WASHINGTON — American presidents have spent decades trying to sidestep the question of how forcefully the United States would come to the aid of Taiwan if China invaded it or, more likely, tried to slowly strangle the island in an effort to force it back under the control of the mainland.
The American policy — called “strategic ambiguity” because it leaves vague exactly how the United States would react — does not lend itself to a tough-sounding response. So the White House was quick to declare that American policy had not changed after President Biden was asked at a CNN town hall event on Thursday night whether the United States would protect Taiwan and he said, “Yes, we have a commitment to do that.”
“The president was not announcing any change in our policy and there is no change in our policy,” a White House statement read.
On Friday, both the defense secretary, Lloyd J. Austin III, and the State Department spokesman, Ned Price, repeated in detail longstanding language intended to signal to Beijing that it should do nothing to change the status quo, and to Taipei that it should not think about relying on the United States if it considered declaring independence.
Mr. Biden wrote in The Washington Post, “between reserving the right to use force and obligating ourselves, a priori, to come to the defense of Taiwan.” He accused Mr. Bush of “inattention to detail.”
Mr. Biden’s blunt statement on Thursday to Anderson Cooper was not the first time he had made such a commitment.
from strategic ambiguity to strategic clarity.”
Mr. Haass and a number of other experts and former government officials think it would be wiser to make it clear to Beijing exactly what kind of economic penalties would follow any effort to intimidate or take over Taiwan.
That may yet happen whenever Mr. Biden gives his long-delayed China strategy speech, laying out his approach to a country that is a military, economic and technological challenge on a scale the United States has not seen before. But the White House is not ready for any kind of alteration to its policies.
“What should be clear from all his comments on Taiwan,” a State Department official said in a written statement, is that “our support for Taiwan is rock solid and we are committed to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”