Biden Says US Would Defend Taiwan Against Chinese Invasion: NPR
President Joe Biden has said the United States will defend Taiwan if China mounts an “unprecedented attack” on the island, his latest in a series of remarks over the past year that have been unusually explicit about the America’s intentions in the face of mounting pressure from Beijing.
In an interview with the CBS news program 60 minutes aired on Sunday, Biden was asked if U.S. forces would defend Taiwan – a self-governing democracy that sits about 100 miles off the coast of China and claimed by Beijing as part of China.
“Yes, if in fact there was an unprecedented attack,” Biden replied.
When asked again whether, unlike Ukraine, US forces would be involved in the event of a Chinese invasion, Biden replied, “Yes.”
Some observers say the remarks contradict a longstanding preference by US administrations for ambiguity on the issue of Taiwan’s defense as a way to deter China and Taiwan from taking steps that could alter the status quo.
The White House said the remarks did not represent a change in US policy.
After the 60 minutes broadcast interview, a White House spokesman said, “The President has said this before…He also made it clear at the time that our policy in Taiwan has not changed. It remains true.”
Still, the interview is sure to anger Beijing, which has accused US politicians of sending “bad signals” to those in Taiwan who favor formal independence.
China’s ruling Communist Party views Taiwan as unfinished business from the civil war, which ended in 1949 with the defeated Nationalist Party fleeing to the island. Beijing is committed to bringing Taiwan back into the fold – ideally by peaceful means, he says, but by force if necessary.
Polls show, however, that a large majority of the 23 million inhabitants of Taiwan prefer the status quo and oppose unification with China.
Biden said the United States did not encourage Taiwanese independence – a red line for Beijing – but he added: “Taiwan makes its own judgment on its independence…it’s their decision.”
By right, the United States is committed to providing Taiwan with the means to defend itself. The debate over what that should look like has intensified following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. China has also tipped the balance of power across the Taiwan Strait with a sweeping, multi-year modernization of its armed forces.
While US officials insist US policy towards Taiwan has not changed, informal relations between Washington and Taipei have warmed as tensions between the US and China have escalated in recent years.
In a phone call in July, Chinese leader Xi Jinping warned Biden against US interference in the Taiwan issue, saying “those who play with fire end up getting burned.”
Last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, becoming the highest ranking US official to set foot on the island since Newt Gingrich visited the island as as Speaker of the House in 1997.
China was furious at the visit, and in the weeks that followed conducted military exercises near Taiwan and flew warplanes across the median line in the center of the Taiwan Strait that separates Taiwan from the mainland.