Asia

Biden’s seven words set to enrage China


In just a few words, the US President has overturned decades of “strategic ambiguity” around a potential military flashpoint.

In just seven words, President Joe Biden has risked the wrath of China by reversing decades of deliberately ambiguous language designed specifically not to anger Beijing.

On Thursday, Mr Biden said that “yes” the US would come to the aid of Taiwan should it be attacked by China.

Taiwan, which lies off the coast of the Chinese mainland, is claimed by Beijing as a breakaway province. But the democratic nation of 24 million people has never been ruled by Communist China and has been essentially independent for more than 60 years.

Mr Biden was asked in a town hall meeting in Baltimore organised by news channel CNN if the US would come to the defence of Taiwan should an invasion take place.

“Yes,” he said. “We have a commitment to that.”

When host Anderson Cooper asked again if the US would indeed engage in military action to help Taiwan, Mr Biden again said yes.

America’s ‘strategic ambiguity’ over Taiwan

The comments are at odds with official US policy on Taiwan which is one of “strategic ambiguity” where it nether confirms nor denies it would defend the island state.

In order to appease Beijing, the US’s “One China” policy means it has no official diplomatic relations with Taiwan although it does have an office on the island. It also doesn’t have a military pact with Taiwan, unlike Japan and South Korea.

The Taiwan Relations Act does state that the US can sell arms to the nation, chiefly so the island can defend itself.

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Beijing has yet to respond to Mr Biden’s comments but is almost certain to be furious at the President’s apparent firming of support for Taiwan.

Earlier this month, China’s President Xi Jinping said “reunification” with Taiwan “must be fulfilled”.

Preferably that would be in a “peaceful manner” but “no one should underestimate the Chinese people’s staunch determination, firm will, and strong ability to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

China has regularly sent waves of bombers into Taiwan’s air defence zone.

Taiwan has never declared independence. But in July, Mr Xi said any attempt by Taiwan to do so must be “smashed”.

China’s ‘red line’ on Taiwan

Anything, however small, perceived as international recognition of Taiwan is met with a furious response from Beijing.

In 2018, airline Qantas agreed to remove Taiwan from a drop down menu of countries on its website after pressure from Beijing.

Lithuania, population 3 million, was told this year by China that it had crossed a “red line” after a decision to open a “Taiwanese representative office”. The office was not a full embassy but Beijing was angry nonetheless as it referred to “Taiwan” in the name.

This week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said issues relating to Taiwan were “China’s internal affairs that brook no foreign interference”.

He added that: “The One China principle is a political foundation of China-US relations and Taiwan is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory”.

In an apparent attempt to quell Beijing’s fury, a White House spokesman later said that the President’s remarks in Baltinore did not signify any change in policy, reported CNN.

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“The US defence 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-defence, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo,” the spokesman said.

This isn’t the first time Mr Biden has seemingly been out of step with official US policy on Taiwan.

In August, he said the US has a “sacred commitment” to come to its allies’ aid in a military conflict.

“Same with Japan, same with South Korea … same with Taiwan”.

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