President Joe Biden said the United States would respond militarily if China invaded Taiwan — a response that appeared to break with Washington’s long-standing policy of “strategic ambiguity” before the White House walked it back.

Asked during a news conference in Tokyo whether he would “get involved militarily to defend Taiwan” after not doing so in Ukraine, Biden said, “Yes, that’s the commitment we made.”

“We agree with the One China policy,” Biden said, speaking alongside Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. “We signed on to it, and all the attendant agreements made from there, but the idea that it can be taken by force, just taken by force, is just not appropriate. It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”


“It’s a burden that’s even stronger,” he added.

Taipei welcomed Biden’s remarks, with Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Joanne Ou expressing “sincere welcome and gratitude.”

The president said China is “already flirting with danger right now by flying so close and all the maneuvers they’re undertaking,” a reference to Beijing military aircraft flying within Taiwan’s defense zone.

The president’s comments prompted a flurry of condemnation from China, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin voicing “strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition” to the response.

“China has no room for compromise or concessions on issues involving China’s core interests such as sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Wang said. President Xi Jinping’s Communist Party claims the island, though it has never ruled it.

Wang added, “China will take firm action to safeguard its sovereignty and security interests, and we will do what we say.”

Biden earlier said that U.S. policy toward Taiwan “has not changed at all.” Later, the White House said Biden’s words did not signal a policy change. An official said Biden reiterated the One China Policy and stands by the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.

It was not the first time Biden or the White House has had to clarify his remarks on Taiwan, a sensitive issue on which certain words risk rapidly inflaming tensions with another nuclear power.

The comments recalled Biden’s pledge last year to defend Taiwan when he was asked about the potential threat of a Chinese hypersonic missile test during a town hall event. The White House later said there was no change in policy.


Biden also described Taiwan as “independent” while speaking to reporters in November last year before clarifying that he was not asserting its independence, merely talking about its need to make its own decisions.