Would US forces defend Taiwan? Biden says ‘yes’ again


President Joe Biden reiterated that US military personnel would defend Taiwan should the Chinese military launch an invasion of the democratically ruled island.

Appearing on the CBS program “60 Minutes” On Sunday, Biden was asked if “American forces, American men and women would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion,” a prospect that US officials privately fear is becoming increasingly likely.

“Yes,” Biden said.

This isn’t the first time Biden has appeared to venture beyond the longstanding US approach to “strategic ambiguity” when it comes to Taiwan’s defense. More recently, during a visit to Tokyo in May, Biden said the United States would intervene militarily if China tried to take Taiwan by force.

The White House was quick to downplay Biden’s previous comments on Taiwan, reiterating that US policy hasn’t changed, and on Sunday ’60 Minutes’ reported receiving a response similar to Biden’s responses in their interview. .

Taiwan is less than 110 miles (177 kilometers) off the coast of China. For more than 70 years, the two sides have been governed separately, but that hasn’t stopped the ruling Chinese Communist Party from claiming the island as its own – even though it has never controlled it.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping said “reunification” between China and Taiwan was inevitable and refused to rule out the use of force. Tensions between Beijing and Taipei are at their highest in decades, with the Chinese military holding major military exercises near the island.

Under the “One China” policy, the United States recognizes China’s position that Taiwan is part of China, but has never officially recognized the Communist Party’s claim to the 23 million self-governing island. of inhabitants. The United States provides defensive weapons to Taiwan, but has remained intentionally ambiguous about whether it would intervene militarily in the event of a Chinese attack.

Biden reiterated his commitment to these policies in the “60 Minutes” interview.

“We agree with what we signed a long time ago. And that there is a ‘one China’ policy, and that Taiwan makes its own judgment on its independence. We are not moving – we let’s not encourage their independence… It’s their decision,” he said.

But when asked if US forces would defend the island, he said they would: “Yes, if in fact there was an unprecedented attack.”

China did not respond to Biden’s comments Monday morning. Previously, Beijing had expressed its “firm opposition” to similar remarks by the American president and accused Washington of violating the “One China” principle.

Biden’s comments on Sunday are likely to spark further speculation about potential shifts in U.S. policy on Taiwan, but analysts noted that his choice of words left room for interpretation and was by no means unequivocal.

Drew Thompson, a visiting senior fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said “we’re always tempted to read a lot into the president’s statements,” but Biden’s view doesn’t matter. not really changed.

Thompson, a former US Department of Defense official, said the specific nature of any US defense does not necessarily mean US boots on the ground in Taiwan.

In the event of a Chinese attack on the island, the Pentagon would present Biden with “a range of options” for the deployment of US forces, he said.

Using US naval or air assets in an offshore role, even US cyber assets to hinder a potential Chinese invasion, or simply a US show of force in the region, could all be among those options.

Biden’s latest statement could put a strain on US-China relations, following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei in August. Beijing responded to his trip with unprecedented military exercises around the island.

The Taiwan issue was also among the main talking points during last week’s meeting between Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin at a regional summit in Uzbekistan, with both men agreeing that Chinese sovereignty over the island is a non-negotiable “red line”.

Xi also said he appreciated “Russia’s adherence to the ‘one China’ principle and stressed that Taiwan is part of China.”

Debates around the likelihood of a possible Chinese invasion have intensified in the wake of Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine, with many analysts indicating that Beijing will likely be watching the situation in Europe carefully.

The US intelligence community has made clear its belief that China is actively trying to build a military capable of taking control of Taiwan – even in the face of US support for the island.

Last week, CIA Deputy Director David Cohen said that while Xi hadn’t made the decision to invade Taiwan, he wanted China’s People’s Liberation Army to have the capability to take the lead. control of the island by force by 2027.

The US intelligence community does not believe Beijing has made a decision on whether to prosecute or not, Cohen said, adding that it is believed Xi would prefer to gain control of Taiwan through “non-military means”.

The CIA official also said the agency is paying close attention to the lessons China is learning from the war in Ukraine.

“We are watching very carefully how the Chinese understand the situation in Ukraine – how the Russians behaved, how the Ukrainians behaved and the implications of that for their own plans, as they might be in Taiwan,” he said. said Cohen.

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