On Monday, May 23, President Joe Biden stated that he would defend Taiwan militarily if the People’s Republic of China were to “invade”. These comments were made during a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo.
At the news conference, a reporter asked Biden, “You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?” Biden replied “Yes,” adding “that’s the commitment we made.”
This statement deviates from the US’s historic policy regarding China and Taiwan. The US props up Taiwan both militarily and diplomatically. Officially, however, the United States recognizes the “One China Policy”, acknowledging the People’s Republic of China’s claim that Taiwan is part of China, but not endorsing this claim. The United States has previously been more passive aggressive in its approach to China relations, preferring to make massive arms deals with the de facto Taiwanese government or to posture with military exercises in the waters surrounding China.
Recently, President Biden has broken tradition by saying that the US would defend Taiwan if China were to attack, for the third time in recent months. In each instance, the White House has had to contradict those remarks. After these most recent comments, the White House once again backtracked, claiming that Biden’s remarks did not deviate from US policy after all. “As the president said, our policy has not changed,” a spokesperson said. “He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”
Earlier in the news conference, Biden had compared the situation in Ukraine to China–Taiwan relations. Biden justified the harsh sanctions against Russia’s government and people, stating, “not just about Ukraine—if, in fact, after all [Russian President Vladimir Putin has] done, there’s a rapprochement…between the Ukrainians and Russia, and these sanctions are not continued to be sustained in many ways, then what signal does that send to China about the cost of attempting to take Taiwan by force?”
Biden also said that China is “already flirting with danger right now by flying so close and all the maneuvers they’re undertaking.” Biden is referring to the Chinese war planes which have been entering what Taiwan claims to be its air defense zone in the past year. What Biden did not acknowledge is that both the US and the UK, former colonizers of China, have recently been carrying out repeated military exercises in both Taiwan and the South China Sea.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin responded to Biden’s comments, stating, “On issues that bear on China’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and other core interests, no one shall expect China to make any compromise or trade-offs.”
The Communist Party-led government of China has waged a decades-long political struggle to reunify parts of China that were sectioned off during the “Century of Humiliation”, the period of Chinese history in which it was victimized by Western imperialism. Since the 1949 socialist revolution, the Chinese government has peacefully reunified the regions of Macau, colonized by the Portuguese, and Hong Kong, colonized by the British, under its “One Country, Two Systems” approach, in which both regions are allowed a degree of self-governance.
The PRC seeks to do the same with Taiwan, which was colonized by Japan, then passed over to the United States after WWII. The Chinese constitution states, “Taiwan is part of the sacred territory of the People’s Republic of China. It is the lofty duty of the entire Chinese people, including our compatriots in Taiwan, to accomplish the great task of reunifying the motherland.”
It is unclear how a military conflict in China would serve the people of the US, who Biden was elected to represent.