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Analysis: How the White House has retracted Biden’s claim on Taiwan for the third time in NINE months

Aides to President Joe Biden knew what was coming. They squirmed in their seats, according to those present, when asked if they would defend the autonomous island of Taiwan if it were invaded by China.

“Yes,” Biden replied. That is the commitment we make.

In doing so, he went beyond the official US foreign policy of “strategic ambiguity” that helps arm Taiwan and its government, but is vague about how far Washington would go to protect their freedom.

The result was swift, just as it has been on each of the previous two occasions in the past nine months when he said the United States would defend Taiwan.

Chinese officials expressed outrage as the White House cleaned up, insisting the president had not announced a new policy.

But China and analysts see something different: a president who is pushing US policy in the face of an increasingly aggressive Beijing.

Biden may be ahead of his advisers, but that was a far cry from a mistake, said David Sacks, an expert on US-China relations at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“I’m a bit old-fashioned when I think that what the president says, especially in terms of war and peace issues, and when the time comes, if China were to use force against Taiwan, there is only one person who could order the United States to come to the defense of Taiwan, and that is the president of the United States,’ he said.

‘Not a spokesperson in the White House or the National Security Council or the State Department.’

President Joe Biden said on Monday that the United States would defend Taiwan if China invaded it.  'That's the commitment we made,' he said in Japan

President Joe Biden said on Monday that the United States would defend Taiwan if China invaded it. ‘That’s the commitment we made,’ he said in Japan

The island of Taiwan is located 100 miles from China.  Beijing insists that Taiwan is part of its territory and cannot exist as a sovereign nation.  The United States recognizes the Chinese claim

The island of Taiwan is located 100 miles from China. Beijing insists that Taiwan is part of its territory and cannot exist as a sovereign nation. The United States recognizes the Chinese claim

Just as he got ahead of his officials by saying he wanted to topple Vladimir Putin in Moscow or indict Russian troops for war crimes, his comments this time may reflect the reality of American politics before anyone else wants to say it publicly.

China has been flexing its muscles in the Indo-Pacific region in recent years, building military bases and expanding its territorial claims.

And it has sent warplanes on raids into Taiwan’s ‘air defense zone’ with alarming frequency.

Biden is visiting the region for the first time as commander-in-chief on a trip designed to highlight Washington’s continued focus on Asia. It coincided with five days of Chinese military exercises in the disputed South China Sea.

On Monday, Biden appeared at a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo.

“We agree with the one China policy and all the concomitant agreements we made,” he said, acknowledging the Taiwanese government as legitimate but also acknowledging China’s claim.

“But the idea that you can take by force, just take by force, it just wouldn’t be appropriate.

“It would dislocate the entire region and it would be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”

The Taiwanese military has been on high alert this year.  Russia's invasion of Ukraine sparked fears that China might launch its own attack, and has intensified fighter jet sorties to the

The Taiwanese military has been on high alert this year. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparked fears that China could launch its own attack, and it has stepped up fighter jet sorties into Taiwan’s “air defense zone” as it flexes its muscles in the Indo-Pacific.

Taiwan frequently hosts military exercises in a show of force against China

Taiwan frequently hosts military exercises in a show of force against China

That gave officials the space to insist that US policy had not changed as they tried to reverse his potentially explosive comments.

“He reiterated our ‘one China policy’ and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” a White House official said.

“He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”

That was not enough to placate China, which expressed “strong discontent”.

“On issues related to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and other core interests, there is no room for compromise,” said Wang Wenbin, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

“We urge the US side to earnestly follow the one-China principle… be cautious in words and deeds on the Taiwan issue, and not send any wrong signals to the pro-Taiwan independence and separatist forces, lest it cause Serious damage”. to the situation across the Taiwan Strait and China-US relations.’

At the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was asked if the United States was about to send troops to defend Taiwan.

He again insisted that the president had not announced a change from the ‘One China’ policy.

During a meeting with ABC News in August, Biden said that the United States

During a meeting with ABC News in August, Biden said the United States would “respond” to a Chinese invasion, apparently comparing his commitment to defending a NATO ally.

“He reiterated that policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” he said.

However, Biden has form in saying that the United States would defend Taiwan.

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News in August last year, he said Washington would “respond” to a Chinese invasion, likening his commitment to defending a NATO ally.

Once again, officials were quick to inform reporters. “Our policy regarding Taiwan has not changed,” a senior administration official said.

Asked two months later during a CNN town hall about using the US military to defend Taiwan, he replied, “Yes, we are committed to doing that.”

Sacks said efforts by the White House to retract his comments would undermine their deterrent effect, which is needed now more than ever as China watches in Ukraine, where Biden has vowed not to send troops.

“When he talks about this, he reflects his personal views rather than the result of a coordinated or rigorous interagency process,” he said.

That was different from bad mouthing in a Trumpian way.

‘President Biden served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, voted for the Taiwan Relations Act as a senator in 1979, and traveled the world.

He has met with world leaders. He has written for Foreign Affairs. So this is somebody that I think he’s passionate about international relations, that he thinks about international relations.’

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