TOKYO: President Joe Biden vowed on Monday that US forces would militarily defend Taiwan if China tried to take control of the self-governing island by force, warning that Beijing was already “flirting with danger.”
The comments, made in Tokyo, where he is to meet with Japan’s prime minister ahead of a regional summit on Tuesday, were Biden’s strongest to date on the issue and come amid heightened tensions over rising economic power and Chinese military.
Washington and allies such as Japan have framed their harsh response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a warning to others, especially China, against unilateral military action.
Biden underscored that message after talks with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in which the two agreed to monitor Chinese naval activity and joint Sino-Russian exercises.
Biden then went further. When asked if Washington was willing to engage militarily to defend Taiwan, he replied: “Yes.”
“That is the commitment we made,” he added.
“We agreed to the One China policy, we signed it … but the idea that it can be taken by force is just not appropriate, it would dislocate the entire region and it would be another Ukraine-like move,” Biden said. .
Biden directly linked the fates of Ukraine and Taiwan, saying Western sanctions against Russia must take a “long-term price” because otherwise “what signal does that send to China about the cost of trying to take Taiwan by force? ?”
He warned that Beijing was already “flirting with danger right now by flying so close and all the maneuvering done,” referring to a growing number of Chinese incursions, naval exercises and other projections of power into the Taiwan Strait.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin was quick to respond, stating that “no one should underestimate the strong determination, strong will and strong ability of the Chinese people to uphold national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“China has no room for compromises or concessions,” the spokesman said.
The policy has not changed
Like most nations, the United States diplomatically recognizes Beijing over Taiwan. But it also maintains de facto diplomatic ties with the democratic and autonomous island.
For decades it has maintained a policy of “strategic ambiguity” in which it never makes clear what it would do in the event of an invasion and agrees to help Taiwan build its defenses against an attack by Beijing.
The policy was designed both to prevent Beijing from declaring war and to prevent Taiwan from formally declaring independence.
Biden’s comments on Monday overshadowed his launch of a new 13-nation regional trade framework, as well as Tuesday’s meeting of the Quad group.
The White House said Biden was not deviating from the official “One China” policy, which includes a commitment to “provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”
“Our policy has not changed,” the official said.
But Beijing’s growing saber-rattling over the issue, as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are shaking up the status quo.
Among those increasing diplomatic support for Taipei is Japan, which has regularly warned China against “unilateral” attempts to change the deadlock.
Kishida called for stability across the Taiwan Strait, saying Tokyo had pledged to increase its defense spending, a sensitive issue in a country with constitutional limits on its military.
“Japan will fundamentally strengthen its defense capability, and to support that it will significantly increase its defense spending,” Kishida said at a joint news conference with Biden.
“We are not ruling out any options, including (acquiring) the ability to counterattack,” he added.
Asia trade grouping launched
Biden is in Japan on the second leg of a trip to Asia aimed at bolstering regional ties and showing that Washington remains committed to the region despite its heavy involvement in the Ukraine crisis.
He ended his busy day by meeting Kishida and the prime minister’s wife at an exclusive Tokyo restaurant set in a quiet garden, serving sushi and other traditional foods.
Earlier, it announced Monday that 13 countries have joined a new US-led Asia-Pacific trade initiative that is touted as a counterweight to China’s aggressive expansion.
And on Tuesday, Biden meets with other Quad leaders from Japan, Australia and India.
He arrived in Tokyo on Sunday after stopping in Seoul for talks with newly elected President Yoon Suk-yeol.
While there, Biden said he was willing to meet Kim Jong Un if the leader for life is “sincere,” despite the threat of a possible North Korean nuclear test looming over the Asian tour.