Joe Biden has again said US forces would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, in his most explicit statement so far on the issue.
Asked in a CBS 60 Minutes interview broadcast on Sunday whether US forces would defend the self-ruled island claimed by China, he replied: “Yes, if in fact there was an unprecedented attack.”
Asked to clarify if he meant that unlike in Ukraine, US forces – American men and women – would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, Biden said: “Yes.”
A White House spokesperson said US policy towards Taiwan had not changed, after being asked about the president’s comment.
The Chinese foreign ministry said China had lodged “stern representations” with the US. “The US remarks … severely violate the important commitment the US made not to support Taiwan independence, and send a seriously erroneous signal to Taiwanese separatist independence forces,” foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a regular press briefing.
“We are willing to make the biggest sincere efforts to strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification,” Mao said. “At the same time, we will never tolerate any activities aimed at splitting the country, and reserve the choice to take all necessary measures.”
In a statement, Taiwan’s foreign ministry expressed “sincere gratitude” to Biden for “affirming the US government’s rock-solid promise of security to Taiwan”. Taiwan would “resist authoritarian expansion and aggression” and “deepen the close security partnership” with Washington and other governments “with similar thinking” to protect regional stability, the statement said.
The US president’s remarks throw into question Washington’s longstanding position of “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan.
The US is obliged by federal law to ensure that Taiwan has the means to defend itself but the law does not state whether American forces would be sent. The US has no formal relations with the democratically run island but maintains informal diplomatic ties.
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A White House spokesperson said after the 60 Minutes interview: “The president has said this before, including in Tokyo earlier this year. He also made clear then that our Taiwan policy hasn’t changed. That remains true.”
The CBS interview with Biden was conducted last week. The president is in Britain for Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral on Monday.
In May, Biden was asked if he was willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan and replied: “Yes … That’s the commitment we made.”