Political strategies

Biden is not open to strategies when it comes to Taiwan

For President Biden, there appears to be little strategic ambiguity in his stance on a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

If China invades, Biden said Monday, the United States will come to the aid of Taiwan militarily.

This statement by the president is far from the first time he has indicated that he is ready to use military force against China to defend Taiwan.

Far from being a blunder, Monday’s remarks at a Tokyo news conference appeared intentional, some knowledgeable observers say. And they have added layers of geopolitical significance following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – something Beijing is watching closely.

“I think to some extent it reflects Biden’s personal views, and it’s starting to sound pretty heartfelt,” said Michael O’Hanlon, director of foreign policy research at the Brookings Institution. “There’s only a limited number of times you can walk something like this and have the comeback feel compelling.”

Monday’s remarks were Biden’s strongest comments yet in what has become a trend of pledging to defend Taiwan. The White House said that did not reflect a change in US policy.

The United States has for decades abided by the “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing as China’s representative government but considers Taiwan’s status undefined. At the same time, under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, the United States undertook to supply Taiwan with weapons for its defense. The law does not commit the United States to send troops to Taiwan to defend it.

The U.S. government generally aimed for “strategic ambiguity,” dodging questions to avoid defining a definitive answer if Taiwan were attacked. But Biden has repeatedly thrown ambiguity to the wind and made a clear pledge to come to the aid of Taiwan.

“If he continues to signal that he would find an appropriate military response, without caveats or conditioning, that suggests quite strongly some sort of strategic clarity as opposed to strategic ambiguity,” O’Hanlon said.

Matthew Kroenig, deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, said the White House’s inconsistent rhetoric could also be part of a “master plan” to maintain strategic ambiguity. He also acknowledged that it was possible that Biden misspoke, but expressed doubts that such a gaffe would happen repeatedly.

“Anyway, you have the President of the United States now saying three times that he would defend Taiwan,” he said.

The White House said the latest remarks did not reflect a change in policy, which left some Democrats to criticize the White House for backing down on Biden’s remarks. They said it played a role in GOP talking points that the president was making mistakes.

“Anytime there is a threat to the President’s perceived mastery of the position, it will always be a challenge for this White House because much of his political good fortune comes from his perceived confidence and ability to work.” , said the Democratic strategist. Joel Payne. “If you’re in the president’s inner circle, you have to be vigilant on the competency argument.”

In August, Biden was asked in an interview with ABC News about Chinese claims that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan showed he was not a reliable ally.

“We made a sacred commitment in Article 5 that if in fact anyone were to invade or take action against our NATO allies, we would respond. Same with Japan, same with South Korea, even with — Taiwan. It’s not even comparable to talk about it,” Biden said at the time.

The White House said at the time that US policy toward Taiwan had not changed.

In October, during a CNN town hall, Biden again said the United States was committed to defending Taiwan if it was attacked by China. The White House again clarified that the administration’s policy had not changed, which Biden himself reiterated in November during a call with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

But Monday marked Biden’s most probing comments to date, and he gave a straight answer in an exchange with a reporter about the need to defend Taiwan against Chinese aggression.

“Are you ready to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?” Biden was questioned at a press conference in Tokyo alongside the Japanese prime minister.

“Yes,” Biden replied. “That’s the commitment we made.”

“Listen, here is the situation. We agree with the ‘One China’ policy…but the idea that being taken by force, just taken by force, is just not appropriate,” Biden continued. whole region and will be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”

Biden said he did not believe China would try to take Taiwan by force, adding that the united global response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could serve as a deterrent against potential aggression from Beijing.

Bonny Lin, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted that public support for Taiwan has grown steadily in recent years on both sides of the aisle, mainly due to disapproval of the behavior. of China in the region.

Lin also argued that the context of the war in Ukraine is important, given that China has not spoken out against the Russian invasion. Biden is likely sending a message that China shouldn’t confuse the lack of U.S. military involvement in Ukraine with a lack of willingness to defend Taiwan, Lin said.

Some foreign policy analysts, including Kroenig, have argued for the US abandoning “strategic ambiguity” and a policy of so-called strategic clarity in order to deter China from acting at Taiwan.

“This is the third time @potus has spoken out in favor of strategic clarity on Taiwan and the third time WH staff have attempted to backtrack,” tweeted Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Better to adopt it as a new American position, one that is fully consistent with the one-China policy, but changes the way the United States is going to implement it.”

But O’Hanlon argued that officials should exercise caution when pledging to defend Taiwan, citing studies he has done that cast doubt on the ability of the US military to successfully defend. the island nation against a Chinese attack in certain blockade scenarios.

O’Hanlon said Biden’s remarks would likely have a chilling effect while contributing to already high tensions between the United States and China.

“It probably increases deterrence, but at the cost of a deterioration in relations,” he said. “And then you can decide if it’s worth it based on how likely you thought they were going to attack in the first place.”