US troops would defend Taiwan if China invaded, President Joe Biden said Sunday, his clearest statement yet on the issue and one likely to infuriate Beijing.
In a “60 Minutes” interview aired on CBS, Biden was asked if the US would defend Taiwan against an attack from Beijing, which claims self-governing island democracy as its territory.
“Yes, if indeed there was an unprecedented attack,” he said.
The president said yes when asked if he meant that, unlike in Ukraine, US troops would come to defend Taiwan.
In any case, it is the fourth time since last year that Biden has made comments that appear to alter old US policy on Taiwan. Since establishing diplomatic relations with China in 1979, the US has recognized Beijing as China’s sole legitimate government, while maintaining unofficial relations with Taiwan.
The US is required by law to provide Taiwan with defensive weapons, but it has a policy of “strategic ambiguity” when it comes to exactly how it would respond to Chinese aggression against the island.
The interview with Biden, who is in London on Monday for the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, was recorded last week. After the broadcast, a White House spokesperson said US policy towards Taiwan has remained unchanged.
“The president has said this before, including in Tokyo earlier this year,” the spokesman said, referring to comments Biden made in May. “He also made it clear that our policy in Taiwan has not changed. That remains true.”
Biden said in the “60 Minutes” interview that the US still agrees with the One China policy and that Taiwan should determine its own future.
“We don’t encourage their independence,” he said. “That’s their decision.”
Still, the president’s comments are likely to spark anger at Beijing, which responded with unprecedented live fire drills in Taiwan after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., visited the island last month. Her visit to Taiwan has attracted most attention amid a surge this year in travel from US congressional delegations expressing their support.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has not ruled out the use of force in achieving his goal of “unification” with Taiwan, has warned Biden of any change in US policy on the island, most recently during an appeal in July.
Some US lawmakers have pushed for a more aggressive policy on Taiwan, with a Senate panel last week approving legislation that would significantly increase US defensive support. A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry criticized the bill as a violation of One China policy, saying it would have “extremely serious consequences for China-US relations”.
Taiwan, which is about 100 miles outside of China, has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party. But China claimed sovereignty over the island after Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists, defeated by Mao Zedong’s communist forces in the Chinese Civil War, fled there in 1949 and established a rival government.
Kelly O’Donnell contributed.