BEIJING – China has filed “stern representations” in Washington after U.S. President Joe Biden said his …
American country would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning, speaking at a regular media briefing Monday, stressed that Beijing reserves the right to take all necessary measures in response to the nation’s divisive activities. “We are willing to do our best to strive for peaceful reunification. At the same time, we will not tolerate any activities aimed at secession,” Mao said.
The new controversy erupted following an interview Biden gave to CBS’s popular “60 Minutes” program released, probably not coincidentally, to coincide with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, which gave further impetus to the multipolar dynamics underway thanks to the Russian-Chinese partnership. Asked whether the U.S. intends to defend Taiwan militarily in the event of aggression by China, Biden thus answered in the affirmative, provided there is “an unprecedented attack.” Given the gravity of Biden’s words, the host of the broadcast asked the question in more precise terms, “Unlike Ukraine, the U.S. [armed] forces,” meaning “would U.S. soldiers defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion?” Again, the answer was affirmative and unambiguous.
As already mentioned, this is not the first such outing by the U.S. president. Last May, for example, he had stated in another interview that the U.S. military is ready to intervene in Taiwan based on Washington’s commitments. Over the weekend, as with Biden’s previous stances on the issue, the White House stepped in to “clarify” and, in part, rectify the president’s words. Indeed, a spokesman assured that the official U.S. position on China and Taiwan has not changed.
The president himself in the CBS interview confirmed U.S. adherence to the “one China” policy. Biden clarified that “Taiwan must make its own choices about independence,” while the United States “does not encourage” a process directed toward what Beijing considers an unacceptable outcome. The Biden administration’s reassurances, however, appear increasingly unconvincing, especially in the eyes of the Chinese leadership, as they are accompanied by facts indicating diametrically opposed intentions.
The official U.S. position and the dangers of shifting established strategic balances had been discussed by Biden himself in a 2001 article the then Democratic senator wrote for the Washington Post. This was recalled over the weekend by the alternative news site Antiwar. There, Biden criticized George W. Bush for hinting that the U.S. would militarily defend Taiwan from an attack by China. Bush Jr. had actually later backtracked, but Biden explained that his words still threatened to “damage American credibility” and fuel tensions with Beijing.
In the same article, Biden also explained that Washington had no defense obligation to Taiwan because of “the abrogation of the 1954 Mutual Defense Treaty” after the formalization of diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979. After the recognition of that of the People’s Republic of China as the only legitimate government, the United States had severed formal relations with Taiwan, albeit continuing to supply arms to the island and maintaining the aforementioned attitude of “strategic ambiguity.” Under it, the U.S. government avoids explicitly stating its intention to intervene militarily in any conflict between China and Taiwan, so as to deter both an invasion by Beijing and a declaration of independence by Taipei.