On Monday, during a high-profile visit to Japan, President Biden said the US would intervene “militarily” if China invaded Taiwan, a comment that White House officials later walked back.
At a news conference in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Biden was asked if the US would intervene in Taiwan more directly than it has in Ukraine. “You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons,” a reporter said to the president. “Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?”
“Yes,” Biden responded. “That’s the commitment we made.” He said that the US has agreed to the One China policy but said the idea “that it can be taken by force — just taken by force — is just not a — is just not appropriate. It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine. And so, it’s a burden that is even stronger.”
Biden’s comments were initially taken by the media as a change in the US policy of “strategic ambiguity” around Taiwan. Under the decades-old policy, the US provides Taiwan with arms but does not commit to defending the island in the event of a Chinese invasion. But White House officials later said Biden’s comments in Tokyo did not mean a change in policy.
White House officials insisted that Biden meant the US would send military equipment to Taiwan, not send troops to the island to fight China. Earlier in the news briefing, Biden had said that the US’s Taiwan policy had not changed. “As the president said, our policy has not changed,” a White House spokesperson said.
The White House has had to clarify comments Biden has made about Taiwan repeatedly throughout his presidency. Last October, he said during a CNN town hall the US had a “commitment” to defend Taiwan, which the White House walked back.
Back in 2001, then-Senator Joe Biden criticized President George W. Bush for suggesting that the US would defend Taiwan, then later walking it back. In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Biden wrote that “words matter” and said Bush hurt the credibility of the US by making such comments due to an “inattention to detail.”
China on Monday slammed Biden for the comments he made in Tokyo. “China expresses strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to the remarks by the US side,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said. Wang added that Taiwan was an issue Beijing would not “compromise” on. “China will take firm actions to safeguard its sovereignty and security interests. We mean what we say,” he said.