Alex Lo
SCMP Columnist
My Take
by Alex Lo
My Take
by Alex Lo

Biden’s ‘gaffes’ aim to undermine ‘one China’

  • The White House may have repeatedly walked back the US president’s public statements on Taiwan but he now sounds like he means to defend the island even if such a policy U-turn will encourage independence

Saying it once may be forgiven as a gaffe. Repeating the same thing four times in less than two years is starting to sound like policy.

During an interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes aired on Sunday, when asked whether the United States would defend the island of Taiwan if it were attacked by mainland China, President Joe Biden answered: “Yes, if in fact there was an unprecedented attack.”

When asked to clarify whether that meant the deployment of “US forces, US men and women”, he again said yes. He has made a similar affirmation at least three other times since last year. And each time, the White House’s spin machine went into full gear to walk back the statement and to insist there was no change to the US’ long-standing policy of “one China” or its defence posture, often described as “strategic ambiguity”. That won’t do any more.

Biden says US troops would defend Taiwan from attack by Beijing

In May, during a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, Biden was asked whether he was willing militarily to defend Taiwan. “Yes, that’s the commitment we made,” he said.

That was almost the same wording he used in October last year, during a “town hall” meeting organised by CNN. Biden was asked twice whether the US would protect Taiwan if China attacked, he replied: “Yes, we have a commitment to do that.”

Actually, the US has no such commitment, in terms of both treaty and policy. That’s precisely what makes “strategic ambiguity” possible. But it was in August last year, during an interview with ABC News, that Biden first started this incendiary ball rolling.

He appeared to lump Taiwan, Japan and South Korea in the same category as other Nato allies by invoking Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty on collective defence, that is, “an attack on one is an attack on all”.

US Taiwan Policy Act: how would it change relations with the island?

He said: “We have made – kept every commitment. 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. Same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with Taiwan.”

Either Biden is unfit to speak publicly by making the same gaffe four times with clear implications on war and peace between two of the world’s most powerful nations; or he is really abandoning “one China” and is enunciating US support for Taiwan, even if it means pushing the island towards independence.