The United States on Friday sought to stem tensions with China, saying there was no change in Taiwan’s policy as President Joe Biden promised to defend the island from Beijing’s attack.
Tensions have risen in recent months as Beijing has ramped up air incursions near Taiwan, a self-governing democracy that the rising Asian power has vowed to one day take, if necessary, by force.
On a CNN television stage in Baltimore on Thursday evening, Biden was asked whether the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense over an invasion of China. “Yes,” he replied. “We have a commitment to that.”
Biden’s statement appeared to contrast a long-standing US policy of “strategic ambiguity”, where Washington helps build Taiwan’s defenses, but explicitly promises to come to the island’s aid in the event of war. does not do.
The White House clarified on Friday that it was still guided by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which required the United States to provide weapons to Congress “to enable Taiwan to maintain sufficient self-defense capabilities.”
“The president was not announcing any changes to our policy, and there has been no change to our policy,” a White House spokesman said.
“We will maintain our commitment under the Act to support Taiwan’s self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral change in the status quo,” the spokesman said.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, on a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels, declined to discuss “imaginary” but said the United States would “continue to help Taiwan with the capabilities it needs to defend itself.” “
The policy is designed to deter Chinese aggression, but also discourages Taiwan from formally declaring independence – which Beijing considers a red line.
Biden’s comments on Friday were welcomed by Taiwan, which has insisted on strengthening international alliances to protect itself from Beijing.
“The US government has demonstrated its solid support for Taiwan through genuine actions,” presidential office spokesman Xavier Chang said in a statement.
But Beijing said Biden’s comments risked “damaging China-US relations”, warning Washington on Friday to “act and speak out carefully on the Taiwan issue”.
“China has no room to compromise on issues related to its core interests,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular press briefing.
Wang said the US should not underestimate China’s “determination, strong will and strong ability” to defend itself against what it sees as a threat to its sovereignty.
Biden made a similar pledge during an interview with ABC in August, insisting that despite a withdrawal from Afghanistan in the face of a victorious Taliban, the US would always defend key allies, naming Taiwan among them.
Biden’s remarks were unlikely out of ignorance. The veteran politician himself was serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1979 and voted to ratify the Taiwan Relations Act.
Richard McGregor, a senior fellow in East Asia at the Lowy Institute, said Biden wanted to show more assertiveness.
He told AFP: “I suspect Biden was not trying to announce any changes. So it was either loose language, or perhaps a slightly harsh tone, which was deliberately adopted because Beijing recently Taiwan’s military persecution has increased the pace.”
China has increased economic, diplomatic and military pressure on Taiwan since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, which sees Taiwan as already sovereign and not part of “one China”.
Military pressure has mounted with China sending waves of fighter jets and nuclear-capable bombers into Taiwan’s air defenses last year.
According to AFP data, more than 800 flights have been flown in the region since September last year – 170 in this month.
Defending Taiwan, one of Asia’s most progressive democracies, has become a rare bipartisan issue in Washington’s otherwise deeply polarizing landscape.
At Thursday’s live town hall, Biden was also asked by an audience member whether the United States would be able to keep up with China’s rapid military development.
Biden replied with a “yes.”
“Don’t worry about whether … they’re going to be more powerful,” he said. “China, Russia and the rest of the world know that we have the most powerful army in the history of the world.”
Biden’s remarks came in the wake of a report in the Financial Times that China has tested a state-of-the-art hypersonic missile with nuclear capability that flies around the planet before landing, though not on target.
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