Biden feigns hard-line approach to Beijing, White House engages in damage control

Islam Gabr
5 Min Read

The White House’s staff tried to sweep up President Joe Biden’s comments about the US defending Taiwan “militarily” if China were to invade the island by informing reporters in Tokyo last Tuesday that US policy remains unchanged.

On his first tour of Asia as US president, Biden declared that the commitment to protecting the island was “even stronger” after Russia invaded Ukraine — the most forceful presidential statement supporting Taiwan’s self-governing in decades.

Given Biden has repeated that declaration on more than one occasion, it seems more apparent that the president is leaning into a more forceful US stance that is a departure from decades of US policy.

“Biden has permanently been more open about his thought than most politicians,” said David Axelrod — former senior adviser to the president of the US.

Taiwan is located in the so-called ‘first island chain’, among a list of US-friendly territories crucial to US foreign policy. It is an island approximately 100 miles from the shore of southeast China. 

Biden emphasised that while the US abides by the ‘One China Policy’, the concept that Taiwan can “simply be taken by force is just not appropriate.”

The US has been ambiguous regarding whether it would interfere with maintaining the status quo if China invaded — a policy known as “strategic ambiguity.

Strategic ambiguity has long been the US’ approach towards Taiwan since the 1950s. While the US never explicitly committed to defending Taiwan in every circumstance, it does occasionally broach the subject of providing defensive support to Taiwan in the event of an unprovoked invasion by China.

Since the Richard Nixon administration’s 1979 agreement with China, the US has abided by the One China Policy, recognising Beijing as the only lawful administration of China and conceding that Taiwan is part of China. But the US has also kept unofficial relations with Taiwan that began with the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.

The Jimmy Carter administration signed the Taiwan Relations Act to maintain commercial, cultural, and other relations through unofficial ties in the form of a non-profit corporation titled the ‘American Institute in Taiwan’ (AIT). 

Without authorised administrative representation, legal and diplomatic relations have grown more robust in current years because of Taiwan’s dynamic democracy and strong economy.

This was undoubtedly effective when the US was militarily in a much stronger position than China. But it might be less effective as a threat now that China’s military is catching up with the US’.

In 1895, Japan won the First Sino-Japanese War, and the Qing regime had to surrender Taiwan to Japan. After World War II, Japan surrendered and lost control of the territory it had taken from China. The Republic of China then began governing Taiwan with the support of its partners, the US and the UK.

However, in the following few years, a civil war broke out in China and former leader Chiang Kai-shek’s troops were defeated by Mao Zedong’s communist armies, leading to a split between Taiwan and China. However, Beijing insisted that the island would one day be reclaimed, even going as far as saying it would be by force if necessary.

When Mao Zedong took control of Beijing in 1949, the nationalist party known as the ‘Kuomintang’ fled to nearby Taiwan.

The Kuomintang has been the most well-known political player on the island ever since, leading it for a significant part of its history.

Only 13 countries — along with the Vatican — currently recognise Taiwan as a sovereign country.

Meanwhile, China uses its significant diplomatic force to ensure that additional countries do not recognise Taiwan.

Circling back to current events, China’s implied approval of Russia’s attack on Ukraine has only aggravated international paranoia regarding Beijing’s intentions with Taiwan, presenting inquiries about how the world might respond should China launch an attack.

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