May 24, 2022


President Joe Biden said Monday the U.S. would intervene militarily if China were to invade Taiwan… The U.S. traditionally has avoided making such an explicit security guarantee to Taiwan, with which it no longer has a mutual defense treaty, instead maintaining a policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’ about how far it would be willing to go… A White House official said Biden’s comments did not reflect a policy shift for the United States.” AP News

Many on both sides are critical of the unscripted nature of Biden’s comments:

“It’s a delicate, paradox-laden policy space that requires careful maneuvering and nuance — and one Biden should know well. He’s traveled to Taiwan, passed legislation that set in motion decades-long policy on the U.S. relationship with Taiwan, and he even once chided George W. Bush for doing … exactly what he just did himself…

“After Bush said in 2001 that he would do ‘whatever it took’ to defend Taiwan from China, then-senator Biden penned a critical op-ed in The Washington Post. ‘As a matter of diplomacy, there is a huge difference between reserving the right to use force and obligating ourselves, a priori, to come to the defense of Taiwan,’ he wrote. In the piece, Biden emphasized that ‘words matter, in diplomacy.’ But it’s unclear exactly how much Biden’s words matter… Much of Biden’s proposition when campaigning for president was to restore American credibility to the U.S. after Donald Trump’s tenure. Being careful and consistent with language is an important part of achieving that goal.”
Zeeshan Aleem, MSNBC

The problem is that no one can be sure what the U.S. policy now is. The constant White House walk-backs of the President’s statements undermine his personal credibility with allies and adversaries. We’d support more clarity in defense of Taiwan, but it ought to be announced in more considered fashion—with support lined up at home and abroad…

“It would also require a larger and more rapid plan to arm Taiwan and build up U.S. defenses. One lesson of the Ukraine war is not to wait until the invasion begins to start sending enough weapons. Send them now to make deterrence more credible… Mr. Biden’s budget sets the Navy on a path to shrink to 280 ships in 2027 from 298 today even as China greatly expands its fleet. A credible defense of Taiwan and U.S. territories and allies in Asia is going to require a much bigger military budget.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“Faceless aides will not take the decision about what to do if China attacks Taiwan -- the President will. So, if he repeatedly says the US will use military force to defend the island, shouldn't he be taken seriously? Will Beijing believe Biden or his aides? And what does this mean for his credibility among Chinese leaders? Because what is crucial in this tense geopolitical standoff is not necessarily what Biden's position is, but what Beijing thinks it is…

“[Furthermore] even if the US toughens its position, there's no certainty a future President would stand by it. Would Donald Trump in a possible second term, or another America First nationalist, go to war with China to defend democracy after working to erode it at home?”

Stephen Collinson, CNN

Some argue, “Mr. Biden did not so much end strategic ambiguity as modify it. Between his repeated allusions to a U.S. duty to defend Taiwan — Monday’s was the third such since August — and his staff’s repeated denials that the president’s words mean quite what they seem to mean, Beijing has new reasons to think long and hard before sending its armed forces across the Taiwan Strait. Yet the People’s Republic of China cannot quite accuse the United States of violating the understandings forged in Nixon’s time because, technically, it hasn’t…

“If there’s a flaw in Mr. Biden’s approach to countering China, it’s the vagueness of the plan for regional commercial integration he’s offering — the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. It is no substitute for the market-opening Trans-Pacific Partnership that was negotiated by President Barack Obama and then abandoned by President Donald Trump. Mr. Biden has China guessing about U.S. intentions toward Taiwan. Maximizing Beijing’s worries, however, would require much more robust economic engagement with East Asia, India and Australia.”

Editorial Board, Washington Post

From the Right

“The days of the 1990s, when the U.S. could deter China over Taiwan by sending an aircraft carrier into the Taiwan Strait, are long gone… For more than a decade, China has invested vast sums in developing and deploying weapons systems designed to deny the U.S. military access to Taiwan and the South China Sea and to overwhelm those that can force access. With the exception of the Marine Corps, the U.S. military and its industrial base have shown almost no willingness to compensate for this People's Liberation Army's evolution…

“The Navy, for example, continues to insist that ‘aircraft carriers continue to be the centerpiece of the forces necessary for operating forward,’ even though saturation strikes by a range of satellite-redundant PLA ballistic missiles would instantly overwhelm them. Putting aside legal questions over Biden's authority to support Taiwan's defense militarily without congressional approval, it is questionable whether the U.S. military could effectively defend the island.”

Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

“Chinese President Xi Jinping’s increasingly aggressive behavior makes [strategic ambiguity] untenable. Taiwan, like Ukraine in Europe, is a flash point in a contest between the United States and an autocratic power. If the United States chose not to aid Ukraine in its time of need, our European allies — who recognized the threat a Russian-conquered Ukraine would pose to their security — would question our commitment to them. So it is with Taiwan; if the United States won’t defend a longtime, democratic friend, other allies in Asia would call our commitment into question…

“Biden has surprised many of his conservative critics with his harsher-than-expected policy toward China. But in for a dime, in for a dollar. Biden should ratchet up military and economic pressure on Beijing and fully abandon the failed approach of the past.”

Henry Olsen, Washington Post

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