Under Joe Biden, the longstanding American policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’ vis-à-vis Taiwan has taken on a curious post-modern quality. The official US position on arguably the biggest international question of the moment is now so ambiguous that even the president of the United States doesn’t appear to know what it is.
In a long interview with CBS 60 minutes this weekend, president Biden was asked if US forces would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack. ‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘If in fact there was an unprecedented attack.’ The White House promptly clarified that, in fact, the US position has not changed, suggesting that America still might not commit to defending Taiwan with its own troops.
The same thing happened in May. At a press conference in Tokyo, Biden said America would defend Taiwan only for the White House to reiterate that America’s ‘one China policy’ hadn’t changed. The One China policy – which Biden acknowledged in his CBS interview – means that America does not challenge China’s claims over Taiwan.
So, there you have it. America will defend Taiwan militarily from a Chinese invasion. Also, it might not.
China, for one, appears to be taking Biden’s remarks more seriously than his own office. A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman has said that Biden’s comments send a ‘seriously wrong signal’ and that China was ‘strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed’ to Biden’s remarks. The Chinese were vociferously furious in August when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, a trip about which the White House was reportedly uncomfortable.
Biden, an old man, often says words he doesn’t really mean.