US President Joe Biden on Wednesday told the UN General Assembly that the US seeks to “uphold peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” and remains committed to the “one China” policy, three days after he said the US would commit troops to Taiwan’s defense if there was “an unprecedented attack.”
After Biden on Sunday said during an interview that the US would send troops to defend Taiwan if China attempted an invasion, the White House said its Taiwan policy had not changed, leading to speculation that the White House was walking back the president’s comments.
It might also seem that Biden’s speech at the UN contradicted his comments on Taiwan during the interview, but the White House and Biden have been consistent on US policy.
Washington’s position has always been to oppose any unilateral change to the Taiwan-China relationship. Boosting sales of defensive weapons to Taiwan — which is the core purpose of the proposed US Taiwan policy act — and committing US troops to defend Taiwan are not in conflict with upholding the “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait. As an invasion attempt would be a unilateral change to the Taiwan-China relationship, the US would be justified in defending Taiwan.
That is not to say there has been no change to the US’ approach to its relations with Taiwan and China. The US is clearly focusing more attention on Taiwan, which is reflected in recent legislation and public comments by Biden and US senators.
However, Washington also hopes it can deter unilateral action by China, which is the purpose of its warship transits in the Taiwan Strait and the increased arms sales to Taiwan.
Washington had sought to deter Beijing by maintaining “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan, but the increase in Chinese military aggression over the past year has shown that ambiguity is not helping it achieve that aim.
Researcher Chieh Chung (揭仲) from the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) National Policy Foundation think tank said he believed the US “would definitely in some way intervene” if China attempted an invasion, because staying on the sidelines would undermine the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政), a member of the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee, said: “It is hard to imagine that the US would just sit back” if a conflict were to break out in the Strait, but “Washington immediately sending troops to help Taiwan is also unlikely.”
It remains unclear what the US would do in the event of a conflict in the Taiwan Strait, but it seems increasingly clear that it would get involved and — if Biden is to be believed — that involvement would mean sending troops. Given that Biden has publicly reiterated this claim multiple times, it is unlikely he made the comments in error, or that he was confused about Washington’s policy.
Biden would also have been informed of the interview questions ahead of time, so his responses would have been thought through. It might be that he is privy to strategic plans that he cannot speak about publicly, or that Washington hopes to play both sides of the coin to keep Beijing confused — letting Biden speak about troop commitments, while denying such plans afterward. Either way, it is highly likely that the US military has plans to respond to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
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