Just how ‘rock solid’ is Biden’s support for Taiwan?
- While the US president’s remarks on defending Taiwan militarily have sparked a flurry of commentary, they are consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act
- However, given the wide range of potential scenarios in the event of military action by Beijing or a blockade, no one truly knows how the US would respond
As expected, China expressed its “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition”. Others considered Biden’s comment another off-the-cuff gaffe, while many believe it shows “rock solid” support for Taiwan, with one commentator calling it “one of the most explicit US defence guarantees for Taiwan in decades”.
Biden’s comments in Tokyo mark the third time in recent months he has been publicly questioned over US support for Taiwan in the event of military action by Beijing.
He continued: “The United States remains committed to our ‘one China’ policy, which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three Joint Communiques, the Six Assurances. We oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side; we do not support Taiwan independence; and we expect cross-strait differences to be resolved by peaceful means.”
Biden’s affirmative answer to the question of whether he is “willing to get involved militarily” is consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which states it is US policy “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character” and “to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardise the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan”.
Given the wide range of potential scenarios surrounding military action or a blockade of Taiwan, no one truly knows how the US would respond. Biden has been impressed with the “sacrifice, grit and battlefield success” of the Ukrainian people, but how would he respond if the mainland took back Taiwan by force within days?
Given the enormity of the challenge, and the risk to American lives, the level of support from Washington for Taiwan in the event of military action or a blockade would not depend solely on unscripted statements by Biden at press conferences but would factor in the opinion of the American public and Congress, as Biden stated in the same op-ed.
Yet, while well-intentioned rhetoric from Biden helps signal US resolve in protecting a fellow democracy, as long as strategic ambiguity remains in place and the tactical means of support remain in question, Taipei can neither depend on tough talk from Biden nor fluctuating American public opinion and will need to ramp up preparations for any contingency in the near future.
Gary Sands is a senior analyst at Wikistrat, a crowdsourced consultancy, and a director at Highway West Capital Advisors, a venture capital, project finance and political risk advisory. He is a former diplomat with the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation