President Joe Biden has twice asserted, counter to current U.S. policy, that the United States is ready to defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion — and his position may soon have serious consequences, Axios reported.
Citing an unnamed source, Axios reported Biden has been accidentally revealing his true views — that Taiwan is too strategically important to the United States for China to seize by force.
Defense officials have aired their concerns that China will take Taiwan by force in the next four to six years — or sooner, the news outlet reported.
But the United States has a long-running policy of "strategic ambiguity" on Taiwan — and doesn’t say whether it would use force to defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion, only that it reserves the right to use force and is committed to helping Taiwan defend itself by selling American weapons, Axios noted.
Since taking office, Biden has made two seemingly accidental statements suggesting a change in policy towards Taiwan, Axios reported.
In an interview with ABC in August, Biden rejected the notion the Afghanistan withdrawal raises questions about America's commitment to its allies.
"We made a sacred commitment to Article 5 that if in fact anyone were to invade or take action against our NATO allies, we would respond," he said. "Same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with Taiwan."
Then at a CNN town hall Thursday, Biden said "yes" when asked by an audience member whether he could "vow to protect Taiwan." Pressed whether he was "saying that the United States would come to Taiwan's defense if China attacked," Biden responded: "Yes, we have a commitment to do that."
Both times, the White House insisted the president's statements don’t reflect a change in policy, Axios reported.
An unnamed administration official told Axios Biden remains "committed" to the Taiwan Relations Act, through which the United States "will continue to assist Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability."
Biden understands the nuances of language with respect to Taiwan, Axios noted.
In 2001, then-Sen. Biden — the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee — wrote a commentary for the Washington Post criticizing then-President George W. Bush for having to walk back imprecise language committing the United States to defending Taiwan against a Chinese attack.
Matt Pottinger, the former deputy national security adviser, told Axios Biden's recent statements about Taiwan have been "helpful" despite the White House’s subsequent walk-backs.
“It’s not a formal statement of strategic clarity, but a de facto signal to Beijing not to underestimate us," Pottinger, who was an architect of former President Donald Trump's tough China policies, told Axios.
Chris Johnson, a former top CIA China analyst who now heads China Strategies Group, told Axios it’s unclear whether Biden's statements are strategic or accidental, but "the result in Beijing will be the same. ... The Politburo will interpret it as a unilateral change in the U.S. position on the cornerstone underpinning the bilateral relationship.”
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