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Biden says US forces to defend Taiwan in the event of ‘unprecedented attack’

WASHINGTON – US military forces will defend Taiwan if there is “an unprecedented attack,” President Joe Biden said Sunday, underscoring America’s commitment to the island as Chinese incursions mount near its shores.

Mr Biden, speaking in a 60 Minutes interview aired on CBS, distanced himself from the question of whether Taiwan is or should be independent, but followed up with a pledge, when asked by interviewer Scott Pelley if US forces would “defend the island”.

“Yes, if in fact there was an unprecedented attack,” he replied, according to a transcript provided by the broadcaster.

Still, he reiterated earlier in the interview that the US’ “One China policy” has not changed.

“We agree with what we signed on to a long time ago, and that there’s (a) One China policy, and Taiwan makes their own judgments about their independence. We are not moving, we’re not encouraging their being independent,” he said. “That’s their decision.”

Mr Biden has made similar statements before, spurring outrage in Beijing by adding new chapters to Washington’s longstanding policy of “strategic ambiguity” when it comes to Taiwan.

In May, Mr Biden said “yes” when asked if the US was prepared to become “involved militarily” if it had to.

“That’s the commitment we made,” he said then, before White House officials walked back his comments.

A US official said Sunday that Mr Biden made the same points before and stressed that US policy has not changed. The official was responding to the 60 Minutes interview on condition of anonymity.

Washington cut formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979, switching recognition to Beijing as the sole representative of China, with the mainland becoming a major trading partner.

But at the same time, the United States maintained a decisive, if at times delicate, role in supporting Taiwan.

Under a law passed by Congress, the US is required to sell Taiwan military supplies to ensure its self-defence against Beijing’s vastly larger armed forces.

But it has maintained what is officially called “strategic ambiguity” on whether it would actually intervene militarily.  The policy is designed both to ward off a Chinese invasion and discourage Taiwan from ever provoking Beijing by formally declaring independence.

Since Mr Biden made his initial comments in May, tensions with China have flared after US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan.

The White House sought to manage the potential fallout from the visit, which saw China renew its military exercises and missile launches in the Strait of Taiwan. 

The US announced another round of weapons sales to Taiwan this month, totaling over US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion).

“We’ve been adamant about being committed to Taiwan’s self-defence and moving that forward,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said last week.

The Senate foreign relations committee also approved a Bill on Wednesday to boost ties with Taiwan and give it more military hardware to deter a Chinese invasion, though the final legislation will need to address White House objections if it has any chance of becoming law. - BLOOMBERG, AFP

JOE BIDENtaiwanChinaGEOPOLITICS