Updated May 23, 2022 - World

Biden says U.S. would defend Taiwan if China's military attacks

President Joe Biden reviews an honour guard during a welcome ceremony for Biden at the Akasaka State Guest House on May 23, 2022 in Tokyo, Japan.
President Biden reviews an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Akasaka State Guest House in Tokyo on Monday. Photo: Eugene Hoshiko - Pool/Getty Images

President Biden said during a visit to Japan that American troops would defend Taiwan if Chinese forces attacked the self-governing island.

Driving the news: Biden responded to a question at a Tokyo news conference asking whether the U.S. would intervene militarily if China's forces attacked Taiwan by saying: "Yes — it's a commitment we made," Bloomberg reports.

Between the lines: Although a White House official said later that Biden's remarks did not reflect a shift from a decades-old policy, an expert on the matter said his statement "deserves to be taken seriously," per Reuters.

  • Grant Newsham, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel and now a research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, told the outlet, "It is a clear enough statement that the U.S. will not sit by if China attacks Taiwan."
  • James Brown, an associate professor at Temple University Japan, added that the U.S. was "seeking to toughen their policy but without necessarily provoking China."

Flashback: Biden's comments echo similar ones he made last year on defending Taiwan that the White House later walked back, leading to confusion over a high-stakes national security policy, per Axios' Zachary Basu and Jonathan Swan.

What he's saying: "We agree with the One-China policy, we signed onto it and all the attendant agreements made from there," Biden said, according to Bloomberg.

  • "But the idea that it could be taken by force, just taken by force, is just not — it’s just not appropriate," he added.
  • "It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine."

Context: The U.S. government has had a longstanding position of "strategic ambiguity" toward Taiwan, which the Chinese government regards as a breakaway province.

  • Under this policy, the U.S. acknowledges Beijing considers Taipei as part of "one China." But it opposes any attempts to change the island's self-governing, democratic status by force.

What they're saying: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin responded to Biden's comments, saying "no one should underestimate the firm resolve, staunch will and strong ability of the Chinese people in defending national sovereignty and territorial integrity," according to AFP.

The big picture: In his first trip to Japan since taking office, Biden launched a new, U.S.-led Asia-Pacific trade pact on Monday that's designed to counterbalance the influence of China's government in the region while strengthening ties with allies.

  • Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also committed to working closely to address security challenges posed by the Chinese government and North Korea, according to a White House statement.
  • They agreed to work together to counter "China's increasingly coercive behavior that runs counter to international law" and discussed threats posed by North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, per the White House.
  • Biden also commended Kishida's "determination to strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities, noting that a strong U.S.-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of peace and stability in Indo-Pacific region," the White House said.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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