President Joe Biden talked tough when asked about keeping up militarily with China and defending Taiwan during a CNN town hall event on Thursday night.
The question came amid renewed questions about the island’s status with an assertive communist regime on the Chinese mainland.
A Republican college student asked Biden about a Chinese hypersonic missile test, which Beijing has denied, and whether he would vow to protect Taiwan. “Yes and yes,” the president responded.
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“Military, China, Russia, and the rest of the world know that we have the most powerful military in the history of the world,” Biden said after pausing to collect his thoughts. “Don’t worry about whether they’re gonna be more powerful. What you do have to worry about is whether or not they’re going to engage in activities that will put them in a position where they make a serious mistake.”
Biden repeated his claim to have spoken with Chinese President Xi Jinping “more than any other world leader has. ... You hear people sayin’ ‘Biden wants to start a new Cold War with China.' I don’t want a Cold War with China. I just want to make China understand that we are not going to step back, we are not going to change any of our views.”CNN’s Anderson Cooper cut in to ask Biden to clarify whether that would mean the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked.
“Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” Biden replied.
The actual U.S. position on Taiwan has been less clear since Washington recognized the communist government in Beijing in the 1970s.
Taiwan, known as the Republic of China, is an independent democratic island nation off the coast of mainland China. It receives American defense support but has not been formally recognized by the U.S. government since diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, the communist government on the mainland, were normalized.
The Chinese Communist Party has long sought to bring Taiwan under its control, but it has remained a separate, self-governing entity. The official U.S. policy on what would happen if China actually attacked Taiwan has been described as “strategic ambiguity.”
“The President was not announcing any change in our policy and there is no change in our policy,” a White House spokesperson said. “The U.S. defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. We will uphold our commitment under the Act, we will continue to support Taiwan's self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo.”
The implication has long been that the U.S. would disapprove of any Chinese incursions against Taiwan while stopping short of any explicit defense commitment to the island country.
This issue has come up before under Biden when U.S. commitments to allies were being questioned in the aftermath of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. ABC News's George Stephanopoulos pressed Biden on whether China could tell Taiwan, “See? You can't count on the Americans.”
Biden replied by comparing Taiwan to mutual defense obligations to NATO allies. “We have made — kept every commitment. We made a sacred commitment to Article V that if, in fact, anyone were to invade or take action against our NATO allies, we would respond,” he said. “Same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with Taiwan.”
The administration then clarified Biden was not announcing a change in U.S. policy on Taiwan.
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Biden was in Baltimore to speak to a town hall event on CNN that largely focused on his domestic agenda.
Jerry Dunleavy contributed to this report.