China Outraged at Biden's Military Pledge for Taiwan – Despite White House Walkback

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China expressed outrage Friday at comments by President Joe Biden, blasting his assertions that the U.S. would defend Taiwan in the case of a Chinese invasion, despite swift White House denials of any policy change.

China Outraged at Biden’s Military Pledge for Taiwan – Despite White House Walkback
© (Evan Vucci/AP) President Joe Biden participates in a CNN town hall at the Baltimore Center Stage Pearlstone Theater, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, in Baltimore, with moderator Anderson Cooper. China on Friday, Oct. 22, said there is “no room” for compromise or concessions over the issue of Taiwan, following a comment by U.S. President Biden that the U.S. is committed to defending the island if it is attacked. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Speaking at a CNN town hall event Thursday, Biden said in response to the question, “Are you saying that the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked?” with “Yes, we have a commitment to do that.” The statement, though seemingly benign, appeared to refute long-standing but tenuous agreements between Washington and Beijing that have ultimately limited U.S. support for Taiwan to helping it bolster its own defenses – not necessarily insuring it with American military might. Administration officials issued a statement almost immediately on Thursday saying Biden’s comments do not amount to any change to those policies.

Beijing, however, appears to have accepted Biden’s initial remarks as the truth.

Neither the U.S. nor any other potential adversary should underestimate the resolve, determination and capability – or scale – of China’s intent to protect its national sovereignty and territorial integrity, Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said early Friday. He noted a simple geographic and logistical hurdle that has befuddled U.S. war planners in recent months, urging Washington not “to stand against the 1.4 billion Chinese people.”

China’s English-language Global Times, considered a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, took these threats a step further, saying Biden clearly violated the agreed-upon U.S. stance for Taiwan, which China considers nothing more than a renegade province of the mainland.

“It created room for imagination that the Biden administration might be hatching a strategic change on the Taiwan question,” the nationalist outlet wrote in an op-ed early Friday. “Taiwan secessionist forces may be encouraged through his words and further stir up trouble by taking advantage of this statement, misleading the people on the island.”

“The PLA has an overwhelming advantage over the military on Taiwan island,” it added, referring to the official name for China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army, “with full capacity to cause unbearable results to U.S. troops if they dare ‘defend’ the island, and even to wipe them out. Only by sticking to the strategic ambiguity can the U.S. maintain its position now, avoiding the scenario of either retreating or being involved in a war.”

The issue of “strategic ambiguity” resurfaced in recent days amid new questions about whether the U.S. should continue to keep China guessing about the extent of its willingness to defend Taiwan or the terms by which it would intervene militarily.

Biden’s pick to be ambassador to China, career diplomat R. Nicholas Burns, made headlines this week during his nomination hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He faced questions about whether the U.S. should break from its prior agreements and become more overt in its willingness to defend Taiwan’s independence and democracy.

Burns argued, however, that strategic ambiguity is “time tested” and “the smartest and most effective way” to deter China. He advocated for bolstering existing U.S. military presences in the region including in Guam, Japan and South Korea.

“Our responsibility is to make Taiwan a tough nut to crack,” Burns concluded, adding that existing U.S. policy grants it “enormous latitude” to “deepen our security assistance to Taiwan” if it chooses.

“I think a lot of experts believe that Taiwan needs a greater asymmetric defense capacity, needs to spend money in that to repel … the threat of an amphibious invasion or an airborne invasion, whatever the Chinese are thinking of,” he said, adding the Chinese “clearly are in a different path than they were 30 or 20 years ago.”

He noted the unprecedented military provocations China has aimed at Taiwan in recent weeks but did not mention the escalation of U.S.-led military exercises near Chinese territory and in contested regions it considers its own.

Indeed, China watchers skeptical of an overly militaristic U.S. approach to the region – along with its harsh economic and diplomatic policies of late – have argued that Washington has given Beijing few reasons in recent weeks to back down.

“The Biden administration has targeted everything from Chinese infrastructure projects in other countries to Chinese scientists in the United States — as though everything China does or makes is a potential Trojan horse sneaked inside of fortress America,” Susan Thornton, a career diplomat and former top official for the region at the State Department before colliding with the Trump administration, wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times on Thursday. “If the list of transgressions is limitless or there is no prospect of improvement, Beijing has no incentive to engage or alter its behavior.”

The latest confusion is particularly ironic for Biden, who in 2001, while serving as top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blasted then-President George W. Bush for a similar diplomatic misstep. As the senator from Delaware wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post, “Where once the United States had a policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’ — under which we reserved the right to use force to defend Taiwan but kept mum about the circumstances in which we might, or might not, intervene in a war across the Taiwan Strait — we now appear to have a policy of ambiguous strategic ambiguity.”

He added that the president’s “inattention to detail has damaged U.S. credibility with our allies and sown confusion throughout the Pacific Rim. Words matter.”

Copyright 2021 U.S. News & World Report

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