The president’s statement represents a potential shift in policy that would be certain to rattle the mainland Chinese government.
President Joe Biden said Monday that the United States would intervene militarily in Taiwan if necessary, a potential shift in policy that would be certain to rattle the Chinese government.
“Yes,” Biden said at a news conference in Tokyo alongside Prime Minister Fumio Kishida when asked by a reporter whether the U.S. would intervene on behalf of Taiwan if need be. “That’s the commitment we made.”
But “my expectation is it will not happen,” he said of an invasion of the island from China. “It will not be attempted.”
Biden made similar comments at a televised town hall in October, only to have the White House walk them back. The U.S. has made a commitment to provide Taiwan the means to defend itself but has no treaty to defend it militarily.
Before making the comments, Biden said U.S. policy toward Taiwan “has not changed at all.”
But he also warned China against an invasion and said it was important for the U.S. and other nations to send a signal to Beijing by upholding sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.
“Russia has to pay a long-term price for that in terms of the sanctions. It’s not just about Ukraine,” Biden said, adding that, if Russia were not made to suffer long-term consequences, “what signal does that send to China about the cost of attempting to take Taiwan by force?”
A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, insisted that the U.S. stance had not shifted regarding Taiwan. For decades, Washington has pursued a policy of “strategic ambiguity” that does not spell out exactly what the U.S. would do if the democratically self-governed island — which China claims as its rightful territory — were attacked.
“As the president said, our policy has not changed. He reiterated our one-China policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” the official said. “He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”
The act dates back to 1979, when Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.
The situation regarding Taiwan has historically been one of the prime flashpoints in Sino-U.S. relations, with even the slightest shifts in policy or tone parsed thoroughly in Beijing, Taipei and Washington.
In 2001, when then-President George W. Bush made similar comments to Biden’s, vowing that the U.S. would do “whatever it took” to help Taiwan defend itself, the administration also insisted that U.S. policy had not changed.
Kishida, speaking at the same news conference, said the subject of Taiwan had come up in his meeting earlier Monday with Biden and that there was no fundamental change in policy by either country.
“We are against any unilateral attempt to change the status quo by force in Asia,” he said. He said that was why Japan had been cooperating with U.S.-led efforts to sanction Russia and provide assistance to Ukraine.
Kishida reiterated the importance of the U.S. commitment to defend Japan in case it is attacked.
“We have full confidence in the response of the United States,” he said.
Henry Chu in London contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.