China on Monday called US President Joe Biden’s comments that the United States would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack a “grave violation” of diplomatic commitments made by Washington. For its part, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry expressed “sincere gratitude” for the Democrat’s support.
In an interview with US channel CBS on Sunday, asked whether the US would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, Biden replied: “Yes, if an unprecedented attack occurs.”
For Beijing, Biden’s statement constitutes a “serious violation of the important commitment made by the United States not to support Taiwan’s independence,” said Mao Ning, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, adding that “this sends a signal wrong to the separatist forces campaigning for Taiwan independence”.
Biden’s remarks come after a significant rapprochement between the United States and Taiwan, as Sino-US relations go through the worst phase in several decades.
On Wednesday, the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Taiwan Policy Act bill, which provides for an expansion of US military support to the island country by US$6.5 billion over the next five years.
The same week, China condemned the US$1.1 billion in arms sales to Taiwan and promised “countermeasures” to “defend its sovereignty and security interests”.
In early August, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan had already provoked Beijing’s fury. “We urge the US to fully recognize the extreme importance and high sensitivity of the Taiwan issue so that it does not further damage China-US relations,” Mao Ning said.
“Blank Check” to Taiwan
For Jessica Chen Weiss, a political scientist and professor at Cornell University in the US, Biden’s new comments are “dangerous, even if they are not an official change in policy”.
“More explicit here than in previous gaffes is the suggestion that the US would send troops to fight for Taiwan no matter what Taiwan does,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that this “will strengthen the perception that the US is issuing a check.” blank for Taiwan”.
In May, Biden had already signaled that he would use military force to defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion, forcing the White House to say that the official US stance on the island had not changed.
Taiwan has been a self-governing island since 1949, with a democratic regime and politically close to Western countries. China, however, considers it part of its territory and requires countries to choose whether to maintain diplomatic relations with Beijing or Taipei. The Chinese government also sees Taiwan as a Chinese province that will one day be “reunited” with the mainland, even if it requires force.
In this context, the US has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan and recognizes the Beijing-based People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the “single legal government” under the “one China” policy.
However, Washington does not explicitly recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan and continues to supply weapons to the self-governing island, which has led to the current complicated diplomatic and strategic gray area.
The US has committed to Taiwan’s defense capability, which until now has mostly meant arms deliveries. The question of military assistance from US troops in the event of an attack was deliberately left open by Biden’s predecessors, under a policy of “strategic ambiguity”, whereby direct military intervention is not guaranteed but explicitly ruled out.