White House walks back Biden Taiwan defense claim again

Who’s in charge here, anyway?

For the third time since August of last year, the White House walked back comments by President Biden Monday implying the US would aid Taiwan if the island nation came under attack from China.

During a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Biden was asked if the US would be prepared to defend Taiwan if such an attack took place. 

“Yes,” the president answered. 

“That’s the commitment we made. We agree with the ‘one China’ policy. We signed on to it,” Biden added. “All the attendant agreements [were] made from there. But the idea that that can be taken by force, just taken by force. It’s just not – it’s just not appropriate.” 

President Joe Biden attends a press conference with Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at Akasaka Palace state guest house in Tokyo Monday, May 23, 2022.
President Biden was asked if the US would be prepared to defend Taiwan if such an attack took place. 
Nicolas Datiche/Pool Photo via AP

The White House later insisted that US policy on Taiwan “has not changed.” 

“As the president said, our policy has not changed,” a spokesperson told Fox News. “He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”

The “one China” policy refers to the US position that the Communist government in Beijing is the sole legal authority over the Asian nation and acknowledges — but does not accept — its claim that Taiwan is part of China.

President Joe Biden shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during a bilateral meeting at Akasaka Palace, Monday, May 23, 2022, in Tokyo.
President Biden shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during a bilateral meeting at Akasaka Palace, Monday, May 23, 2022, in Tokyo.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the US is not required to militarily defend Taiwan, but is required to ensure Taiwan has the resources to defend itself. 

Despite the clean up, China’s foreign ministry hit back at Biden on Monday, expressing “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” to his comments. 

“No one should underestimate the strong determination, firm will, and strong ability of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and do not stand against the 1.4 billion Chinese people,” the foreign ministry said, according to CNBC

President Joe Biden, left, and Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attend a press conference at Akasaka Palace state guest house in Tokyo Monday, May 23, 2022.
President Biden and Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attend a press conference at Akasaka Palace state guest house in Tokyo Monday, May 23, 2022.
Nicolas Datiche/Pool Photo via AP

Monday’s apparent walk back is not the first time the White House has clarified or downplayed Biden’s firm stance in support of Taiwan.

During a town hall event in October moderator Anderson Cooper of CNN asked: “Are you saying that the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked?”

“Yes,” Biden answered. “Yes, we have a commitment to do that.”

At the time, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki emphasized that there “has been no shift” in US policy towards Taiwan. 

“The President was not announcing any change in our policy nor has he made a decision to change our policy,” she said. “There is no change in our policy.”

In August, Biden also indicated that the US would respond with military support if Taiwan, Japan or South Korea were invaded.

“We have made — kept every commitment. We made a sacred commitment to Article 5 that if in fact anyone were to invade or take action against our NATO allies, we would respond,” the president said in an interview with ABC News. “Same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with — Taiwan. It’s not even comparable to talk about that.”

Soon after, a senior Biden administration official clarified that the US “policy with regard to Chinese-claimed Taiwan has not changed.”

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) blasted the White House for the repeated clarifications Monday, tweeting: “Does anyone at the #WhiteHouse actually respect the words of @POTUS?  Biden said we would defend #Taiwan, and the staff AGAIN walks back the Presidents own words! He needs to fire everyone who does this.”