United States Would Defend Taiwan Against Chinese Invasion: US President Joe Biden

China considers Taiwan a breakaway province which it seeks to unify with the mainland one day. The United States has committed to help Taiwan but has not specified the extent of that help.

American President Joe Biden

US President Joe Biden has said that the United States would defend Taiwan if China invades it. 

This is the latest comment by Biden about the US committment to defend Taiwan that appears to suggest a tilt towards Taiwan in the US policy. However, White House clarified after Biden's latest comment that "the policy has not changed". 

Biden was asked in an interview: "Unlike Ukraine, to be clear, sir, US forces, US men and women, would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion?" 

Biden replied: "Yes."

China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and seeks to unify it with the mainland one day. It has not ruled out the use of force for the purpose. The United States is required by law to help Taiwan but the extent of that help is not specified under the longstanding "strategic ambiguity" policy of the United States. Biden's repeated comments have fuelled discussions whether it's changing.

Tensions are high over Taiwan as China is intimidating the self-ruled island with unprecedented military activity around it. Last month, China held largest ever military exercises around Taiwan involving hundreds of warplanes, warships, missile launches, and simulated attacks. Missiles not only landed in waters close to Taiwan but also flew over the island. Chinese fighter planes also violated the air border between China and Taiwan. 

Taiwan's foreign ministry on Monday expressed "sincere gratitude" to Biden for "affirming the US government's rock-solid promise of security to Taiwan".

Taiwan will "resist authoritarian expansion and aggression" and "deepen the close security partnership" with Washington and other governments "with similar thinking" to protect regional stability, the statement said.

What's the Taiwan-China conflict?

Taiwan formally calls itself Republic of China (ROC) and Beijing calls the mainland China as the People's Republic of China (PRC). 

Both ROC and PRC claim to be the "real" China. The PRC, with its seat at Beijing, considers Taiwan a breakaway province and seeks to unify it with the mainland one day, not ruling out the use of force for that purpose. 

The China-Taiwan dispute is rooted in the Chinese Civil War (1945-49) between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Nationalist Party (KMT). The CCP won the Civil War and took control of the Chinese mainland at Beijing and announced the formation of PRC. The defeated KMT fled to the island of Taiwan and established ROC there. 

The US policy on Taiwan

The United States does not have formal diplomatic relationships with Taiwan but maintains an informal relationship.

Formally, the United States does not support formal independence for Taiwan, a stance Biden repeated in the interview cited above.

He said, "Taiwan makes their own judgments about their independence. We're not encouraging their being independent."

The US policy regarding Taiwan has long been one of "strategic ambiguity", which means the United States has assured Taiwan of help in case of Chinese attack but has been deliberately vague about the nature of that help. This is established under the Taiwan Relations Act, 1979.

However, a series of comments by Biden have led to discussions whether such a policy is changing for an overt support of Taiwan. 

Joe Biden's comments on the US defence of Taiwan

US President Joe Biden had said in May that the United States would defend Taiwan militarily. 

A reporter asked Biden: "You didn't want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?" 

Biden replied: "Yes. That's the commitment we made."

Similar to the clarification following the interview on Sunday, the White House in May also said that the US policy towards Taiwan has not changed.

There are two more instances of such comments by Biden on Taiwan in the past one year.

The first comment was in October 2021 and the second was in August 2021, when Vox noted that Biden had compared the US approach to Taiwan with the US pledge to defend NATO countries. Biden administration walked back on Biden's comments on both the occasions.

(With AP inputs)