by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
During his first trip to Asia as the U.S. president, Joe Biden said the U.S. military would defend Taiwan if China invaded the island. His comment became headline news worldwide as many interpreted it as a significant U.S. foreign policy change.
Yet, as so often, White House officials immediately clarified the president’s comment and insisted that there was no U.S. policy change regarding Taiwan. This is the third time White House staff have backpedaled after President Biden’s comments on Taiwan.
In an interview with ABC News in August and at a CNN town hall event in October 2021, Biden made similar comments, suggesting the United States would defend Taiwan against China. Each time, senior administration officials immediately contradicted Biden by stating that the U.S. government’s policy concerning Taiwan “has not changed.”
Such contradictions have raised questions, including who is in charge of U.S. policy on Taiwan and what that policy is. The lack of clarity on these questions is precarious, and not just for the future of Taiwan.
Historically, the U.S. government has followed a policy of “strategic ambiguity” created by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act. That doesn’t guarantee the U.S. defense of Taiwan in the event of Communist China’s invasion, but it doesn’t rule out U.S. involvement in defending Taiwan either.
In contrast to Washington’s ambiguity, Communist China has always been crystal clear about its intention toward Taiwan. Beijing insists there is one China led by the Communist Party and that Taiwan is a province of China. Beijing has vowed that it will never allow Taiwan to become independent. China’s current leader Xi Jinping sees the “reunification” with Taiwan as a legacy that he will make happen by any means necessary, including the use of force.