President Joe Biden on Monday forcefully committed the U.S. to militarily defend Taiwan if China were to invade. Even as the president talks tough on China, the administration once again scrambles to clarify his comments after he goes off-script.
Americans unfamiliar with the phrase “walking back” and its political connotations are learning it quickly with Biden’s frequent missteps.
At a press conference in Tokyo’s Akasaka Palace, a reporter prefaced a question by stating the U.S. is not directly militarily involved in the Ukraine war. The question that followed was if America will get involved militarily to defend Taiwan against a similar invasion.
“Yes,” was Biden’s answer. “That’s the commitment we made.” He added that the U.S. agrees with the “One China” policy, which says that the only China is the mainland. He dismissed the idea that Taiwan can be taken by force as “not appropriate.”
The White House quickly asserted that Biden’s proclamation is not a change in policy. Instead, it merely reiterates the U.S. commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to support the island nation with the “military means to defend itself.”
Simply put, the U.S. will supply armaments to Taiwan much in the way it is now with Ukraine. A commitment to send troops, as Biden appeared to make, is not part of the agreement.
If the president’s words Monday in Tokyo reflect official policy, it marks a drastic change from what has been in place for years. It’s hardly the first infraction in the eyes of the Chinese. Last year the White House scrambled to clarify Biden’s remarks concerning Taiwan on at least four occasions.
Once was when he referred to Taiwan as “independent.”
China reacted swiftly, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin declaring “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory.” Wang emphasized there is no room for debate or negotiation and that China’s interests will be defended by its 1.4 billion population.
The U.S. for many years pursued a purposefully ambiguous policy on Taiwan. Diplomacy walks a fine line between defending a friendly nation and provoking the very thing it wants to prevent. Firing off-the-cuff answers to diplomatically and militarily sensitive questions is a dangerous practice.