“This is the commitment we have made,” said the American president, questioned during a press conference in Tokyo to find out whether the United States would intervene militarily in the event of a Chinese attempt to seize Taiwan by strength.
But the White House and then the Pentagon hastened to declare that American policy had “not changed”, despite these remarks which immediately aroused the ire of Beijing.
Joe Biden made similar statements eight months ago, which did not, however, have the same brilliance as this assertion launched in the middle of a diplomatic tour in Asia.
Since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, the island with a population of 24 million has been ruled by a rival regime to the Communist regime that governs mainland China. Which intends to “reunify” the island territory to “the motherland”.
The United States, since 1979, diplomatically recognizes only mainland China. At the same time, they promised to give Taiwan the military means to defend itself, but without explicitly promising American intervention.
This doctrine in which every word counts is known as “strategic ambiguity”. A concept since recycled in its own way by the Republican opposition in the United States, which on the contrary calls for “strategic clarity”, in other words an explicit promise to defend Taiwan against an ever more powerful and ambitious China.
– “Strategic clarity” –
For Sung Wen-ti, an expert at the Australian National University, Joe Biden “wants the butter and the butter’s money” by making such remarks, followed by a backpedal from his government.
“This gives the impression of greater American determination, which meets an objective of strategic clarity, but without having the cost,” he analyzes.
Bonnie Glaser, director for the Asia region of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, believes that Joe Biden may also have wanted to reassure his host, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, after the latter expressed concern for stability in the region.
The US president “weakened the doctrine of strategic ambiguity and I think it was deliberate,” she said, while noting that he still left some doubt about exactly what form US support would take.
“The confusion around our policy undermines the deterrent effect,” warns the expert.
– China is not Russia –
With his remarks, Joe Biden underlined a strong contrast with his approach to the war in Ukraine, marked by a repeated refusal, for the unambiguous blow, of any dispatch of American troops.
The United States has sent and continues to send massive military assistance to Ukraine, but the American president has repeatedly said that he does not want to start a third world war through a direct confrontation with Russia .
China, like Russia, has nuclear weapons. But unlike Moscow, Beijing is considered by Washington as the one and only adversary of its size.
Moreover, Taiwan, beyond purely strategic aspects, is an indispensable source of computer components for the United States — the island manufactures 92% of the world’s advanced semiconductors, according to a study by the Center for a New American Security.
So many reasons for the United States to overcome its reluctance to take up the subject of Taiwan head-on. Washington is pushing, for example, for the island to be more integrated into international organizations.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton, voicing the thinking of conservative “hawks,” said the time had come for Joe Biden to formalize a doctrinal shift in a proper speech.
“Without this, the continuing ambiguity and uncertainty will certainly have a provocative effect on the Chinese Communists, without having a deterrent effect — the worst-case scenario,” he warned.