The Daily Telegraph

Biden: we will defend Taiwan if China invades

Remarks seem to confirm hardening of Washington’s support for island that Beijing claims as its own

- By Nicola Smith in Seoul

‘The president’s comments should be perceived as part of the US strategy to deter China’

‘If President Biden plans to defend Taiwan, then he should make sure the US military has the capability to do so’

JOE BIDEN said the United States would send soldiers to defend Taiwan if it was invaded by China, in remarks that appeared to confirm a hardening of Washington’s support for the island and a shift away from its policy of not revealing whether it would intervene in a war.

Asked during a “60 Minutes interview” broadcast on CBS on Sunday whether US forces would defend the democratic island of 23.5million that China claims as its own, the US president replied: “Yes, if in fact, there was an unpreceden­ted attack.”

Asked to clarify if he meant that unlike in Ukraine, US military personnel would step in to defend Taiwan, he doubled down with a firm “yes”.

China’s foreign ministry said the comments “severely violate” US policy on Taiwan. Beijing recently launched its largest-ever military exercises around the island in response to a visit by Nancy Pelosi, the US speaker of the House of Representa­tives.

The US has for decades maintained a policy of so-called “strategic ambiguity” over Taiwan, under which its leaders have left it unclear whether they would respond militarily to an invasion.

The Chinese Communist Party claims Taiwan as part of its own territory, though it has never ruled the democratic island, which functions like any other nation with its own government and military.

Washington’s “One China” policy acknowledg­es Beijing’s position on Taiwan but stops short of officially recognisin­g the claim.

US law, meanwhile, mandates Washington to provide the island with the means to defend itself.

However, for several months Mr Biden has appeared to be pushing US policy in a more confrontat­ional direction.

His remarks were the fourth indication he has given that the US military would step in to defend Taiwan.

Each time White House aides have sprung into action to soften or attempt to walk back the president’s statements, saying official policy has not changed.

In the media, Mr Biden’s remarks were initially classed as a “gaffe”, an example of the veteran politician’s tendency to mis-speak.

But the president’s latest explicit statement instead appears to show that Washington policy over the island is being subtly modified, analysts said.

“The comment was not a ‘gaffe’ but a ‘consolidat­ion of the US’ commitment to Taiwan,” said Dr Sana Hashmi, at the Taiwan-asia Exchange Foundation.

“While this isn’t a signal towards strategic clarity … it’s becoming clearer that the US will not sit idle if China attacks Taiwan.

“The president’s comments should be perceived as part of the US strategy to deter China. Now, such reassuranc­es backed with actions are vital, given China has changed the status quo and is ever-increasing aggression in the Taiwan Strait.”

Last week the CIA said Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, had ordered the military to be ready to seize Taiwan by 2027 but had not yet decided on whether to launch an invasion.

Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, who recently coined the term “strategic confusion” to refer to the apparent clash between Mr Biden and official policy, said: “If President Biden plans to defend Taiwan, then he should make sure the US military has the capability to do [so].”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom