President Joe Biden vowed Monday that US forces would defend Taiwan militarily if China attempted to take control of the self-ruled island by force, warning Beijing was already “flirting with danger”.
The remarks, made in Tokyo where he is meeting with Japan’s prime minister ahead of a regional summit Tuesday, were Biden’s strongest to date on the issue and come amid rising tensions over China’s growing economic and military power.
Washington and allies like Japan have framed their tough response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a warning to others, especially China, against unilateral military action.
Biden hammered that message home after talks with Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, in which the pair agreed to monitor Chinese naval activity and joint Chinese-Russia exercises.
Biden then went further. Asked if Washington was willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan, he replied: “Yes.”
“That’s the commitment we made,” he added.
“We agreed with the One China policy, we signed on to it… but the idea that it can be taken by force is just not appropriate, it would dislocate the entire region and would be another action similar to Ukraine,” Biden said.
Biden directly linked the fates of Ukraine and Taiwan, saying Western sanctions on Russia must exact a “long-term price” because otherwise “what signal does that send to China about the cost of attempting to take Taiwan by force?”
He warned Beijing was already “flirting with danger right now by flying so close and all the manoeuvres undertaken” – referring to a growing number of Chinese sorties, naval exercises and other power projections in the Taiwan Straits.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, swiftly responded, declaring that “no one should underestimate the firm resolve, staunch will and strong ability of the Chinese people in defending national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“China has no room for compromise or concession,” the spokesman said.
Like most nations, the United States diplomatically recognises Beijing over Taiwan. But it also maintains de facto diplomatic ties with the self-ruled, democratic island.
For decades it has maintained a policy of “strategic ambiguity” in which it never makes clear what it would do in the event of an invasion while agreeing to help Taiwan build its defences against attack from Beijing.
The policy was designed both to keep Beijing from declaring war and also to stop Taiwan from formally declaring independence.
Biden’s remarks Monday overshadowed his rollout of a new, 13-nation regional trade framework as well as Tuesday’s meeting of the Quad group.
The White House said that Biden was not diverging from the official “One China” policy, which includes the commitment to “provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself”.
“Our policy has not changed,” the official said.
But Beijing’s growing sabre-rattling on the issue, as well as Russia’s Ukraine invasion, is shaking up the status quo.