Clearing the air after his tongue-in-cheek remark earlier, US President Joe Biden Tuesday evening said he was not encouraging Chinese Taipei's "independence", and said it was up to the Taiwanese to decide.
The remarks came during an interaction with reporters in New Hampshire, where he was promoting the recently signed infrastructure law, barely an hour after he suggested the island was "independent."
"We are not going to change our policy at all," Biden told reporters. "We are not encouraging independence, we are encouraging that they do exactly what the Taiwan Act requires,” referring to the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) that has served as a keystone of US policy toward Taiwan.
When pressed on the "independent" comment made earlier, Biden replied: "I said that they have to decide, they, Taiwan, not us,” in an apparent U-turn.
"That's what we're doing. Let them make up their mind. Period," he asserted.
The comments came after the US president, in his virtual meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping, reiterated his administration's commitment to the "One China" policy under which the US acknowledges the Chinese position that Chinese Taipei is part of China.
The White House in a statement said that Biden "underscored that the United States remains committed to the 'One China' policy".
"[It] strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” the statement noted.
The virtual meeting that came amidst heightened tensions between the US and China, the two economic giants, saw Xi warn Biden that US support for Taiwanese independence was like "playing with fire.... and those who play with fire will get burned."
China's state-run Global Times said Xi blamed recent tensions between the two sides on "repeated attempts by the Taiwan authorities to look for US support for their independence agenda as well as the intention of some Americans to use Taiwan to contain China".
“Such moves are extremely dangerous, just like playing with fire. Whoever plays with fire will get burnt,” it said.
In October, Biden had suggested that the US would defend Taiwan in the event of an attack on the island by China, which marked a complete departure from the US position on the conflict.
The White House later issued a statement saying that US policy on the issue had not changed.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Tuesday said US engagement with China will intensify at multiple levels to ensure competition between the two sides does not veer into conflict.
Sullivan said in a Brookings Institution webinar that the two leaders had agreed to “look to begin to carry forward discussion on strategic stability."