Speaking in Japan, he appeared to contradict long-standing US policy in the region, despite the White House’s denials.
Mr. Biden drew a parallel between Taiwan and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, prompting Beijing to retort angrily.
He is on his first trip to Asia as President of the United States, visiting regional allies.
Mr. Biden began his remarks by stating that US policy toward Taiwan “has not changed.” However, his remarks in Tokyo are the second time in recent months that he has unequivocally stated that the US would defend Taiwan if China attacked, signaling a shift in tone.
The United States has previously been evasive about what it would do in such a situation.
Taiwan is regarded by China as a breakaway province that must be reunited with the mainland.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for Beijing’s foreign ministry, insisted: “Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory… no room for compromise or concession exists.
The United States has no official diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but it sells arms to the island as part of the Taiwan Relations Act, which states that the US must provide the island with the means to defend itself.
Simultaneously, it maintains formal ties with China while diplomatically acknowledging China’s position that there is only one Chinese government.
What did Biden say, and why is it important?
A journalist asked Mr. Biden about Taiwan’s defense during a press conference in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
The US president began by equating the China-Taiwan situation to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. If Ukraine and Russia eventually reconcile and sanctions are lifted, “what does this signal to China about the cost of attempting to take Taiwan by force?” he asked.
“They’re already flirting with danger right now by flying so close and doing all the maneuvers that they’re doing,” Mr Biden said, referring to reports of Chinese warplane incursions into Taiwan’s self-proclaimed air defense zone.
While “my expectation is that it [a Chinese invasion] will not happen, it will not be attempted,” he added that it would depend on “how strong the world makes clear that that kind of action is going to result in long term disapproval.”
He was then directly asked if the US would militarily defend Taiwan if China invaded, as it had not done in the invasion of Ukraine, and he responded: “Yes, that is the promise we made.
“The notion that it [Taiwan] can be taken by force… is simply unacceptable. It will destabilize the entire region and be a repeat of what happened in Ukraine.”
It only took the US State Department minutes to start retracting Joe Biden’s remarks.
This is not the first time he has stated his willingness to defend Taiwan. It could be an expression of his deep personal concern about the invasion of Ukraine and the possibility of something similar happening in Taiwan.
He said something similar in March when he said, “Vladimir Putin cannot stay in power,” prompting US officials to quickly deny that America was calling for regime change in Moscow. But, when pressed later, Mr. Biden refused to back down. He was expressing his “moral outrage” at Putin’s actions, he said.
Today, he appeared to be saying, “I’m not going to let that happen to Taiwan.” The US government’s official position on Taiwan is “strategic ambiguity” – the US does not commit to defending Taiwan, but it also does not say it would not. The goal is to keep China guessing.
However, as China has grown stronger and its threats to Taiwan have become more real, there have been voices calling for an end to this charade.
Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently stated that it was time for America to make it clear to Beijing that it would defend Taiwan. Others believe this is a terrible idea that will prompt Beijing to accelerate its plans to retake the island.
Many senior officials in Washington and Tokyo are privately concerned about Taiwan and Beijing’s growing military advantage, and they are scrambling to devise a new strategy to counter the threat.
Meanwhile, Mr. Biden appears to be speaking his own truth.
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