China warns against ‘wrong signals’ as Biden suggests US would defend Taiwan

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China has urged the US to “avoid sending any wrong signals” after President Joe Biden for a second time in three months said the US would come to Taiwan’s defence if it was attacked.

In both instances, the White House has clarified that there has been no change in US policy, which officially maintains so-called “strategic ambiguity” regarding Taiwan. Still, Biden’s words will rattle Beijing.

China’s foreign ministry has “no room for concessions” when it comes to its core interests, its spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a daily news briefing, in the latest protest amid speculation about the future of Washington’s “strategic ambiguity” over Taiwan.

The democratically ruled island has complained of mounting military and political pressure from Beijing to accept Chinese sovereignty.

On Thursday at a CNN town hall meeting, Biden was asked if the US would come to the defence of Taiwan. “Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” he replied.

Later a White House spokesperson said Biden was not announcing any change in US policy. “The US defence relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. We will uphold our commitment under the act, we will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defence, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo,” the spokesperson said.

The president made a similar pledge in August during an ABC interview, insisting the US would always defend key allies, including Taiwan, despite the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Biden said then that the US had made a “sacred commitment” to defend Nato allies such as Canada and in Europe and it was the “same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with Taiwan”. The White House subsequently told reporters that US policy on Taiwan had not changed.

Biden is not the first US president to say the US has a commitment to defend Taiwan. In April 2001 George W Bush said Washington would do “whatever it took to help Taiwan defend herself” in the event of attack by China. “Yes, we do … and the Chinese must understand that. Yes, I would,” he told ABC’s Good Morning America at the time.

But the latest comments from Biden came at a sensitive time in the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan’s defence minister, Chiu Kuo-cheng, said this month that military tensions between Taiwan and China were at their worst in more than 40 years. China would be capable of mounting a “full-scale” invasion by 2025, he added.

China claims Taiwan as its own territory that should be taken by force if necessary, while Taiwan says it is a de-facto independent country and will defend its freedoms and democracy.

‘Strategic ambiguity’

Washington is required by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, but it has long followed a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on whether it would intervene militarily to protect Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

As tensions between US and China grew in recent years, some in Washington – for example the Republican senator Ted Cruz – question whether the US should make its commitment to Taiwan clear.

Biden’s nominee for ambassador to China, however, has said the “smartest and effective” to “deter aggressive actions” by China would be to maintain the longstanding policy. “This is a policy that can succeed if we execute it consistently and with some strength,” Nicholas Burns said this week.

Biden also said on Thursday: “I don’t want a cold war with China. I just want China to understand that we’re not going to step back, that we’re not going to change any of our views.”

China says Taiwan is the most sensitive and important issue in its ties with the US and has denounced what it calls “collusion” between Washington and Taipei. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, China’s United Nations ambassador, Zhang Jun, said the country was pursuing “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan and responding to “separatist attempts” by its ruling Democratic Progressive party.

“We are not the troublemaker,” he said. “On the contrary, some countries – the US in particular – is taking dangerous actions, leading the situation in Taiwan Strait into a dangerous direction. Dragging Taiwan into a war definitely is in nobody’s interest.”

With Reuters

The Guardian

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