President Joe Biden’s national security adviser said Sunday that the president has not changed U.S. policy toward the China-Taiwan situation though he has repeatedly said the U.S. would defend Taiwan if China invaded.
“The entire Taiwan policy of the United States is built on a series of internal tensions,” said Jake Sullivan, speaking Sunday on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”
In 1949, the United States recognized Taiwan after nationalist leaders fled there in the wake of Mao Zedong’s military victory on the mainland. Then-President Richard M. Nixon visited the People’s Republic of China in 1972, the first official U.S. acknowledgment that communists actually governed the mainland. In 1979, the U.S. recognized the People’s Republic of China and specified that it was the sole legitimate government of China, a One China policy that has remained in effect ever since.
“The One China policy,” Sullivan told Zakaria, “if you begin to unpack it, you will recognize that it is about dealing in a world of internal tension within the policy and trying to manage those tensions effectively to ensure peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. This is not a model of clarity, the One China policy.”
But Biden has repeatedly stated that the U.S. would indeed defend Taiwan by military force if China were to invade the island, which it has always claimed to be part of its territory. “Yes, if in fact, there was an unprecedented attack,” Biden said in September 2022 told interviewer Scott Pelley on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
Sullivan suggested that Biden’s statements have been consistent with existing American policy, even as Zakaria said “there’s a contradiction there” in parsing Biden’s remarks.
“The thing is, what it lacks in clarity,” he said, “the One China policy has succeeded in actually achieving the practical objective of decades of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. That’s why our policy hasn’t changed.“
“That’s why we believe the One China policy should continue to ensure that there are no unilateral changes to the status quo from either side. And that we maintain that peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait for decades to come.”
Tensions in the approximately 110-mile-wide Taiwan Strait have been higher in recent months.
On Sunday, China’s defense minister defended sailing a warship near an American destroyer and Canadian frigate in those waters. A day earlier, at the same international forum in Singapore, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the United States would not “flinch in the face of bullying or coercion” from China.
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