Biden's Taiwan Defense Vows: How US Using Salami Slicing Strategy to Dilute 'One-China' Principle
17:02 GMT 19.09.2022 (Updated: 12:45 GMT 19.06.2023)
US President Joe Biden told CBS’ 60 Minutes on Sunday that US troops would defend the island of Taiwan "if in fact there was an unprecedented attack." However, the White House stressed that the US policy of "strategic ambiguity" with regard to Taiwan has not changed after the interview.
"If the US does intervene directly with its own military in a Taiwan Strait war scenario, that would no doubt mean a US war with China," explained Dr. Zhang Baohui, director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.
"However, the White House, after Biden’s comment, affirmed that the US Taiwan policy has not changed. The White House has done this every time Biden says that the US would defend Taiwan. This raises the issue of whose statements, Biden’s or the White House’s, better represent the US position on the matter. The situation here is simply chaotic and confusing."
This is not the first time that Biden has pledged to defend the island which is considered as an inalienable part of the People's Republic of China by Beijing. On May 23, the US president promised a military response should China attempt to "take Taiwan by force"during a press conference in Tokyo alongside Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. However, the White House intervened and played down Biden's comments.
to CNN, Biden's May remark was at least the third time that he has said that the US would be willing to intervene militarily and "defend" Taiwan. Still, each time the White House has walked back the remarks, and each time Beijing has strongly criticized Biden's stance.
Beijing’s One-China policy stipulates that Taiwan is part of mainland China. Washington acknowledges China's position that Taiwan is part of the People's Republic, but has never officially recognized Beijing's claim to the island. Previously, Taiwan and the US were joint participants of the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty between 1955 and 1979, with Washington continuing to back the island's Kuomintang-led leadership despite establishing diplomatic relations with Beijing and recognizing it as the sole legitimate government of China on January 1, 1979.
"The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) mandates the United States to come to the assistance of Taiwan should Taipei face an unprovoked attack from the People's Republic of China," explained Dr. Victor Teo, a political scientist specializing in international relations of Asia Pacific. "The US president’s remarks are therefore not something new, and demonstrate the American leader’s understanding of what the US policy has been over the course of the last four decades or so. It is important to state upfront that the kind of assistance that the Americans can extend is not defined clearly under the TRA, and there is actually a lot of discretion left to the American president."
US Deliberately Diluting One-China Principle
Meanwhile, even though Beijing does not think that Washington wants to profoundly change its Taiwan policy, it suspects that the US leadership is deliberately blurring the lines of the One-China concept
, according to Ba Dianjun, deputy director of the Center for Northeast Asian Studies of Jilin University.
"[D]ue to Biden's special status as head of state, such provocative speeches challenge the One-China principle," he said. "Overall, be it the Trump administration or the Biden administration, the United States has drafted a number of related bills, all of which are constantly diluting the One-China principle. Although all these measures do not yet affect the key content of the previous agreements, we must still remain vigilant."
Ba believes that US policy towards Taiwan is becoming "clearer," while the much-discussed "strategic ambiguity" approach is getting the backseat. "Biden's repeated statements, in fact, give us a signal that we need to be on our guard," the Chinese scholar insists.
The so-called Taiwan Policy Act of 2022, proposed by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democrat Bob Menendez, promotes Taiwan's sovereign rights in international agreements and organizations, including through the Indo-Pacific Economic Agreement (IPEF). The legislation stipulates that the US federal government should interact with what it calls a "democratic government of Taiwan" as a legitimate representative of the interests of the people of the island.
In August, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, third in the line after the president and vice president of the US, visited Taiwan despite Beijing's strong opposition and warnings. Following the incident, Beijing launched large-scale military exercises in the Taiwan Strait
What Risks is Taiwan Standoff Fraught With?
The US provocative actions over the island of Taiwan are fraught with a number of serious risks, according to Ba.
"First, it will cause great damage to [US-China] relations," the Chinese scholar argued. "In addition (…) tensions on both sides [of the Taiwan Strait] are very high, and the words and deeds of the US give the wrong signals to the secessionist forces in Taiwan, prompting them to take rash steps (…) Second, Taiwan's separatist forces are looking for outside support. Under the banner of the so-called universal values, human rights and democracy, they seek response and support in western countries. So far, they have achieved certain results. Japan and European countries support Taiwan Province (...) Third, since the Taiwan Strait is a very important geopolitical point, Japan considers it as a kind of anchor line. Plus, we must remember the Japanese colonial past which resonates with the separatist elements in Taiwan."
The Chinese scholar does not rule out that the US wants to "replicate the Ukrainian model in Taiwan" by pitting the Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait against each other. He assumes that the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022, which encourages Taipei to join international organizations, is aimed at ramping up further tensions which could undermine regional security.
"The key for starting a cross-strait conflict is held by Taipei," said Dr. Chang Ching, research fellow of the Taiwan-based Society for Strategic Studies and a lead military expert on China’s People's Liberation Army and regional security in Taiwan. "Without any reckless and impulsive political adventurism such as declaring independence, the possibility of an imminent and full scale armed conflict is literally unlikely. Nonetheless, the magnitude and coverage of such a cross-strait conflict will be decided by Washington. US involvement will certainly intensify the level of violence and engagement with Beijing in various battle spaces. Eventually, how long the conflict could last, would be decided by Beijing. Taiwan is a stake that no Chinese leadership dares to give up. It will be a test of political will."
The impact of any potential conflict over the island would "inevitably be global since both Washington and Beijing are the major actors of the international society," noted the researcher, adding that every party involved in this conflict would be a "loser."
"However, the essential is not what Washington says but what it may actually do in the future," Dr. Chang underscored, stressing that this is probable that having convinced everyone that it would protect Taiwan, Washington would fail to fulfill its promise.
19 September 2022, 10:22 GMT
US Ramping Up Tensions With China and Russia
Washington's bellicose rhetoric towards China coincides with its no less bellicose statements with regard to its support to Kiev amid Russia's special operation to demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine. However, the US does not seem concerned about ramping up tensions on two fronts, according to Dr. Chang. The crux of the matter is that the US has suffered less than European states in the Ukraine conflict, he explained.
"Washington has persuaded European nations to take numerous measures towards Moscow," the researcher clarified. "And European states are encountering severe damages from Russian retaliations. This is exactly the reason why President Biden has less care about the developments in the Ukraine battlefield."
For his part, Dr. Victor Teo believes that cooler heads will prevail in both the US and China when it comes to Taiwan.
"Even though the US is stepping up its political rhetoric and operational planning with Taiwan, the US government is well aware that an actual conflict would devastate the economies in the region badly, and [will] destroy the foundations of modern US-China relations," the political scientist said. "The same, however, cannot be said of the members of the US Congress who are guided by very different motivations and considerations."
As of yet, the White House has signaled that it is not willing to change the established status quo, so one should take a wait and see approach, according to the academic.
"No matter what is actually said or the real intention held by President Biden, it will not worsen the US economic relations with China. It cannot be even worse," concluded Dr. Chang.