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President Biden on Tuesday backtracked on a claim that the United States would intervene militarily to defend Taiwan against China for the third time in his presidency.
Biden said unequivocally on Monday that the United States would send in the military to defend Taiwan if China invaded the island nation. He backtracked on that statement on Tuesday, however, saying the US position of “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan had not changed.
It was the third time in Biden’s presidency that he had appeared to announce the explosive shift in US policy toward Taiwan only for White House officials to return within hours.
Biden first made the blunder in an August 2021 interview with George Stephanopoulos, in which he listed Taiwan among America’s closest allies. Stephanopoulos pressed Biden on the implications of the then-ongoing US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
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“You talked about our adversaries, China and Russia. You already see China saying to Taiwan, ‘You see? You can’t rely on the Americans.'” the presenter asked.
“We made – kept all of our commitments. We made a sacred commitment to Article Five that if anyone were to in fact invade or take action against our NATO allies, we would respond,” Biden told the time. “Same for Japan, for South Korea, for Taiwan. It’s not even comparable to talk about it.”
In fact, the United States has not entered into a formal defense treaty with Taiwan, as it has with NATO countries South Korea and Japan. The administration later echoed the statement, using an unnamed official who clarified that “US policy has not changed.”
Biden made the statement again during a CNN town hall in October, saying the United States was “committed” to defending Taiwan from attack.
“Can you swear to protect Taiwan?” asked a viewer.
“Yes,” Biden replied, adding that the United States remains the strongest military force in the world.
“So are you saying that the United States would come to the defense of Taiwan if China attacked?” host Anderson Cooper insisted.
“Yes, we have a commitment,” Biden said.
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In reality, however, the United States only has a commitment to the One China Policy and the Taiwan Relations Act. The first states that the Beijing government is the sole government of China, adding that the United States recognizes, but does not endorse, Beijing’s claim to own Taiwan.
The latter allows for substantial, but non-diplomatic, relations between the United States and Taiwan.
The White House issued a statement backtracking on Biden’s mayoral remarks the next day, saying Biden “was not announcing any changes to our policy and there were no changes to our policy.”
“The United States’ defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act,” the White House said at the time. “We will uphold our commitment under the law, we will continue to uphold Taiwan’s self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral change to the status quo.”
Pundits have criticized the Biden administration for repeatedly back and forth between the president and his own staff on the issue. Asian expert Gordon Chang called the situation “amateur hour” at the White House on Tuesday.
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“It’s amateur time at 4:00 p.m. in Pennsylvania, and it actually has real-world consequences, largely because the Chinese will look at this and say the administration is incompetent and irresolute,” Chang told Fox & Friends. “Now Biden was very clear a few days ago when he said, ‘Listen, the United States will defend Taiwan…’ There was no ambiguity about it, and now under pressure…you have his subordinates who contradict him.”
“It’s really… bad, and it’s not just about Taiwan, it’s about all of our defense commitments around the world,” he added.