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President Biden walked back an assertion that the U.S. would intervene militarily to defend Taiwan against China for the third time of his presidency on Tuesday.
Biden stated unequivocally on Monday that the U.S. would send the military to defend Taiwan if China invaded the island nation. He walked back that statement on Tuesday, however, saying the U.S. position of “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan has not changed.
It was the third time of Biden’s presidency that he had appeared to announce the bombshell change in U.S. policy toward Taiwan only to have White House officials walk it back 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 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“You talked about our adversaries, China and Russia. You already see China telling Taiwan, ‘See? You can’t count on the Americans.’” the anchor asked.
“We have made – kept every commitment. We made a sacred commitment to Article Five that if in fact anyone were to invade or take action against our NATO allies, we would respond,” Biden said at the time. “Same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with – Taiwan. It’s not even comparable to talk about that.”
In fact, the U.S. has not made a formal defense treaty with Taiwan, as it has with NATO countries, South Korea and Japan. The administration then walked the statement back, resorting to an unnamed official who clarified that “U.S. policy has not changed.”
Biden made the statement again during a CNN town hall in October, stating that the U.S. has a “commitment” to defend Taiwan against an attack.
“Can you vow to protect Taiwan?” an audience member asked.
“Yes,” Biden responded, adding that the U.S. remains the most powerful military force in the world.
“So are you saying the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked?” host Anderson Cooper pressed.
“Yes, we have a commitment,” Biden said.
In reality, however, the U.S. only has a commitment to the One China policy and the Taiwan Relations Act. The former states that the government of Beijing is the sole government of China, adding that the U.S. acknowledges, but does not endorse, Beijing’s claim to own Taiwan.
The latter allows for substantial, but non-diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Taiwan.
The White House released a statement walking back Biden’s townhall remarks the following day, arguing that Biden “was not announcing any change in our policy and there is no change in our policy.”
“The U.S. 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 Act, we will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo.”
Experts have slammed the Biden administration for the repeated back-and-forth between the president and his own staff on the issue. Asia expert Gordon Chang described the situation as “amateur-hour” at the White House on Tuesday.
“This is amateur hour at 1600 Pennsylvania, and this actually has real-world consequences, largely because the Chinese will look at this and say that the administration is incapable and irresolute,” Chang told “Fox & Friends.” “Now, Biden was very clear a couple of days ago when he said, ‘Look, the United States will defend Taiwan…’ There was no ambiguity about that, and now under pressure… you have his subordinates contradicting him.”
“This really is… bad, and it’s bad not with regard to Taiwan only, it’s in regard with all our defense commitments around the world,” he added.
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