US President Joe Biden said he would be willing to use force to defend Taiwan even as an aide said there had been no change in policy toward the island.
Asked by a reporter in Tokyo if the United States would defend Taiwan if it were attacked by China, the president answered: “Yes.”
“That’s the commitment we made … We agree with a one-China policy. We’ve signed on to it and all the intended agreements made from there. But the idea that, that it can be taken by force, just taken by force, is just not, is just not appropriate.”
Biden’s comments appeared to be a departure from existing US policy of “strategic ambiguity” on its position towards the self-governed island that China considers a renegade province.
He added that it was his expectation that such an event would not happen or be attempted.
But after Biden’s comments, a White House official said there was no change in policy towards Taiwan.
The president’s national security aides shifted in their seats and appeared to be studying Biden closely as he responded to the question on Taiwan. Several looked down as he made what appeared to be an unambiguous commitment to Taiwan’s defence.
While Washington is required by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, it has long followed a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on whether it would intervene militarily to protect Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.
Biden made a similar comment about defending Taiwan in October. At that time, a White House spokesperson said Biden was not announcing any change in US policy.
China: ‘No Room for Compromise’
Later, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry expressed strong discontent and firm opposition to the remarks at a press conference in Beijing.
“Taiwan is an inseparable part of China’s territory,” Wang Wenbin said. “The Taiwan issue is purely China’s internal affairs and cannot be interferred by any external forces. China has no room for compromise on issues related to China’s core interests such as sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“No one should underestimate the Chinese people’s strong determination, firm will and strong ability to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and should not stand against the 1.4 billion Chinese people.
“We urge the US side to earnestly abide by the One China principle and the provisions of the three Sino-US joint communiques, abide by the important commitment not to support ‘Taiwan independence’, be cautious in words and deeds on the Taiwan issue, and not send any wrong signals to the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces, so as to avoid serious damage to the situation in the Taiwan Strait and China-US relations.
“China will take firm action to safeguard its sovereignty and security interests. We will do what we say.”
Dozen Countries to Join IPEF
Biden’s remarks were a distraction from the launch of an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a broad plan providing an economic arrangement for US engagement with Asia.
The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework aims to bind countries more closely through common standards in areas including supply-chain resilience, clean energy, infrastructure and digital trade.
The US has lacked an economic pillar to its Indo-Pacific engagement since former President Donald Trump withdrew from a multinational Trans-Pacific trade agreement, leaving the field open to China to expand its influence.
The IPEF is an unknown quantity currently as it is unlikely to include binding commitments, plus some countries and trade experts have given a lukewarm response because of Biden’s reluctance to risk American jobs by offering the increased market access that the region craves.
However, Biden said on Monday that a dozen other countries were set to sign on to the new trading pact.
“The United States and Japan together with 11 other nations will be launching the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework,” the US President said. “This framework is a commitment to working with our close friends and partners in the region, on challenges that matter most to ensuring economic competitiveness in the 21st century.”
The initial 13 members of the group were given as the US, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, New Zealand and Brunei.
Meanwhile, the US President also said he was weighing cutting tariffs on Chinese goods while increasing calls on OPEC to raise oil production as he grappled with a politically damaging wave of inflation.
“I am considering it. We did not impose any of those tariffs. They were imposed by the last administration and they’re under consideration,” he said on reducing tariffs on China.
Biden’s visit to Japan will include meetings with the leaders of Japan, India and Australia in the “Quad” group of countries on Tuesday.
Worries about China’s growing might and the possibility that it could invade Taiwan have emboldened Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party on defence, eroding some of the traditional wariness among many Japanese about taking a more robust defence posture.
Kishida said that he told Biden that Japan would consider various options to boost its defence capabilities, including the ability to retaliate, signalling a potential shift in Japan’s defence policy.
“A strong Japan, and a strong US-Japan alliance, is a force for good in the region,” Biden said in a news conference following their discussions.
Kishida said he had gained support from Biden on Japan’s becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council amid growing calls for reform of the council. China and Russia are permanent members.
“President Biden expressed the necessity of reforming and strengthening the United Nations, including the Security Council, which bears a major responsibility for the peace and security of the international community,” Kishida said.
“President Biden expressed his support for Japan to become a permanent member of the reformed Security Council.”
Modi, New Australian PM
The allies are expected to reconfirm their close ties in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, agreeing that unilateral changes to the status quo by force are unacceptable.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due in Japan for the Quad talks, with Australia’s new prime minister, Anthony Albanese, also expected on Monday.
Worries are growing in Asia about an increasingly assertive China, particularly in light of its close ties to Russia, and rising tension over Taiwan.
North Korea and regional issues will also be on the agenda, with Biden later on Monday scheduled to meet families of Japanese who were abducted years ago to train spies in North Korea.
- Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard and Iris Hong
Note: The headline and content of this report were updated with further details following Biden’s press conference in Tokyo.