During a town hall appearance on CNN Thursday night, President Joe Biden claimed that the U.S. has a “commitment” to defend Taiwan. “So, are you saying that the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked?” CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked. “Yes,” Biden replied before Cooper could even finish his question. “Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” the president emphasized.
If Biden meant what he said, then it would be a big deal. The U.S. government has long maintained a posture of “strategic ambiguity” with regards to Taiwan’s fate should the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) finally decide to end the tiny island nation’s autonomy. Across administrations, both Democratic and Republican, the U.S. hasn’t said what it would do, exactly, in that scenario.
But it quickly became apparent that the president didn’t really mean what he said. The White House walked back Biden’s remarks after the press asked if the era of “strategic ambiguity” had come to an end. “The U.S. defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act,” a White House spokesperson told Politico. “We will uphold our commitment under the Act, we will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo.”
The Taiwan Relations Act does not stipulate that the U.S. will rise to Taipei’s defense in the event of an invasion by Beijing. Instead, the U.S. Congress has committed to provide for Taiwan’s “self-defense”—just as the White House was forced to clarify.