Skip to main content

Reviews | Biden’s 60-minute statement deterring China from Taiwan was helpful

Just in case anyone missed it the first three times, President Biden again said for the record on Sunday that the United States would respond militarily to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. In fact, his response to a hypothetical question from CBS News’ Scott Pelley was more unequivocal than previous assurances he had given in May this year, October 2021 and August 2021. When Mr. Pelley asked him bluntly: Ukraine, to be clear, sir, American forces – American men and women – would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion?” Mr. Biden replied, “Yes”. And with that, another part of the he 50-year-old US approach known as “strategic ambiguity” toward the Taiwan Strait has crumbled. was no more compelling than the flashbacks that followed Mr. Biden’s previous assertions that the United States has a security obligation to Taiwan that is similar to that it has to defend Taiwan’s allies. and NATO.

Whether speaking off the cuff, as he so often does, or with the deliberate intent of keeping Chinese President Xi Jinping guessing, Mr. Biden’s declarations of intent could have value. They helpfully reinforced American words in response to Chinese actions, such as expanding naval activity in the waters surrounding Taiwan and crushing democracy in Hong Kong. All of this, and more, shows that poor, militarily weak China with whom the United States reached deliberate and mutually evasive agreements decades ago over Taiwan — including China’s disavowal of “hegemony in the Western Pacific” – no longer exists. Mr. Biden said what many people, including many on both sides of the congressional partisan aisle, think: dictatorships must be deterred, as Russia’s bid to take over Ukraine clearly shows.

Yet presidential statements alone can only deter China. Relevant documents — including joint communiqués with Beijing and the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act — are more carefully drafted. The latter law provides for US “defensive” arms sales to Taiwan, but not diplomatic recognition, which is reserved for the People’s Republic of China based on the “expectation” that the latter will peacefully pursue its claim to Taiwan. A Chinese use of force would be a “serious concern”, which the United States retains only the “capacity” to “resist”, according to the law.

Mr. Biden’s improvisations, while repeated, are no substitute for a formal update on US policy. That’s what the Taiwan Policy Act, recently passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a vote of 17 to 5, proposes. years, as well as language making US policy “deterring the use of force” by China. Some more provocative material that would have symbolically elevated the status of Taiwan’s representatives in Washington was diluted out of respect for White House concerns that they might unduly provoke Beijing – ironic, given Mr Biden’s own comments a few days later. late.

The precise details of the bill are debatable and its prospects for passage are murky. Yet legislation reaffirming and modernizing America’s commitment to Taiwan should be passed; Congress should provide Mr. Biden and his successors with a stronger set of legislative instructions that would not only improve the clarity of what they say, but also the authority with which they say it.