US President Joe Biden’s pledge to “respond” in the event of an attack on Taiwan shows that Washington is moving toward a policy of “constructive clarity” with regard to the nation’s defense, a Taiwanese academic said yesterday.
In an interview with ABC News on Thursday, Biden was asked about Chinese media statements implying that the US’ withdrawal from Afghanistan means that Taiwan “cannot count on the Americans.”
Biden said there was a “fundamental difference” between the situation in Afghanistan and the US’ commitment to entities like Taiwan, South Korea and NATO.
The US would “respond” if anyone were to invade or take action against a NATO ally, Biden said, before adding: “Same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with Taiwan.”
Observers said that the remarks might have been a slip, as the US has explicit defense agreements with NATO, Japan and South Korea, but has long maintained a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on the defense of Taiwan.
Although administration officials later walked back the comments, saying that US policy toward Taiwan has not changed, Taiwanese academic Su Tzu-yun (蘇紫雲) said the remarks were indicative of a broader US shift toward “constructive strategic clarity” on Taiwan.
Su said this trend can be observed in the transits by US warships through the Taiwan Strait and an increase in the US military presence in the region, adding that the US has used public diplomacy to signal its commitment to Taiwan, such as with social media posts by the US Navy’s Pacific and 7th fleets documenting their activities in waters around Taiwan.
In contrast, former minister of foreign affairs Chen Chien-jen (程建人) said that Biden’s remarks were likely motivated more by domestic political factors, although he also disputed the comparison between Taiwan and Afghanistan.
Large nations generally act based on self-interest, and in that sense, US support for Taiwan is part of its broader strategy in the Indo-Pacific region, Chen said.
Taiwan Thinktank consultant Lai I-chung (賴怡忠) said Biden’s remark is an affirmation of US commitments made in response to criticism about his handling of Afghanistan.
“There is no reason to blow one sentence out of proportion,” he said.
“Biden’s grouping of Taiwan together with other allies should be understood as an acknowledgment that Washington has a commitment to the country, and not that the nature of the commitments are identical,” he added.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政) said Biden’s remark was made in growing recognition of the country’s geostrategic value in Washington.
The Biden administration is treating Taiwan as an ally and moving away from the conventional position of strategic ambivalence, he said.
DPP Legislator Wang Ting-yu (王定宇) said that Biden’s reference to Taiwan alongside countries in which the US has stationed troops would have a significant impact on the country’s security, particularly in efforts toward securing military allies.
“Whether the comment is a one-off from Biden or a signal that the US is to change its long-term strategy regarding Taiwan cannot be determined as yet,” he said.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) said Washington’s foreign policy has always been decided on a “case-by-case basis,” adding that Biden’s intention was to reiterate that the US stood by its promises, and that the Taiwan Relations Act already expresses Washington’s commitments to Taiwan.
Former New Taipei City mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) said he welcomes Biden’s remarks as positive to Taiwan.
“We cannot solely depend on the US and go all-in on one side,” he said. “The KMT’s long-standing policy is to strike a balance as a condition for fostering regional peace.”
Additional reporting by Shih Hsiao-kuang and Chen Yun
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