China invading Taiwan is 'distinct threat,' Biden aide Jake Sullivan says

Chinese military helicopters fly past Pingtan island, one of mainland China's closest point from Taiwan, on Aug 4, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said a Chinese invasion of Taiwan remains a "distinct threat," while insisting that the Biden administration hasn't changed its position over the island's status, despite Chinese claims to the contrary.

"I think it remains a distinct threat that there could be a military contingency around Taiwan," Mr Sullivan said in an interview for "The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations" on Bloomberg Television.

Although Mr Sullivan offered no prediction of when such an attack might occur, he said, "The People's Republic of China has actually stated as official policy that it is not taking the invasion of Taiwan off the table."

As the administration grapples with increased tension over Taiwan, Mr Sullivan said he planned to meet congressional leaders later Wednesday to discuss a Bill that would alter US policy toward the island, including by designating it as a major non-Nato ally. The Bill, sponsored by Democrats, has wide bipartisan support.

The legislation also would provide Taiwan with US$4.5 billion (S$6.33 billion) in security aid and support its participation in international organisations.

"There are elements of that legislation with respect to how we can strengthen our security assistance for Taiwan that are quite effective and robust that will improve Taiwan security," Mr Sullivan told Mr Rubenstein. "There are other elements that give us some concern."

Mr Sullivan declined to go into details, but his remarks highlight the balancing act the administration has sought to maintain as it seeks to support Taiwan while also trying to tamp down growing bipartisan hawkishness on Capitol Hill against China.

Although the administration has said it wants to maintain the status quo toward Taiwan, President Joe Biden has contributed to confusion around the US stance, saying in May that the US was committed to defending Taiwan if it were ever attacked. The White House later sought to clarify that he was talking about broader support for the island.

In a further sign of congressional support, a bipartisan delegation from the House of Representatives landed in Taiwan on Wednesday. The visit means 28 members of Congress will have travelled to Taiwan so far this year, the most since at least 2013.

"The American position has remained steadfast and consistent," Mr Sullivan said. "We continue to believe that and we will continue to push back against any effort to change the status quo by force."

China's embassy in Washington didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about Mr Sullivan's remarks.

Taiwan military forces during the Joint Combat Training Exercises in Pingtung on Sept 7, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

But in a meeting with reporters in August, China's ambassador to the US, Mr Qin Gang, said the US has "done too much" and is going "too far" in the region. He called on the US to avoid escalating the situation and said China would be forced to respond if it does.

Mr Qin also downplayed the threat of an imminent Chinese attack on Taiwan, saying he wasn't aware of a specific timeline.

"People are over-nervous about it," he said, adding that speculation China had moved up the timeline for an invasion was "baseless."

Mr Sullivan said there was currently no meeting planned between Mr Biden and China's President Xi Jinping when the two leaders attend a Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Bali in November, though the gathering will "afford an opportunity for the two of them to sit down in person." He said he didn't expect any major agreements if Mr Xi and Mr Biden do meet.

While the two leaders have talked on the phone, Mr Biden and Mr Xi haven't met face-to-face since Mr Biden became president last year. Mr Sullivan attributed that to Mr Xi's decision not to leave his country because of concerns over Covid-19.

The Biden administration is signalling its support for Taiwan in other ways. In another move that angered China, the administration is seeking congressional approval to sell US$1.1 billion in missiles and radar support to Taiwan, in what would be the largest such transfer in almost two years.

The package would include as much as US$650 million in continued support for a surveillance radar sold earlier, about US$90 million for roughly 100 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles as well as about 60 additional anti-ship Harpoon missile.

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On the war in Ukraine, Mr Sullivan said the US still hasn't seen China provide Russia what he called "large-scale support in terms of weapons" for its invasion.

"China has actually stood back from fully getting in behind the Russians when it comes to their war in Ukraine," Mr Sullivan said. He said he thought the odds of a diplomatic solution in Ukraine in the coming months were "quite low."

Mr Rubenstein's interview with Mr Sullivan will air on Bloomberg Television on Sept 21. BLOOMBERG

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