As China attempts to position itself as a global peacemaker, where does that leave the Biden Administration on Taiwan?
“You talked about our adversaries, China and Russia,” news anchor George Stephanopoulos asked President Joe Biden during an August 2021 interview, just after the disastrous U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. “You already see China telling Taiwan, ‘See? You can’t count on the Americans.”
“We have made — kept every commitment,” Biden replied testily. “We made a sacred commitment to Article Five 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. It’s not even comparable to talk about that.”
It was an excellent speech, minus one important point: The U.S. has no formal defense treaty with Taiwan — which is not a member of NATO. Biden’s off-the-cuff honesty about Taiwan forced Biden Administration officials into their first series of walk-backs on the subject.
President Biden did the same thing in May 2022 — vigorously promising to defend Taiwan, leaving his staff to walk back the comments. Biden made yet a third promise to defend Taiwan in a September 2022 interview which was quickly rescinded by his staff.
Even as U.S. officials grew more concerned about China’s designs on Taiwan, President Biden continued to promise more military intervention that the U.S. was apparently prepared to deliver. Biden repeated the mistake, if mistake it was, yet again in October 2022.
“Can you vow to protect Taiwan?” President Biden was asked during a CNN town hall Q&A session.
“Yes,” Biden replied unambiguously. “China, Russia, and the rest of the world know we have the most powerful military in the history of the world. Don’t worry about whether we’re going to — they’re going to be more powerful. What you do have to worry about is whether or not they’re going to engage in activities that will put them in a position where they may make a serious mistake.”
“So are you saying the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked?” town hall host Anderson Cooper prompted Biden to clarify his remarks.
“Yes, we have a commitment,” answered Biden.
The White House released a statement the following day, once again correcting the President.
“President Joe Biden vowed to voters he would always give it to them straight,” wrote CNN’s Stephen Collinson. “But his blunt talk keeps getting him into trouble.”
Without mentioning the impact Biden’s confusing statements might have on the rest of the world, Collinson continued: “Biden is on a streak of talking ‘straight from the shoulder,’ as he once said, on Taiwan, the pandemic, ex-President Donald Trump’s extreme MAGA supporters and whether Vladimir Putin should be leading Russia.”
“But each time he lays down the law, some White House official, Democratic lawmaker or political ally explains that the President didn’t actually say what everyone heard him say, or that he didn’t actually mean what he appeared to,” Collinson qualified. “Now, all the mopping up is raising the question of whether the walk-backs are doing more damage than the President’s initial frankness by undermining his authority.”
“Biden’s allies on Capitol Hill argued Tuesday that strategic confusion can be a virtue — after all, if Americans can’t work out what the policy is then China has no chance,” Collinson allowed.
Not everyone is impressed with Biden’s “strategic confusion” on the topic of Taiwan, however.
French President Emmanuel Macron is in the process of direct negotiations with Xi Jinping. France — despite being a close U.S. ally and member of NATO — does not plan to be dragged into a conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan.
“Europe must reduce its dependency on the United States and avoid getting dragged into a confrontation between China and the U.S. over Taiwan,” French President Emmanuel Macron stated plainly during an interview on his way back from a three-day state visit to China,” reported POLITICO on April 9, 2023.
United States allies in the Middle East seem to be edging away as well.
In an extremely surprising move, Iran and Saudi Arabia just inked a diplomatic agreement brokered by Chinese Communist Party officials who wasted no time in pointing out the absence of U.S. involvement.
CCP officials, including party leader Xi Jinping, are even reportedly in communication with Russian President Vladimir Putin and officials from the Ukrainian government. If the CCP manages to negotiate a cease-fire in the conflict between the two nations, it would be a tremendous feather in the cap of Xi Jinping and China.
If Taiwan can count on U.S. support, it should continue to resist efforts by the CCP to annex Taiwan by treaty. If Taiwan can’t count on the U.S., the vulnerable nation might pursue a back-channel deal with Xi Jinping to avoid the fate of Ukraine.
If ever there was a time for a clear message of support on Taiwan by U.S. officials, it’s now. President Joe Biden makes an excellent messenger. Clearly, he is unafraid to speak his mind on Taiwan.
It might be time for his staff to back him up.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)