Biden Breaks “Strategic Ambiguity” To Affirm Alliance With Taiwan Against Chinese Aggression

At a recent joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, U.S. President Joe Biden made new remarks about the western nation’s position regarding Taiwan and emphasized that, if China were to attack Taiwan, the United States would aid in defending the island’s independence.

As outlined in the “one China” policy, a crucial key to diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing, the U.S. follows China’s position that there is only one Chinese government. China claims Taiwan as part of its own territory and has been using intimidation, such as military provocations, upon the democratic island as a way to enforce acceptance of the Chinese government’s rule and demands. The mainland has aggressively hounded private entities and international organizations to support its claim that Taiwan is an integral part of China, going as far as to block the island from attending meetings at the U.N. and World Health Assembly. The United States also maintains unofficial contracts with Taiwan, and under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, Washington continues to supply military equipment to the island. While the policy ensures that Taiwan will have the resources necessary to defend itself and deter Beijing if conflict were to break out, the U.S. is not required to defend the island if China invades. The overall aim of the vagueness over whether or not the U.S. would support Taiwan if China became aggressive has been to lessen China’s likelihood of taking military action while also preventing the U.S. from having to commit itself to war.  Now, Biden’s comments reflect a change to Washington’s long-held policy of “strategic ambiguity.”

The strong warning has come amidst Biden’s first trip to Asia as President, aimed at uniting allies and partners to ultimately counter China’s rising influence within the sphere. Biden stated that the Chinese government was “flirting with danger right now … [with] all the maneuvers undertaken,” referring to a growing number of Chinese military exercises and other power projections in the Taiwan Straits.

Biden’s statement also precedes the second in-person summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), an informal grouping between the U.S., Japan, Australia, and India, further threatening Beijing’s position and power.

However, Washington is not under the assumption that China will attempt to seize Taiwan by force, Biden clarified. Rather, it believes this non-violent trajectory “depends upon just how strong the world makes clear that that kind of action is going to result in long-term disapprobation by the rest of the community.”

International diplomacy such as this has been transformed by the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Biden and other politicians do not want China to become inspired by Vladimir or come to believe that the international sphere approves of his tactics. Thus, Biden has explained Russia’s invasion of Ukraine made the United States’ burden to protect the self-ruled island “even stronger.” Furthermore, Biden does not believe that China will attempt an act of overt aggression, as it would create a disastrous zone for the entire region, impact economic and social ties to the international community, and result in devastation similar to that in Ukraine. It would not be in China’s best interest to get itself involved in a war with immense risk and damaging outcomes.

Tensions between Beijing and Taipei have been increasing in recent decades as the Chinese military sends significant numbers of war-planes near the island. Taiwan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said it welcomed Biden’s stance on re-affirming Washington’s commitment to the island, with Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Joanne Ou announcing to C.B.C. that “Taiwan will continue to improve its self-defense capabilities and deepen cooperation with the United States and Japan and other like-minded countries to jointly defend the security of the Taiwan Strait and the rules-based international order while promoting peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.”

As Prime Minister Fumio Kishid re-affirmed during his discussion with Biden, maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait is critical. “Attempts to change the status quo by force, like Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, should never be tolerated in the Indo-Pacific, above all, in East Asia,” Kishid told CNN Politics.

Yet C.N.B.C. has already reported criticism from China, whose Foreign Ministry has expressed “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” to the remarks. “China has no room for compromise or concession,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin adamantly declared.

The international community must stay determined in its defense of Taiwan’s freedom, democracy, and security. While China has announced it will not seek out a compromise, if pressured through social and economic means as well as the loosening of ties with influential international organizations, communication and cooperation may be able to take form between it and Taiwan. It is essential that the United States, as a country with significant sway, and other nations in Asia continue to discuss how to find a middle ground, from which negotiation and security regarding the Taiwan-Chinese tensions can be established. New tactics, such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework formulated to allow the U.S. to work closely with critical Asian economies, are crucial initiatives and a step towards advancing ideas of prosperity, development, and peace within the region.

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