Biden recasts US-China engagement over Taiwan, making it key third party

But President Joe Biden may have already altered the decades long US policy by clearly saying, not once but four times, that the US will defend Taiwan against China…writes Yaswant Raj

Vivek Ramaswamy, the Republican Presidential race’s breakout star, has an interesting suggestion: The US should defend Taiwan from China altering its current policy of strategic ambiguity till it doesn’t become semiconductor independent.

But President Joe Biden may have already altered the decades long US policy by clearly saying, not once but four times, that the US will defend Taiwan against China.

And he has made that commitment without tagging it to self-sufficiency in semiconductors, which is a priority agenda for his administration. He has also not changed the US’ one-China policy and strategic ambiguity, which essentially means the US will not announce in advance its response to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

Although Ramaswamy may seem to be late to the party, he is echoing a certain section of American policy makers and experts who have been calling for a change in the US policy in view of China’s aggressive rise.

A slow drumroll of calls for getting tough with China with a speech from Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in 2020, which can be encapsulated in one word: “Enough.”

The United States has committed itself to recognising the People’s Republic of China as China, and not Taiwan, which considers itself a separate country, under its one-China policy.

But the US maintains a “robust unofficial relationship” with Taiwan. It does not support Taiwan’s independence but opposes any unilateral attempt by either party to change the status quo. And it has committed itself to arming Taiwan to enable it to defend itself against any aggression, under the Taiwan Relations Act.

But as the possibility of China using force to unify with Taiwan has become real than imagined, Americans have begun seeing it as “inevitable” and with it are the chances of a confrontation. Biden has said the US will intervene with boots on the ground, and he has said it so many times that his aides have stopped trying to walk it back.

Asked in an interview in September 2022 if US forces would defend Taiwan, he had said: “Yes, if in fact there was an unprecedented attack.”

When the interviewer pressed if American men and women will defend the island nation, unlike Ukraine, he said, “Yes.”

Earlier in May that same year, he was asked at a news conference in Tokyo if the US will intervene militarily if China invaded Taiwan, and Biden  had said, “Yes.” 

“That’s the commitment we made,” he added.

Biden’s aides clarified later that his statement did not constitute a change in the one-China policy. While that may be so, the American President has said it four times now and that should be enough to take any ambiguity out of the so-called strategy of ambiguity.

Biden’s September remarks came after the then US Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, had visited Taiwan, which had angered China enough to launch aggressive military actions, like flying fighter jets into Taiwanese airspace.

Beijing had also shut down a telephone hotline with the US established to prevent a flare up and has still not restored it.

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