’s remarks mark the third time in recent months that Biden has said the U.S. would protect Taiwan from a mainland attack, only to have the White House walk back those comments.
“As the President said, our policy has not changed. He reiterated our One China policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself,” a White House official told CNN.
Taiwan, formally known as the Republic of China (ROC), has resisted reunification with the mainland Chinese, to which the latter has responded with violent rhetoric, threatening retaliation against any country that comes to Taiwan’s aid, and vowing to reclaim the self-ruling island by any means necessary.
Under the “one-China policy,” the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has repeatedly claimed the island as a rightful part of its territory, and insists that only one state representing the Chinese people may exist in the world.
Beijing has also insisted that any country wishing to pursue diplomatic relations with it must first sever official ties with Taiwan. This, in addition to the ROC’s expulsion from the United Nations in 1971, have resulted in Taipei being isolated from the global community.
Though the U.S. does not recognize Taiwan as a state under international laws, it has maintained informal relations with Taipei, and has been supplying weapons and technical training to the island for several decades.
It’s unclear whether Biden meant that his administration would be willing to officially commit U.S. forces to Taiwan’s aid in the event of invasion, or if the president was referring to the existing agreements. U.S. law requires Washington to supply the ROC with equipment necessary for its defense.
Biden under pressure to scrap China tariffs
Also during his speech with Japanese PM Kishida, Biden said his administration is considering cutting tariffs imposed on Chinese goods by former U.S. President Donald Trump.
“I am considering it. We did not impose any of those tariffs. They were imposed by the last administration, and they’re under consideration,” Biden said in regards to the possibility of canceling tariffs on China.
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The Trump administration imposed tariffs on more than $300 billion in imports from China in late 2018 after a U.S. investigation concluded China had stolen intellectual property from American companies, and forced them to transfer technology on several occasions. China then responded with its own taxes on American imports — imposing a 25 percent hike on aluminum, soybeans as well as certain car and airplane parts.
The Biden administration has been under pressure from lawmakers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to reduce or eliminate the Chinese tariffs in order to counteract a wave of inflation sweeping across the U.S. and Canada unseen in the past four decades.
Although a rollback of U.S. tariffs would be positive for China’s exports, supply chain disruptions and factory shutdowns due to the CCP’s ‘zero-COVID’ policy in at least 32 cities may significantly limit the benefits from any potential reductions, economists at Bloomberg pointed out.
Taiwan not in Biden’s Indo-Pacific pact
During Biden’s visit to Tokyo, it was also revealed that Taiwan won’t be among one of the countries joining a long-anticipated Indo-Pacific trade pact.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed that Taiwan will not be among the governments signed up for the launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework — a pact that’s meant to allow the U.S. to work more closely with key Asian economies on issues of supply chains, digital trade, clean energy initiatives and anti-corruption measures.
This, along with Biden’s decision to potentially cancel tariffs on Chinese goods, has been seen as a potential shift in rhetoric regarding China and Taiwan. Washington’s long-standing “strategic ambiguity” policy toward the Taiwan issue has been seen by some analysts as “mixed messaging” that could force the U.S. into a conflict.
“We are looking to deepen our economic partnership with Taiwan including on high technology issues, including on semiconductor supply,” Sullivan said. “But we’re pursuing that in the first instance on a bilateral basis.”
Beijing sends warning
Within hours of Biden’s speech in Tokyo, Chinese authorities expressed their “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” to the comments, claiming it will not allow any external force to interfere in its “internal affairs.”
“On issues concerning China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and other core interests, there is no room for compromise,” PRC Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said during a daily press briefing.
“We urged the US side to earnestly follow the One China principle … be cautious in words and deeds on the Taiwan issue, and not send any wrong signal to pro-Taiwan independence and separatist forces — so it won’t cause serious damage to the situation across the Taiwan Strait and China-US relations.”
Wang also expressed skepticism on the U.S. effort in launching the Indo-pacific pact.
“We hope they will build an open and inclusive circle of friends in Asia-Pacific, rather than an exclusive clique, and do more for peace and development, rather than creating turmoil and chaos in the region,” Wang said.