If there was any doubt, it has been quashed — the message to Beijing was stark and clear.
Or was it? Perhaps it got murkier.
President Joe Biden said the US would defend Taiwan if China attacked, in an apparent departure from a long-held US foreign policy position, CNN Politics reported.
Asked twice during CNN’s town hall whether the US would protect Taiwan if China attacked, Biden said it would.
“Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” he said.
The US provides Taiwan defensive weapons, but has pursued a policy of “strategic ambiguity,” on whether it would intervene militarily in the event of a Chinese attack.
Under the “One China” Policy, the US acknowledges China’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan.
In recent weeks, Beijing has sent dozens of warplanes near into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), and Chinese President Xi Jinping has said that “reunification” between China and Taiwan was inevitable.
A White House spokesperson later appeared to walk back Biden’s comments, telling US media outlets that the US was “not announcing any change in our policy and there is no change in our policy.”
“The US defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. 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,” the official said.
Hours after the town hall, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin reasserted the nation’s longstanding claim that the island is its territory, whether America likes it or not.
“When it comes to issues related to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and other core interests, there is no room for China to compromise or make concessions, and no one should underestimate the strong determination, firm will and strong ability of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Wang said at a media briefing.
“Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory. The Taiwan issue is purely an internal affair of China that allows no foreign intervention,” Wang said.
The US should “be cautious with its words and actions on the Taiwan issue, and not send any wrong signals to the separatist forces of Taiwan independence, so as not to seriously damage China-U.S. relations and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” Wang said.
However, the Taiwanese were cheered by Biden’s statement, thanking him for his words.
“Our government will continue to strengthen our self-defense capabilities to full defend Taiwan’s democracy… national security and people’s well-being,” a statement from the foreign ministry said Friday.
Biden said Thursday he was not concerned about an intentional military conflict with China — but indicated he was worried about unintentional escalation.
“China, Russia and the rest of the world knows we have the most powerful military in history of the world. Don’t worry about whether they’re going to be more powerful,” he said.
“But you do have to worry about whether or not they’re going to engage in activities put them in a position where they may make a serious mistake.”
Citing his relationship with Xi, Biden said he wasn’t looking to enter a prolonged conflict.
“I have spoken and spent more time with Xi Jinping than any other world leader has. That’s why you hear people saying Biden wants to start a new cold war with China. I don’t want a cold war with China. I want China to understand that we are not going to step back and change any of our views.”
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin threw his hat into the Taiwan ring earlier this week.
Putin, who was a no show at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, said China “does not need to use force” in order to achieve its desired “reunification” with Taiwan.
Speaking to CNBC’s Hadley Gamble at the Russian Energy Week conference in Moscow Wednesday, Putin pointed to Xi’s comments suggesting the possibility of a peaceful unification, and China’s “philosophy of statehood,” to suggest that there is no threat of military confrontation.
“I think China does not need to use force. China is a huge powerful economy, and in terms of purchasing parity, China is the economy number one in the world ahead of the United States now,” the Russian president said, according to a translation.
“By increasing this economic potential, China is capable of implementing its national objectives. I do not see any threats.”
Putin also addressed tense relations over the South China Sea, where Russia has tried to maintain a neutral stance toward China’s long-standing and internationally repudiated claim to vast swathes of nearby waters.
“As for the South China Sea, yes, there are some conflicting and contradictory interests but the position of Russia is based on the fact that we need to provide an opportunity for all countries in the region, without interference from the non-regional powers, to have a proper conversation based on the fundamental norms of international law,” he said.
“It should be a process of negotiations, that’s how we should resolve any arguments, and I believe there is a potential for that, but it has not been fully used so far.”
Sources: CNN Politics, BBC, CNBC, Associated Press