White House says no change in US policy toward Taiwan

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The White House on Friday sought to clarify President Biden’s comments related to ensuring Taiwan’s defense in the face of a potential Chinese attack, saying U.S. policy toward the island is unchanged.

“The President was not announcing any change in our policy and there is no change in our policy,” a White House spokesperson said in response to a request for comment from The Hill.

“The U.S. 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.”

President Biden on Thursday night answered in the affirmative when asked during a CNN town hall if the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defense if attacked by China.

“Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” the president said.

The answer appeared to fly in the face of nearly four decades of U.S. policy toward Taiwan, in which America has adhered to “strategic ambiguity” when dealing with the island nation. Biden’s comment follows a similar statement he made in August, when he appeared to equate U.S. policy toward Taiwan with security commitments it maintains with South Korea and Japan.

The White House also pushed back on those comments at the time, saying that U.S. position to Taiwan had not changed from the position of strategic ambiguity.

The commitment allows the U.S. to provide military sales to Taiwan to ensure its ability to defend itself from an incoming attack or invasion, but it is ambiguous about America’s responsibility to physically come to Taipei’s aid in the face of an attack.

Chinese officials on Friday pushed back on Biden’s remarks, accusing the U.S. of meddling in internal Chinese affairs.

“The Taiwan question is purely China’s internal affairs that allow no foreign interference. … No one should underestimate the resolve, the will and the ability of the Chinese people to defend their national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said in a briefing with reporters.

“We urge the U.S. to earnestly abide by the one-China principle and stipulations in the three China-U.S. joint communiques, be prudent with its words and actions on the Taiwan question, and avoid sending wrong signals to the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces, lest it should seriously damage China-U.S. relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

Taiwan split from mainland China in 1949 when the nationalist government fled to the island as a result of the country’s civil war. Taipei, officially calling itself the Republic of China, considers itself the legitimate government of the Chinese people, but Beijing views it as a rogue territory that is part of the People’s Republic of China.

The U.S. established its “one China” policy in 1979, recognizing Beijing as the sole, legal government of China but maintained unofficial relations with Taiwan and committed to ensuring its self-defense, as part of efforts to promote a reconciliation between Beijing and Taipei and avoid a forceful takeover of the island, which runs under a democratic government.

Yet an increasingly aggressive and provocative China has raised the risk that an invasion of Taiwan is possible and raised questions of the usefulness of U.S. policy of strategic ambiguity in favor of a more clear commitment to coming to Taiwan’s aid in the face of an invasion.

China flew at least 150 warplanes into airspace close to Taiwan at the end of September and beginning of October, viewed as an extremely provocative action.

Nicholas Burns, Biden’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to China, on Wednesday called the Chinese actions and rhetoric worrying but reiterated that he believed the administration’s policy on Taiwan was unchanged and put his support behind it.

“My own view, and fortunately this is backed up, I think, by both the Biden administration and every administration going back four decades, is that we have enormous latitude, Congress and the executive branch, under the Taiwan Relations Act to deepen our security assistance to Taiwan,” Burns said.

“Our responsibility is to make Taiwan a tough nut to crack.”

Morgan Chalfant contributed to this report. 

Tags China Joe Biden Nicholas Burns Taiwan

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