China paved way for Biden’s pledge
By Paul Lin 林保華
Taipei Times 20220530
In a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Monday last week, US President Joe Biden was asked: “Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?” Biden was unequivocal in his answer: “Yes... That’s the commitment we made.”
The remarks came as a surprise departure from decades of US policy, although a White House official later offered a message to the media: “As the president said, our policy has not changed.”
In a telephone call in October last year, Biden said that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) had agreed to abide by the “Taiwan agreement.”
Biden’s categorical answer — “Yes... That’s a commitment we made” — leaves no space for doubt.
“We agree with the one China policy, we signed onto it and all the attendant agreements made from there,” Biden said.
“But the idea that it could be taken by force, just taken by force, is just not — it’s just not appropriate,” he added.
The attendant agreements that Biden referred to are listed in the “Taiwan agreement”: the Taiwan Relations Act, Three Joint Communiques and the “six assurances.” This is the long-standing “one China policy” that the US has been following, which differs from China’s “one China principle” in that the US acknowledges, but does not endorse Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of the People’s Republic of China.
China deliberately misled the public by adopting only the Three Joint Communiques, fanning anger toward the US and Taiwan.
However, the White House seemed to have hedged against Chinese blowback by giving formulaic responses. Such a measure serves two purposes: for dealing with Biden’s verbal gaffes and for appeasing China when subtle changes are made to US policy.
While Washington’s “one China policy” has not deviated from the past, acknowledging the possible involvement of the US military is new — not a change in US policy, but a more explicit and beefier security guarantee to Taiwan than in the past.
US military intervention still entails helping Taiwan to be able to defend itself, the only difference being that Washington has ramped up its support. As Taipei is vastly outgunned by China, the US’ sale of defensive weapons to the nation is no longer able to put a stop to China’s expansionist ambition.
The unofficial nature of the Taiwan-US relationship means that the US maintains a certain “strategic ambiguity,” but Biden’s statement brought clarity to the US’ promise to step in militarily on Taiwan’s behalf — a number of stars aligned so that Biden could make such a statement.
First, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is supported by China. Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and Russian President Vladimir Putin in February declared a “no limits” partnership, which could signal that China is considering moving against Taiwan.
This is a threat that the US cannot ignore, which is why Biden needed to make a clearer promise of support to Taiwan.
Second, the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security signed by the US and Japan involves the security of Taiwan. In their meeting, Kishida must have made it clear to Biden that security tensions in the East China Sea are intertwined with cross-strait security.
On May 1, the Chinese military sent its Liaoning aircraft carrier and seven naval vessels through the Miyako Strait to conduct military drills near Taiwan and Okinawa for nearly three weeks, which also cleared the way for Biden to call for military intervention.
Third, Biden established the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) on his trip to Asia. To prevent other Asian countries from worrying about offending China and to keep the US from becoming embroiled in a controversy over Taiwan’s representation, Taiwan was excluded from the first round of IPEF members.
As a result, Washington needed to offer a forceful show of support for its commitment to enhance the Taiwan-US relationship, to placate Taiwan and to discredit pro-China media and politicians.
Fourth, the mass shooting at a meeting of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in southern California two weeks ago highlighted Taiwan-China tensions.
John Cheng’s (鄭達志) heroism and bravery in confronting the pro-unification advocate and suspected killer David Wenwei Chou (周文偉) must have made an impression on Biden, leading the US to believe that Taiwan would by all means pull its own weight in the case of a Chinese invasion.
Xi’s repeated aggression and provocations have finally pushed the US into taking a stand and drawing a line in the sand — hats off to Beijing.
Paul Lin is a political commentator.
Translated by Rita Wang