US would send military if China enters Taiwan, says Joe Biden

White House says president's remark is not a change in Washington's decades-long 'strategic ambiguity' on how it would respond

US President Joe Biden in Japan. Getty
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The US would intervene militarily if China were to enter Taiwan, President Joe Biden said on Monday as he explained that the burden to protect the territory was “even stronger” after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Mr Biden’s remarks in Tokyo were the most forceful presidential statements in support of self-governing in decades.

When asked if he was willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if China invaded, he said: “That’s the commitment we made."

The US has traditionally avoided making explicit security guarantees to Taiwan, a territory claimed as part of China, with which it no longer has a mutual defence treaty.

Instead, it has maintained a policy of “strategic ambiguity” about how far it would be willing to go if China moved to militarily retake the territory.

The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which has governed US relations with the island, does not require America to step in to defend Taiwan from China.

But it makes it policy to ensure Taipei has the resources to defend itself.

A White House official said Mr Biden’s comments did not reflect a policy shift but his words drew a sharp response from China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin expressed “strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition” to Biden’s comments.

“China has no room for compromise or concessions on issues involving China’s core interests such as sovereignty and territorial integrity," Mr Weng said.

“China will take firm action to safeguard its sovereignty and security interests, and we will do what we say.”

Speaking alongside Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Mr Biden said any effort by China to use force against Taiwan would “just not be appropriate”.

He said it would “dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine".

China has strengthened its military posture and demands that Taiwan accept reunification with the mainland.

“They’re already flirting with danger right now by flying so close and all the manoeuvres that are undertaken,” Mr Biden said of China’s recent drills.

Under the “one China” policy, the US recognises Beijing as the government of China and does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

But the US maintains unofficial contacts including a de facto embassy in Taipei and supplies military equipment for the island’s defence.

Mr Biden said it was his “expectation” that China would not try to seize Taiwan by force, but that assessment “depends upon just how strong the world makes clear that that kind of action is going to result in long-term disapprobation by the rest of the community".

He said deterring China from Taiwan was one reason it was important for Russian President Vladimir Putin to “pay a dear price” for invading Ukraine.

Fearing escalation with nuclear-armed Russia, Mr Biden quickly ruled out putting American forces into direct conflict with Moscow’s troops.

But he has shipped billions of dollars in US military assistance that has helped Ukraine to put up a stronger-than-expected resistance.

This is not the first time Mr Biden has pledged to defend Taiwan against the Chinese, only for administration officials to later claim there had been no change to American policy.

He made a similar statement when asked during a CNN public audience in October.

Mr Biden’s comments came right before he formally launched a long-anticipated Indo-Pacific trade pact that excludes Taiwan.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the US wanted to deepen its economic partnership with Taiwan bilaterally.

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Updated: May 23, 2022, 10:11 PM