Biden says U.S. willing to use force to defend Taiwan — prompting backlash from China

Key Points
  • When asked at a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida whether the U.S. would be prepared to defend Taiwan if attacked, Biden replied, "Yes."
  • Taiwan's Foreign Ministry thanked Biden for reaffirming U.S. support if Beijing invaded the island.
  • However, China's Foreign Ministry said the U.S. should not defend Taiwan independence, Reuters reported.
Biden: U.S. would intervene militarily to defend Taiwan

U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday said he would be willing to use force to defend Taiwan, prompting thanks from the democratic, self-ruled island — but sharp criticism from China.

When asked at a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida whether the U.S. would be prepared to defend Taiwan if attacked, Biden replied, "Yes."

"That's the commitment we made," Biden said. "We agree with the 'One China' policy. We signed on to it. All the attendant agreements [were] made from there. But the idea that that can be taken by force, just taken by force, it's just not, it's just not appropriate."

On his first trip to Japan since taking office, Biden said it was not his expectation that such an event would happen or be attempted.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry thanked Biden for reaffirming U.S. support for the island if Beijing invaded.

However, China's Foreign Ministry expressed "strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition" to the remarks, before adding that Beijing has no room for compromise or concessions relating to matters of sovereignty and territorial integrity.

"No one should underestimate the strong determination, firm will, and strong ability of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and do not stand against the 1.4 billion Chinese people," China's Foreign Ministry said.

Taiwan and mainland China are separated by the Taiwan Strait, which is only about 100 miles wide (160 kilometers) at its narrowest point. China claims Taiwan as part of its own territory and has been putting pressure on the democratic island to accept its rule.

A break from 'strategic ambiguity'

Biden's comments appeared to break Washington's long-held tradition of "strategic ambiguity" on Taiwan, whereby the White House had been intentionally vague on whether it would come to the island's aid if China invaded. The aim of this policy had been to ward off the mainland from taking military action, without the U.S. committing itself to war.

A White House official said Biden's comments did not reflect a policy shift.

Under the "One China" policy, a cornerstone of diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing, the U.S. diplomatically acknowledges China's position that there is only one Chinese government.

However, the U.S. also maintains a "robust unofficial" relationship with Taiwan, and Washington supplies military equipment to the island in accordance with the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act. This act does not require the U.S. to intervene militarily to defend Taiwan if China invades, but makes it a policy to ensure the island has the resources to defend itself and to deter Beijing from unilaterally unifying the island.

China has stepped up its military provocations with Taiwan in recent years in an ostensible effort to intimidate what it sees as a rogue province into accepting Beijing's demands to unify with the mainland.

Taiwan, and the view of the island through the lens of Russia's onslaught in Ukraine, came up several times throughout Biden's news conference with Kishida.

Japan's leader said that the two countries' position on Taiwan remains unchanged and "underscored the importance of peace and stability of Taiwan Straits, which is an indispensable element for peace and prosperity of international communities."

At the start of the year, one political analyst singled out the tense relationship between the U.S. and China over Taiwan as the top risk for Asia in 2022.

Biden considering reducing tariffs on China

The U.S. president also said he was considering easing tariffs on Chinese imports. "We did not impose any of those tariffs that were imposed by the last administration and are under consideration," Biden said.

Biden's comments come shortly after U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had suggested it would be worth considering such steps given the potential impact it could have on lowering skyrocketing inflation.