- US President Joe Biden said that his country would defend Taiwan if it was invaded by China, which contradicts the official US position, known as the policy of "strategic ambiguity" on the island.

Biden's comments came, in an interview broadcast on Sunday evening, when "60 Minutes" host Scott Baiden asked Biden if US forces would defend Taiwan?

The president replied, "Yes, if in fact there was an unprecedented attack."

"Unlike Ukraine, to be clear, sir, would American troops, American men and women be defending Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion?" Bailey said.

"Yes," said President Biden, who added, "Taiwan makes its own judgments about its independence. We don't act. We don't encourage them to be independent. That's their decision."

At the same time, Biden reiterated his administration's support for the "one China" policy that Washington recognizes, but at the same time maintains informal relations with Taiwan.

The "Taiwan Relations" Act of 1979 obliges Washington to help prepare it for its own defense.

President Biden in a previous virtual meeting with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping (Getty)

Statements at a difficult time

Biden's statements, which were not the first of their kind, came at a time when Washington's relations with Beijing are experiencing unprecedented tension, following the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan in early August.

Washington did not sign a mutual defense treaty with Taiwan, but it provides it with many advanced weapons.

On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a bill giving the island $4.5 billion worth of weapons for the next four years, at a time when Taiwan is classified as a non-NATO ally.

On the other hand, Chinese President Xi Jinping met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin - on Thursday - on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, at a time when fears are growing within the United States that Russia's war in Ukraine will inspire China to attack Taiwan, while it is feared that the two countries' relations will be strengthened militarily. .

Ukraine's experience and Taiwan's privacy

The island of Taiwan is less than 160 kilometers from Chinese territory, and Beijing considers it a renegade province and must return to the one Chinese home, even by force, while Washington supports Taiwan militarily and supplies it with the latest weapons to deter China, while adopting at the same time the "one China" policy, which prevents it from recognition of Taiwan independence.

The Russian war on Ukraine has renewed the debate in the American capital about Washington's response if China takes a step similar to the Russian attack.

With the Biden administration reluctant to take steps that Russia might see as escalatory, such as imposing a no-fly zone or supplying the Ukrainian military with combat aircraft, doubts have increased whether Washington will support Taiwan if it is exposed to a situation similar to the one in Ukraine.

US-China tensions escalate after House Speaker Pelosi's visit to Taiwan (Anatolia)

Not the first time

The US President's statements about his country's readiness to defend the island of Taiwan militarily against any Chinese invasion were not the first of its kind. During his visit to Japan last May, Biden stated Washington's readiness to respond militarily in the event of China's attack on Taiwan.

Prior to that, in October 2020, Biden responded - during a meeting organized by CNN, to a question about the United States' readiness to defend Taiwan militarily if it was attacked by China, and said, "Yes, we have an obligation to do so."

In contrast to President Biden's previous lapses, his statement yesterday was not a lapse, as he repeated what he said several times and elaborated further when announcer Scone Bailey followed up the question with a more clear and detailed question.

Washington Estimates

Some commentators argue that Washington, through its response to Russia, has shown China what to expect if Beijing attempts to invade Taiwan.

For her part, US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haynes believes that China is already more reluctant to invade Taiwan than it was just several months ago.

In a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee on March 8, Haynes said the US response to the invasion of Ukraine "is likely to reinforce China's view of the seriousness with which we will take any military action toward Taiwan. She saw it between Europe and the United States, especially in imposing sanctions."

And in March 2021, Admiral Philip Davidson, the former commander of US forces in the Indo-Pacific region, warned members of Congress that China could invade Taiwan within the next six years.

ambiguity principle

Successive US administrations have adopted the principle of "strategic ambiguity" toward China for two reasons:

  • First: the lack of clarity in the circumstances of the American intervention, which deprives the Chinese military planners of realizing the limits of maneuvering with the United States.

    Strategic ambiguity has forced Beijing to assume Washington would intervene in the event of attacks or an attempt to invade Taiwan.

    Although the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait region is changing in China's favour, experts believe that Beijing is still far from possessing advanced forces that would enable it to succeed in seizing Taiwan.

  • Second: The Americans believe that "strategic ambiguity" is a deterrent against those who might be tempted to declare independence within Taiwan. Washington supports only autonomy for the island, and a formal declaration of independence would certainly lead to a crisis.

Chinese protest against Pelosi's visit to Taiwan (Reuters)

Taiwan and the US-China rivalry

Taiwan is the last arena of rivalry between China and America, and although the latter is not bound by a treaty to defend Taiwan, a Chinese attack will be a test of US military strength and diplomatic and political dominance.

Although the two nuclear powers and the world's largest economic powers are fighting a cold war in a number of files between them, their dispute over Taiwan is the only issue that is likely to provoke an armed confrontation between them.

Hence, the famous British magazine "The Economist" recently described Taiwan as "the most dangerous place on earth" because it poses a great dilemma for China and the United States together.