In an interview with 60 Minutes that aired Sunday, President Joe Biden said that U.S. service members would be called up to help Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.
“We agree with what we signed onto a long time ago,” Biden said in the interview. “And that there’s one China policy, and Taiwan makes their own judgments about their independence. We are not moving — we’re not encouraging their being independent. ... That’s their decision.”
But when asked if U.S. forces would defend the island, the president took his stance a step further.
“Yes, if in fact there was an unprecedented attack,” Biden said.
While this isn’t the first instance of Biden suggesting the U.S. would support Taiwan, it is the first time he has made it clear that U.S. forces would be involved in such a circumstance. This stands in stark contrast to the United States’ stance on supporting Ukraine in their defense against the Russian invasion.
“So, unlike Ukraine, to be clear, sir,” 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley said to Biden, “U.S. forces, U.S. men and women would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion?”
“Yes,” the president said.
A White House official said Monday, however, that President Biden’s comments do not reflect an official change in policy, as reported by CBS News.
Officially, the U.S. still has a “strategic ambiguity” on the topic of U.S. military intervention on behalf of Taiwan. But it’s also important to note that the Taiwan Relations Act does dictate that the U.S. has to help arm Taiwan in the event of mounting a defense.
U.S. troops have been active in the region as tensions between China and Taiwan continue to escalate, most recently in the form of the cruiser Chancellorsville sailing the Taiwan Strait this September.
In July, China called the repeated transit of the guided-missile destroyer Benfold through the South China Sea a “provocation.” The destroyer is just one of several U.S. ships that routinely patrol Pacific waters to protect maritime stability.
“The ship transited through a corridor in the Strait that is beyond the territorial sea of any coastal State,” 7th Fleet officials said. “The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
U.S. Army Pacific’s Gen. Charles Flynn also suggested that the Army will be leaving rockets behind in Japan following the conclusion of joint-exercise Orient Shield 22. The training operation marked the first time U.S. troops fired Javelins in Japan.
Flynn’s comments, meanwhile, indicate that important gear such as High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, will remain at the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force’s base on Amami Oshima — a chain of islands that sit between the Japanese mainland and Taiwan — until at least the next joint exercise, Reuters reported.
“It’s an opportunity for us to keep capabilities forward. Some of the equipment we are just going to leave here,” Flynn told Reuters.
According to a separate Reuters report published Monday, China has publicly decried the president’s comments.
Mao Ning, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, said last month that China has the right to take every measure necessary against any actions that aim to split the nation apart.
“We are willing to do our best to strive for peaceful reunification,” Mao said. “At the same time, we will not tolerate any activities aimed at secession.”
Mao also warned the U.S. to be wary of sending the “wrong signals” to Taiwan separatist forces, further implying the need for a mindful approach in how the U.S. handles Taiwan-related affairs.
Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran and a master's candidate at New York University's Business & Economic Reporting program.