0922: Biden Vows to Defend Taiwan Militarily; Strategic Ambiguity on Taiwan Is Dead; U.S. And Canadian Warships Transit Taiwan Strait

U.S. Forces Would Defend Taiwan if China Invades, Biden Reaffirms

U.S. President Joe Biden reaffirmed that U.S. forces would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, in the clearest statement he has made on this issue since taking office.

In a CBS “60 Minutes” interview broadcast on September 18, President Biden told host Scott Pelley that the U.S. would defend Taiwan “if in fact, there was an unprecedented attack.”

“So unlike Ukraine, to be clear, sir,” Pelley asked, “U.S. forces — U.S. men and women — would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion?” 

“Yes,” Biden replied.

“Taiwan makes their own judgments about their independence. We are not moving — we’re not encouraging their being independent. We’re not — that — that’s their decision,” Biden said.

Asked to comment after the CBS interview, a White House official said that “U.S. policy on Taiwan had not changed.”

Nonetheless, on September 19, White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said that President Biden’s remarks about defending Taiwan “speak for themselves,” while U.S. policy towards Taiwan remains consistent and unchanged.

“I do not believe that it is appropriate to call the remarks that came from the White House today as walking back the president’s remarks,” Campbell said. 

“The president’s remarks speak for themselves. I do think our policy has been consistent and is unchanged and will continue,” Campbell added.

Since taking office in January 2021, President Biden has repeatedly used language that appears to diverge from the long-standing U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan’s defense.

In August 2021, Biden told ABC News that the U.S. had “made a sacred commitment” to defend its NATO allies, and the same held for Taiwan.

At a CNN town hall event in October 2021, a participant asked Biden if he could “vow to protect Taiwan.” President Biden replied “yes.” He was then asked a second time by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper if the U.S. “would come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked.” Biden replied: “Yes, we have a commitment to do that.”

In May 2022, speaking at a news conference in Tokyo during his visit to Japan, Biden said “yes” when asked whether he was willing to get the U.S. involved “militarily” to defend Taiwan if China invaded. “That’s the commitment we made,” he added.

[1] Focus Taiwan: https://focustaiwan.tw/politics/202209190005
[2] Taipei Times: https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2022/09/20/2003785607
[3] Focus Taiwan: https://focustaiwan.tw/politics/202209200005
[4] Taipei Times: https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2022/09/21/2003785666

POLITICO: “Biden Leaves No Doubt: ‘Strategic Ambiguity’ Toward Taiwan Is Dead”

In its September 19 edition, “POLITICO” writes that President Biden “unambiguously [pledged] a U.S. military response if China tries to invade Taiwan.”

In a news article titled “Biden leaves no doubt: ‘Strategic ambiguity’ toward Taiwan is dead,” the magazine states: 

“The U.S. military would defend Taiwan ‘if in fact there was an unprecedented attack’ on the self-governing island, Biden said in an interview that aired [on September 18] on CBS’ ‘60 Minutes.’”

“Biden didn’t define what an ‘unprecedented’ attack on Taiwan would look like, but his comments marked the fourth time since August 2021 that he has stated that the U.S. would militarily defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion attempt. And in every case, aides have walked back comments that appear to reverse the longtime policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’ regarding U.S. willingness to defend Taiwan.”

“Biden’s assertion reflects his administration’s recognition that the U.S. must apply a more robust deterrence to Beijing given its worsening military intimidation of Taiwan. That harassment is rooted in China’s concerns that the island is on an irreversible course toward independence.”

‘“I think we can all be pretty certain at this point that it was not a gaffe — four times in a row … [means] what’s happening is there are people in the administration who think that by demonstrating a greater willingness to defend Taiwan, that’ll help reestablish deterrence,’ said Oriana Skylar Mastro, center fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.” 


‘“No previous [U.S.] president has chosen to prejudge the decision that he will take in the event of a hypothetical Chinese military action,’ Daniel Russel, former assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs and vice president for international security and diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute, told POLITICO. ‘[It] doesn’t really have the hallmark of an off-the-cuff remark — this was a sit-down interview in which it seemed the White House would have understood that this topic would be certainly fair game and one would have expected to prepare the president for the answer that he wanted to give.’”

[1] Full Article in POLITICO: https://www.politico.com/news/2022/09/19/biden-leaves-no-doubt-strategic-ambiguity-toward-taiwan-is-dead-00057658

Canadian Warship Transits Taiwan Strait with U.S. Destroyer

On September 20, a Canadian warship made a rare transit through the Taiwan Strait, a narrow waterway separating Taiwan and China, with a U.S. destroyer, marking the first time a Canadian military vessel has done so in nearly a year.

The U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins (DDG 76), in cooperation with the Royal Canadian Navy’s Halifax-class frigate HMCS Vancouver (FFH 331), conducted a “routine” Taiwan Strait transit “in accordance with international law,” the 7th Fleet under the U.S. Pacific Command said in a statement.

“The ships transited through a corridor in the Strait that is beyond the territorial sea of any coastal State,” it said.

Higgins’ and Vancouver’s transit through the Taiwan Strait “demonstrates the commitment of the United States and our allies and partners to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” it said, adding that cooperation like this “represents the centerpiece of our approach to a secure and prosperous region.”

“Today’s routine Taiwan Strait transit demonstrates our commitment to a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific,” Canadian Minister of National Defence Anita Anand said in a statement.

U.S. warships have been making routine, almost monthly passages through the Taiwan Strait for the past two-plus years.

Occasionally, these Taiwan Strait transits are accompanied by warships from U.S. allies, including Canada.

The last time a Canadian warship made such a passage was in October 2021 by the Royal Canadian Navy’s Halifax-class frigate HMCS Winnipeg (FFH 338), together with the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105).

China regularly protests such passage, claiming that it has sovereign and administrative rights over the entire Taiwan Strait and denying U.S. position that the strait is an “international waterway,” while the Taiwan government welcomes such transits, saying they are beneficial to promoting peace and stability in the region.

[1] Focus Taiwan: https://focustaiwan.tw/politics/202209210004
[2] Taipei Times: https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2022/09/22/2003785727