Joe Biden Ends Tradition Of Strategic Ambiguity On Taiwan

( President Joe Biden’s new declaration on US policy toward Taiwan has roiled the geopolitical seas of East Asia once again. During a press appearance in Japan in May, Biden stated emphatically that he would go further on behalf of Taiwan’s defense than he has been ready to go in the case of Ukraine. It’s an important distinction indicating the United States’ growing commitment to Taipei. Even though the US has supplied tens of billions of dollars in weaponry and information to help Kyiv beat Russian forces, Biden has persistently refused to send the US military to Ukraine.

A reporter questioned if Biden was prepared to engage militarily to defend Taiwan if it came to that.

“Yes,” Biden said plainly.

There didn’t appear to be any waffling.

“You are?” the reporter inquired, making it evident that he was referring to direct military action by the United States.

Biden said, “That’s the pledge we made.”

Biden’s most recent remark was factually incorrect. The Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 governs US policy toward Taiwan, passed after Washington switched official diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). According to the TRA, the US will only sell Taiwan defensive weaponry and see any PRC invasion on the island as a grave breach of East Asia’s peace. If the latter occurs, the president and Congress must consult to determine the best course of action.

It’s tempting to dismiss Biden’s remark as just the latest blunder by an infamous president for making gaffes. However, there are more and more reasons to believe that the situation regarding Taiwan policy is deteriorating. Biden has made many similar pronouncements regarding Washington’s ostensible defense commitment to the island to assume that his remarks are blundering.

In an interview with ABC News in August 2021, anchor George Stephanopoulos asked Biden if Washington’s friends could still count on US security in the wake of the chaotic exit from Afghanistan.

“We made a solemn pledge to Article Five that we would respond if somebody did invade or take action against our NATO friends,” Biden said. “The same alliance had been created with Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan,” he went on to say.

During a CNN town hall meeting on October 21, 2021, the president was asked directly if the US would support Taiwan against a PRC assault. “Yes, we have a commitment,” Biden said emphatically.

In each of the previous episodes, administration officials, including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, scrambled to “clarify” (walk back) the president’s remarks to reassure the news media and international leaders (especially PRC leaders) that US policy had not changed and that the TRA still determined that policy.

The uncomfortable fact is that the United States’ defense commitment to Taiwan has proliferated in recent years, with little legislative debate and little public consideration of the immense potential costs and hazards. Strategic ambiguity is no longer a viable option. Although it is obvious why that idea exists, Biden is not guilty of making repeated verbal gaffes concerning US policy toward Taiwan.