Discover more from Eunomia
Biden Is Wrong on Taiwan
This is the fourth time that the president has wrongly said or implied that the U.S. has a security commitment to defend Taiwan.
Biden once again gave some ill-advised answers on Taiwan in an interview with 60 Minutes:
"But would U.S. forces defend the island?" Pelley asked.
"Yes, if in fact there was an unprecedented attack," Mr. Biden said.
"So unlike Ukraine, to be clear, sir," Pelley said, "U.S. forces, U.S. men and women would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion?"
"Yes," the president said.
This is the fourth time that the president has wrongly said or implied that the U.S. has a security commitment to defend Taiwan. By itself, it would be an unfortunate mistake, but it is part of a pattern of gradually eroding the status quo over Taiwan in what seems to be an arbitrary and careless way on the assumption that the U.S. can get away with making unilateral changes without serious consequences. The danger of repeatedly stating a willingness to go to war over Taiwan is that the Chinese government may conclude that it needs to take more aggressive measures in response, and by severely undermining the status quo that has kept the peace for decades the president is making war more likely.
This would be unwise at the best of times, and it is even more so when the U.S. is in such a poor position to make good on the president’s invented commitment. The U.S. is already overstretched as it is, and an additional security commitment that could involve the U.S. in a major war puts the U.S. in the bad position of making a promise it can’t honor. The hawkish solution to close the gap is to throw even more money at the Pentagon and to engage in a massive military buildup, but the better solution is not to overreach with unnecessary security guarantees in the first place.
The U.S. is not obliged to fight for Taiwan, and U.S. officials should not act and talk as if it is. The president has no authority to take the U.S. to war on his own, and unless U.S. territories or forces came under attack as part of a Chinese invasion he could not legally send them into an ongoing conflict without Congressional authorization. The decision of whether the U.S. should fight for Taiwan is not the president’s alone, and we should not tolerate a warped understanding of war powers that pretends that it is. Choosing to fight China for a non-ally ought to be unthinkable, but if it is going to be considered as an option it has to be debated and voted on by the people’s representatives. Maybe Congress would vote overwhelmingly in favor of such a motion, and maybe they wouldn’t, but it is unconscionable that a decision of this magnitude would be left to any one person.
Just as worrying as Biden’s willingness to commit to a war with China over Taiwan were his remarks about Taiwanese independence. Biden said:
We agree with what we signed onto a long time ago. And that there's one China policy, and Taiwan makes their own judgments about their independence. We are not moving-- we're not encouraging their being independent. We're not-- that-- that's their decision.
.@POTUS' comments are dangerous, even if not an official change in policy (per @WhiteHouse clarification). More explicit here than in previous gaffes is the suggestion that the US would send troops to fight for Taiwan, regardless of what Taiwan does.
Not supporting Taiwan independence is longstanding US policy. But this new combo (a pledge to send troops + decisions about independence are Taiwan's) suggests an unconditional commitment, one that will strengthen perceptions that the U.S. is issuing Taiwan a blank check.
Biden’s remarks create the impression that the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defense no matter what the Taiwanese government does. The White House can claim that there has been no change in policy, but between affirming that U.S. forces would be sent to fight and that a decision on independence is solely up to Taipei Biden has altered the policy significantly in a most provocative way. It will certainly be perceived as highly provocative. Taken together with the Taiwan Policy Act that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just approved by a 17-5 vote and Speaker Pelosi’s reckless visit to Taiwan, this is likely to make the Chinese government assume the worst about U.S. intentions. The initial response from the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman was predictably angry:
The US remarks … severely violate the important commitment the US made not to support Taiwan independence, and send a seriously erroneous signal to Taiwanese separatist independence forces.
If the Chinese government believes that the U.S. has been going back on its commitments, it stands to reason that they may feel freer to renege on theirs as well. That sets us up for a race to the bottom as both governments use the other side’s actions as excuses to become increasingly confrontational. U.S.-Chinese relations have been deteriorating to their lowest levels in decades before this, and Biden’s remarks seem certain to make things worse. Insofar as the U.S. has important interests that require Chinese cooperation, whether on climate change or nonproliferation and arms control, poisoning the relationship with changes to the status quo over Taiwan is detrimental to U.S. interests even if it doesn’t lead to conflict. There appear to be only costs and no benefits for the U.S. in antagonizing China in this way. The U.S. and China should be striving to minimize the possibility of a conflict between them because of the devastating effects the war would have for both countries and for the world. Right now, the U.S. is doing the opposite by goading China over an issue that matters far more to them than it does to us.
There was an American politician over twenty years ago who warned against making an explicit commitment that the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defense. He said, “The president should not cede to Taiwan, much less to China, the ability automatically to draw us into a war across the Taiwan Strait.” He also said that “the commitment of U.S. forces to the defense of Taiwan is a matter the president should bring to the American people and Congress.” That was some sound advice from one Sen. Joe Biden. Perhaps the president might consider listening to him.