The White House has sought to clarify US President Joe Biden’s statement that the US would defend Chinese Taipei in the face of a potential Chinese attack, following a rebuke from Beijing.
“The President was not announcing any change in our policy and there is no change in our policy,” a White House spokesperson told the Washington-based The Hill newspaper on Friday.
“The U.S. defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. We will uphold our commitment under the Act, we will continue to support Taiwan's self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo,” the unnamed White House spokesperson said in a statement which appeared to either contradict the president's words, or redefine the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act.
On Thursday, when asked at a CNN town hall if the United States would come to the defense of Chinese Taipei, Biden had said, "Yes, we have a commitment to do that."
On Friday, echoing Biden’s comments US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the United States will continue to help Chinese Taipei with resources and capabilities, including potent military hardware.
Austin said that the Biden administration remained "committed to the one-China policy" but that the policy did not prevent it from providing aid to Taipei.
The White House on Friday sought to walk back Biden’s comments.
“He wasn’t announcing a change in policy nor have we changed our policy,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “We are guided by the Taiwan Relations Act.”
China has sovereignty over Chinese Taipei, and under the "One China" policy, almost all world countries recognize that sovereignty. The US, too, recognizes Chinese sovereignty over the island but has long courted Taipei in an attempt to unnerve Beijing.
The latest statements from the Biden administration fly in the face of nearly four decades of American policy toward Taipei, in which America has adhered to “strategic ambiguity” when dealing with the island nation.
Chinese officials on Friday blasted on Biden’s statement, accusing Washington of meddling in internal Chinese affairs.
“The Taiwan question is purely China's internal affairs that allow no foreign interference… No one should underestimate the resolve, the will and the ability of the Chinese people to defend their national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said in a briefing with reporters.
“We urge the US to earnestly abide by the one-China principle and stipulations in the three China-US joint communiques, be prudent with its words and actions on the Taiwan question, and avoid sending wrong signals to the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces, lest it should seriously damage China-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
The United States, which backs Taipei's secessionist president, also continues to sell weapons to the island in defiance of Beijing and in violation of its own official policy.
Relations between the US and China have grown tense in recent years, with the world's two largest economies clashing over a range of issues, including trade, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, military activities in the South China Sea, and the origins of the new coronavirus.