Another gaffe? What Biden's comments about Taiwan mean for US-China relations

U.S. President Joe Biden attends a press conference with Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at Akasaka Palace state guest house in Tokyo, Monday. Biden is well known for making off-the-cuff comments. Was his recent declaration that the U.S. is willing to defend Taiwan militarily from China yet another presidential gaffe? Or a strategic message telling China not to mess around?

U.S. President Joe Biden attends a press conference with Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at Akasaka Palace state guest house in Tokyo, Monday. Biden is well known for making off-the-cuff comments. Was his recent declaration that the U.S. is willing to defend Taiwan militarily from China yet another presidential gaffe? Or a strategic message telling China not to mess around? (Nicolas Datiche, Associated Press)



Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is well known for making off-the-cuff comments. Was his recent declaration that the U.S. is willing to defend Taiwan militarily from China yet another presidential gaffe? Or a strategic message telling China not to mess around?

What's happening: During his first trip to Asia as president, Biden said he is willing to use military force to defend Taiwan from China.

  • Biden himself said the U.S. still agrees with the "One China" policy and the White House said the remarks don't represent a policy change, but they seem to go against the typical "strategic ambiguity" officials employ when speaking about Taiwan.
  • So, were the president's comments an accidental misstep, a change in China policy, or something in between?

Poking the bear: The United States has long walked a fine line when it comes to Taiwan. Under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. doesn't officially recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation, but sells weapons to the independent island to defend itself from China.

  • The U.S. has no obligation to intervene militarily to defend Taiwan, despite Biden saying on Monday, "That's the commitment we made."
  • Offering military support to Taiwan "in essence is poking China," writes Vox, and Biden's remarks could lead to the "Chinese government drawing the worst-case conclusions" about U.S.-Taiwan relations.
  • This is the third time Biden has made similar comments about Taiwan provides further evidence that U.S. foreign policy is changing, according to The Washington Post.

Maintaining the status quo: Still, the fact that the White House has so regularly pushed back against supposed policy change supports the idea that the president is being strategically less ambiguous, but still toeing the line of the "One China" policy.

  • According to The New York Times, some U.S. officials think strategic ambiguity's effectiveness may be waning, especially since Chinese President Xi Jinping has been more aggressive in promoting reunification with Taiwan.
  • Biden's willingness to use military force is vague enough to preclude the involvement of U.S. troops while still signaling to Beijing that an invasion into Taiwan could be costly and drawn out. The Times writes that such a show of strength could be buoyed by Russia's floundering invasion of Ukraine, and the West's united and harsh response.
  • "I think what Biden did today was clarify, rather than make a mistake," said NPR's Mara Liasson on Monday. "So, he was telling China that the U.S. would not recognize Taiwan as an independent country, but he was also sending a pretty clear message: Don't think about invading."

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PoliticsU.S.
Bridger Beal-Cvetko

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