May 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Senate Dems think Biden personally believes in defending Taiwan militarily

President Biden.

Photo: Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images

Senate Democrats tell Axios they believe President Biden's offhand remarks signaling the U.S. would militarily defend Taiwan against an attack from China were deliberate — though not strategic.

Driving the news: Axios interviewed a series of Democratic senators close to the president. Many — both privately and publicly — conceded they think the president personally believes the U.S. should get involved militarily should China invade Taiwan.

State of play: Biden appeared to have scrapped the U.S. policy of "strategic ambiguity" while speaking in Seoul on Monday — the third time he's made such comments.

  • Each time, the White House has walked back those remarks, indicating he did not really say what he clearly stated, and that his comments were not a major shift in policy.
  • Biden clarified his remarks on Tuesday, and told reporters, "The policy has not changed at all."

Between the lines: The U.S. has a longstanding policy of "strategic ambiguity" when it comes to Taiwan.

  • The U.S. government acknowledges that China considers Taiwan to be part of "one China" while also opposing any attempts to change its democratic status by force.

What they're saying: “[Biden] absolutely believes it. He believes what he says," Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told Axios. "There's nothing wrong with honesty, right?"

  • “I think there is a commitment [that the U.S. would get involved militarily],” Tester added, indicating his support for Biden's initial remarks.
  • Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said Biden's response to this question may be different if he were senator, and not president: "You'd have to go ask him as just a senator. But he's not just a senator."
  • "I think the President was simply restating something many of us believe, which is that it would be unacceptable for the PRC [People's Republic of China] to try and resolve the status of Taiwan by force," Coons added.

As for the White House again cleaning up Biden's comments on this issue, one Democratic senator said of the president: "He doesn't like to be handled."

The big picture: While several Democrats were hesitant to publicly declare their agreement with Biden's position on Taiwan before the White House walkback, others took the opportunity to voice their support for what Biden said.

  • "President Biden is right. Credible deterrence requires both courage and clarity – and Taiwan’s vibrant democracy deserves our full support," Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted Monday.
  • "President Biden’s statement that if push came to shove the U.S. would defend Taiwan against communist China was the right thing to say and the right thing to do," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wrote.
  • "The Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, with whom I was just traveling, put out a forceful statement, as have many others, and I think they reflect the broad view of many here," Coons said.

Go deeper: Inside Biden's Taiwan flubs

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