Concern in the South China Sea: Biden Remarks About Taiwan

Concern in the South China Sea: Biden Remarks About Taiwan
Photo by Lisanto 李奕良 / Unsplash

The last two years has seen increasing tensions between China and Taiwan with naval standoffs, airspace violations, and threatening overtures. Taiwan, which is formally known as the Republic of China, is the remnant state of the government of Chiang Kai-Shek, the former president of China who fought against the Japanese and the Communists before being forced into exile in the 1940s. The island of Taiwan has since been a hotbed of international diplomacy as mainland China regards them as a province in open revolt, not an independent state. Their policy towards the island has been one of reunification but standing in China’s way in this is and has been the United States. While this has occasionally led to military standoffs, for the most part it has been resolved diplomatically. China claims Taiwan but leaves it there, Taiwan remains independent, and the U.S. will generally stay out of it.

America’s policy in this region has generally been to not say anything too provocative that would by necessity urge a Chinese response. Taiwan knows they have a friend in America without having to call upon it openly. Due to the kind of say but don’t say policy of the United States, China has generally stayed away from the island to both save relations and maintain face. This could soon change as Biden made strong overtures about protecting the island in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. During a Japanese-American conference in Tokyo, Taiwan was mentioned multiple times during Biden’s speech, as well as in the questioning after. Biden claimed that any action against Taiwan would “dislocate the entire region,” and be “similar to what happened in Ukraine.” Though this policy has been the same for decades now, as the U.S. has not said it will directly intervene in Taiwan should China attack, the U.S. instead gives Taiwan the capabilities to defend itself. The big difference here is that the U.S. has often just done this without actually saying it, in an attempt to not force China to give a response, appropriate or not.

It would seem then that this stance was not entirely intentional to make a different point than previous presidents have said, but with the situation in the global community, the difference is important. With the conflict in Ukraine raging putting down America’s foot to potentially aggressive foreign policy is a step in the right direction. Further than this drawing a comparison to what Russia is doing, and what China may do has raised some questions. The NATO assistance program to the Ukraine may mean there is already a plan in place to support Taiwan in a similar manner should the need arise, although the United States already sends military equipment to the island nation. Although a conflict with China is unlikely, the annexation of Hong Kong has opened the door for China to continue their expansionist policies without much deterrence from the west. While it is unclear whether or not they intend to do so, the sanctions that would hit China would be much more severe than the ones that have been imposed on Russia as China relies heavily on global trade to maintain their economy.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has not been silent on these matters either as their spokesperson Wang Wenbin said today that they express “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to the remarks by the US,” and that “there is but one China in the world.” This may seem aggressive and that they plan to reunify all of China’s claims, but this kind of rhetoric is what the Chinese government has been known for since there was more than one nation claiming to be the true China. What this means for the future though will likely be revealed in the coming days as China prepares and official response to Biden’s comments.