WASHINGTON: Overshadowed by US President Joe Biden’s headline-grabbing vow that American forces would defend Taiwan against a Chinese attack was his hint at possibly shifting US policy to support the island’s right to self-determination.
Though the White House has taken pains to say Biden’s most explicit statement yet about defending the island, made during an interview broadcast on Sunday (Sep 18), did not signify a policy change, some analysts say he may have undercut – intentionally or not – a US stance of not taking a position on Taiwan’s independence.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping has long-vowed to bring Taiwan under Beijing’s control and has not ruled out the use of force to do so. Taiwan strongly objects to China’s claims but says it does not need to declare independence because it is already an independent country.
US officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, have underscored this year that the United States does not support Taiwan independence.
Their assurances are a part of a non-committal policy assiduously adhered to over decades to dissuade Beijing from an unprovoked attack and convince Taiwan to not make a formal independence declaration. In Washington parlance, it is known as “dual deterrence”.
But Biden told CBS 60 Minutes that while he is not encouraging the move, such a decision was up to Taiwan.
“Taiwan makes their own judgments about their independence. We are not encouraging their being independent. That’s their decision,” Biden said.
BIDEN’S REMARKS DIVIDE
The president’s critics argue China will perceive his comments as tacit support for an independence declaration, a redline for Beijing. They also say Biden’s comments are more likely to aggravate hostilities than overt defense commitments since Beijing already likely assumes Washington will defend Taiwan.
“It is incoherent to argue that America’s Taiwan policy has not changed while also claiming that the US has a commitment to fight for Taiwan and that Taiwan makes its own judgments about independence,” said Craig Singleton, a China policy expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He added Beijing will likely worry that Biden is suggesting Taiwan can decide itself whether it is independent.