Biden says US will defend Taiwan; China warns against wrong signals

White House later says no change in policy towards island which China claims as its own

BALTIMORE • The United States would come to Taiwan's defence and has a commitment to defend the island China claims as its own, President Joe Biden has said, though the White House later said there was no change in policy towards the island.

"Yes, we have a commitment to do that," Mr Biden said at a CNN town hall on Thursday, when asked if the US would come to the defence of Taiwan.

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.

A White House spokesman said Mr Biden was not announcing any change in US policy at his town hall session and "there is no change in our policy", but declined further comment when asked if Mr Biden had misspoken.

"The US defence relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. We will uphold our commitment under the Act, we will continue to support Taiwan's self-defence, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo," the spokesman said.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin yesterday said the Pentagon would continue to support Taiwan's military, but declined to say if US troops would defend the island against China.

"As we've done over multiple administrations, we will continue to help Taiwan with the sorts of capabilities that it needs to defend itself," Mr Austin said at Nato headquarters in Brussels.

Nevertheless, China expressed its displeasure, with a Foreign Ministry spokesman saying the country has no room for concessions on its core interests.

China urges the US "not to send the wrong signals to the forces of Taiwan independence, to avoid seriously harming Sino-US ties and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait", spokesman Wang Wenbin said in Beijing.

"We would also admonish the Taiwan authorities that any attempt to solicit foreign support and seek political manipulation is doomed to fail," Mr Wang said.

The presidential office in Taiwan said its position remains the same, which is that it will neither give in to pressure nor "rashly advance" when it gets support.

Taiwan will show a firm determination to defend itself, presidential office spokesman Xavier Chang said in a statement, adding that the US administration's continued concrete actions show its "rock-solid" support for Taiwan.

Mr Biden said people should not worry about Washington's military strength because "China, Russia and the rest of the world know we're the most powerful military in the history of the world".

"What you do have to worry about is whether or not they're going to engage in activities that would put them in a position where they may make a serious mistake," Mr Biden said.

"I don't want a Cold War with China. I just want China to understand that we're not going to step back, that we're not going to change any of our views."

Separately, a Taiwanese government delegation is visiting three eastern European Union states, to the dismay of China which is irritated by any signs of Taiwan acting as an independent country.

The 66 government officials were set to hold talks in Slovakia yesterday, before travelling to the Czech Republic and Lithuania to boost trade ties and investment. All three countries gave coronavirus vaccines to Taiwan, which has accused Beijing of hampering its efforts to secure enough doses.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2021, with the headline 'Biden says US will defend Taiwan; China warns against wrong signals'. Subscribe