Biden said the US would protect Taiwan. But it’s not that straightforward.

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""US politics"" – Google News

WASHINGTON – American presidents have spent decades evading the question of how vigorously the United States would come to the aid of Taiwan if China invaded Taiwan or, more likely, tried to slowly strangle the island to regain control bring the mainland.

American policy – known as “strategic ambiguity” because it leaves vague exactly how the United States would react – does not lend itself to a harsh-sounding answer. The White House was quick to declare that American policy has not changed after President Biden was asked at a CNN City Hall event Thursday night whether the United States would protect Taiwan and he said, “Yes, we are committed to it. ”

“The President has not announced any change in our policy and there is no change in our policy,” said a White House statement.

On Friday, both Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and State Department spokesman Ned Price extensively reiterated a longstanding language designed to signal Beijing not to change the status quo and Taipei not remember to rely on the United States when considering declaring independence.

Mr Biden’s wording was a reminder of what a minefield Taiwan remains for the United States, 42 years after the Taiwan Relations Act was passed and amid a large buildup of Chinese forces. And once a strategy of ambiguity is described in less than ambiguous terms, as he appeared to be on Thursday, it’s hard to return it.

Mr Biden is hardly new on this subject: he is one of the very few politicians who has lived in Washington for so long that he voted for the law as a young senator from Delaware in 1979. As the chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, he traveled to Taiwan and understood the intricacies of the formulation.

In fact, he understood it so well that 20 years ago, Mr Biden warned President George W. Bush that “words matter” after Mr Bush said he would do “whatever is necessary” to defend Taiwan. When the Bush White House did what the present White House did a few hours later and said nothing had changed, Mr Biden wrote an opinion column correcting it, stating that “the United States is under no obligation were to defend Taiwan ”.

“There is a big difference,” wrote Mr Biden in the Washington Post, “between reserving the right to use force and obliging ourselves to pledge to defend Taiwan in the first place.” He accused Bush of “inattentiveness to detail.”

Mr Biden’s blunt testimony to Anderson Cooper on Thursday was not the first time he has made such a commitment.

In August, after some allies wondered how much they could rely on American pledges following America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, he told ABC that “we would respond” if there was action against a NATO ally, adding added: “The same with Japan, the same with South Korea, the same with Taiwan.”

In fact, the treaty obligations with NATO, Japan, and South Korea differ significantly from those with Taiwan or the Republic of China, which Beijing has declared its territory since its inception in 1949.

But it could reflect a desire to harden Washington’s language to counter the new Chinese capabilities that would enable far more subtle steps to suffocate Taiwan – cutting submarine cables, internet connections, and liquefied natural gas supplies – than a direct invasion.

And some believe that the era of strategic ambiguity should come to an end – that ambiguity no longer fits the time. “It’s getting on in years,” said Richard Haass, a former senior state department official and national security officer who is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s time to move from strategic ambiguity to strategic clarity.”

Mr. Haass and a number of other experts and former government officials think it would be wiser to make it clear to Beijing what kind of economic penalties it faces any attempt to take over Taiwan.

That can still happen when Mr Biden delivers his long-delayed China strategy speech in which he sets out his approach to a country that poses a military, economic and technological challenge on a scale that the United States has never seen before. But the White House is not ready to change its policy.

“From all of his comments on Taiwan, it should be clear,” a State Department official said in a written statement, that “our support for Taiwan is rock-solid and we are committed to cross-strait peace and stability.”

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