Tokyo (Japan): President Joe Biden said Monday that the U.S. would intervene militarily if China were to invade Taiwan, in one of the most forceful and overt statements in support of Taiwan in decades.
However, Reuters reported that a White House official, who did not wish to be named, immediately walked back the President's comments.
"As the President said, our policy has not changed," said the official.
"He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself."
Biden said the burden to protect the self-ruled island was “even stronger” after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking at a news conference in Tokyo, Biden said, “That’s the commitment we made.”
He said an effort by China to use force against Taiwan would “just not be appropriate,” saying it “will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”
Under the “One China” policy, the U.S. recognizes Beijing as the government of China and doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. However, it maintains unofficial contacts with Taiwan, including a de facto embassy in Taipei, the capital. The U.S. also supplies military equipment for the island’s defense.
In October last year, Biden said the US would defend Taiwan if China attacked, in an apparent departure from a long-held US foreign policy position.
But a White House spokesman later told some US media outlets that his remarks did not signify a change in policy.
The US has a law which requires it to help Taiwan defend itself. But it pursues a policy of "strategic ambiguity," where it is deliberately vague about what it would actually do if China were to attack Taiwan.
The US has no official diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but sells arms to it as part of its Taiwan Relations Act, which states that the US must provide the island with the means to defend itself.
It has formal ties with China, and also diplomatically acknowledges China's position that there is only one Chinese government.
The Taiwan Relations Act was passed by both chambers of the United States Congress and signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 after the breaking of relations between the United States and the Republic of China on Taiwan. Congress rejected the State Department's proposed draft and replaced it with language that has remained in effect since 1979.
The Taiwan Relations Act does not guarantee the U.S. will intervene militarily if the PRC attacks or invades Taiwan nor does it relinquish it, as its primary purpose is to ensure the US's Taiwan policy will not be changed unilaterally by the president and ensure any decision to defend Taiwan will be made with the consent of Congress.
The act states that "the United States will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capabilities".
However, the decision about the nature and quantity of defense services that America will provide to Taiwan is to be determined by the President and Congress.
America's policy has been called "strategic ambiguity", and it is designed to dissuade Taiwan from a unilateral declaration of independence, and to dissuade the PRC from unilaterally unifying Taiwan with the PRC.
(with inputs from AP)