Last week, President Joe Biden took everyone by surprise when he said that the U.S. would defend Taiwan if China launched an attack. “We have a commitment to do that," he added. However, the U.S. has no official commitment to militarily defend Taiwan. Instead, it pursues a policy of “strategic ambiguity.”
Following World War II, a civil war broke out between the forces of rightist General Chiang Kai-shek and the communist battalion led by Mao Zedung. Defeated, Chiang Kai-shek and his acolytes withdrew to Taiwan, forming a government, which according to him was a continuation of the Chinese Republic forged in 1928. After the U.S. changed its policy, the United Nations recognized the People’s Republic of China as a legitimate representative in 1971. the Taiwan government, on the other hand, officially continued its existence. According to Beijing, Taiwan is Chinese territory, and when the conditions are ripe, it will be included in the mainland. Until the annexation is carried out, the Sino government adopts a constitutional principle of “one country, two systems” when discussing Taiwan.
On the other hand, the U.S. and Taiwan have formed a “special bond.” However, this bond does not include the U.S.’s military defense of Taiwan. The U.S., which aided Taiwan in developing its military capability, on the other side of the coin, also acknowledges Beijing’s “One China” policy. However, the U.S. also opposes Beijing forcibly changing Taiwan’s official status. This American approach dates back to the Taiwan Relations Act enacted in 1979. It’s Pandora’s box, for sure. The concept of “strategic ambiguity” sums up the complexity of the situation.
The “great power struggle” between the U.S. and China has regurgitated Taiwan as a bone of contention between the two. Assumptions that China is preparing to dethrone the United States from its global chair play a major role, of course. American hawks and Taiwanese nationalists defend that China is on the verge of invading Taiwan. Furthermore, U.S. hawks say that the U.S. should abandon its policy of strategic ambiguity. American foreign policy elites are debating possible U.S. reactions in the face of China’s attempts to occupy Taiwan. So why did Biden say the U.S. was ready to protect Taiwan against Chinese invasion, even though America has not made any formal commitments? Was it another slip of the tongue, or is America’s Taiwan policy changing?
In 2001, President George W. Bush announced that the U.S. was ready to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack. Bush didn’t forget to mention that the Chinese would do well to heed America’s warning. However, in just a couple of hours, he backtracked and said that the U.S. government would continue abiding by the “One China” policy.
Biden, who was a senator at the time, criticized Bush in an article he penned for the Washington Post. According to Biden, according to the provisions of the Constitution and the Taiwan Relations Act, President Bush should have brought the issue to Congress for the United States to make such a defense commitment to Taiwan. Now Biden is speaking like a Bush mouthpiece, despite the lack of such a congressional decision to defend Taiwan, leading mouths to fall open across Washington.
Senator Rick Scott, a Republican of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, spearheaded a bill last February to protect Taiwan from Chinese invasion. Elaine Luria, the Democratic Vice Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, asked Congress to “untie Biden's hands on Taiwan” in an article published in the Washington Post on Oct. 11, 2021. Stating that the bill spearheaded by Senator Scott is a good start, Luria defends that if Congress does not get to work immediately, it will be too late for the U.S. to react once China invades Taiwan. This delay, which will only exacerbate the conflict between Beijing and Washington, will lead to dire consequences for the entire world.
There is a deep crack between the mainstream Centrist wing of the Democratic Party and the more left-leaning ones over Taiwan. Centrists want America to make a strong commitment to protect Taiwan, while left-wing Democrats, including Senator Bernie Sanders, argue that the policy of "strategic ambiguity" must be upheld.