President Joe Biden’s aides tried frantically to walk back Biden’s comments Monday that the United States would intervene militarily if China attacks Taiwan.
“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?” a reporter asked Biden during a news conference, according to a White House transcript.
“Yes,” Biden replied.
He added, “That’s the commitment we made. That’s the commitment we made.”
“We agree with the One China policy; we’ve signed on to it and all the attendant agreements made from there. But the idea that — that it can be taken by force — just taken by force — is just not a — is just not appropriate. It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in — in Ukraine. And so, it’s a burden that is even stronger.”
Taiwan became the home of the Nationalist government of China after it lost the Chinese Civil War in 1949. Communist China believes that Taiwan is rightfully its property and has recently said that it wants to bring the island under its control.
The intensity with which China now pursues its claim to Taiwan has triggered alarm bells that military action could be in the cards. China has denied that but continues to regularly send its military on drills that appear to be aimed at practicing tactics that could be used in an invasion.
China was not inclined to accept what Biden said or what aides say he meant without taking umbrage.
“On issues bearing on China’s core interests, including its sovereignty and territorial integrity, there is no room for compromise or concession,” said Wang Wenbin, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.
Some commentators said Biden only made things worse with his remarks.
“I don’t see this as helping keep the region calm and Taiwan safe,” said Douglas Paal, a former unofficial U.S. ambassador to Taiwan, according to Reuters.
Bonnie Glaser — a Taiwan expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States — said the comments could destabilize the situation even further.
“I think that is the right objective, but I believe the confusion surrounding U.S. policy could undermine deterrence — it could provoke the attack that we seek to deter,” she said.
To be clear, the problem isn’t that Joe Biden says that the US will intervene militarily if Taiwan is invaded. The problem is that it’s totally unclear if that’s true or if we even have the capacity to do so, and it’s even more unclear when his own White House keeps shushing him.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) May 23, 2022
Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation added that if China thinks Biden is changing U.S. policy, it may be a spur to action.
“This creates the potential for a ticking clock in Beijing,” he said. “If the Americans are slowly shifting toward strategic clarity, China might want to take action before they’ve made that declaration.”
During Biden’s remarks, he managed to muddy the waters by saying that “Our policy toward Taiwan has not — Taiwan — has not changed at all.”
He later said that the U.S. supports the “One China policy,” which means that Taiwan is not formally recognized as a separate nation, but he also said China does not have “the jurisdiction to go in and use force to take over Taiwan.”