Biden says would be willing to use force to defend Taiwan

US President Joe Biden attends a press conference at the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo on May 23, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - US President Joe Biden said on Monday (May 23) he would be willing to use force to defend Taiwan, rallying support on his first trip to Asia since taking office for US opposition to China's growing assertiveness across the region.

Mr Biden's comments appeared to be a departure from existing US policy of so-called strategic ambiguity on its position on the island that China regards as a renegade province, to be reunified by force, if necessary.

China says Taiwan is the most sensitive and important issue in its ties with the United States.

When asked by a reporter in Tokyo if the United States would defend Taiwan if it were attacked by China, the president answered: "Yes."

"That's the commitment we made... We agree with a one-China policy. We've signed on to it and all the intended agreements made from there. But the idea that, that it can be taken by force, just taken by force, is just not, is just not appropriate."

He added that it was his expectation that such an event would not happen or be attempted.

However, a White House official said there is no change in US policy towards Taiwan.

"As the President said, our policy has not changed," said the White House official, who declined to be named.

"He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself."

Following Mr Biden's comments, Taiwan's foreign ministry said it welcomed and thanked Mr Biden and the US government for reaffirming their commitment to Taiwan, adding that the government will continue to boost its defence and deepen cooperation with countries including the United States and Japan to protect its safety.

On its part, China responded to Mr Biden's comments by saying it was ready to defend its national interests over Taiwan, with Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin saying “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory”.

“The Taiwan issue is a purely internal affair for China,” he told reporters.

“On issues touching on China’s core interests of sovereignty and territorial integrity, China has no room for compromise or concession.”

“No one should underestimate the firm resolve, staunch will and strong ability of the Chinese people in defending national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Mr Wang said.

While Washington is required by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, 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.

Mr Biden made a similar comment about defending Taiwan in October. At that time, a White House spokesperson said Mr Biden was not announcing any change in US policy.

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The comments about Taiwan are likely to overshadow the centrepiece of Mr Biden's visit, the launch of an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a broad plan providing an economic pillar for US engagement with Asia.

His visit also includes meetings with the leaders of Japan, India and Australia, in the "Quad" group of countries.

Worries about China's growing might and the possibility that it could invade Taiwan have emboldened Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party on defence, eroding some of the traditional wariness among many Japanese about taking a more robust defence posture.

Mr Kishida said that he told Mr Biden that Japan would consider various options to boost its defence capabilities, including the ability to retaliate, signalling a potential shift in Japan's defence policy.

"A strong Japan, and a strong US-Japan alliance, is a force for good in the region," Mr Biden said in a news conference following their discussions.

Mr Kishida said that he had gained support from Mr Biden on Japan's becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council amid growing calls for reform of the council. China and Russia are permanent members.

"President Biden expressed the necessity of reforming and strengthening the United Nations, including the Security Council, which bears a major responsibility for the peace and security of the international community," Mr Kishida said.

"President Biden expressed his support for Japan to become a permanent member of the reformed Security Council."

Worries are growing in Asia about an increasingly assertive China, particularly in light of its close ties to Russia, and tension has risen over Taiwan.

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