Last week, President Biden set out a new position on Taiwan, reversing years of US ambiguity by saying he absolutely would go to war with China over the island. Since then, officials have been looking to dial that back.
The talk has been that Biden’s statement was a "gaffe," and officials are now trying to revise that by insisting US policy has not changed, in spite of Biden’s comments being a very direct change from the status quo.
Biden seemed to want to get out in front of tensions between China and Taiwan, but in committing the US explicitly to such a war, many warn that he is making military confrontation more likely. This was doubly the case when China responded by saying their position isn’t going to change.
Here's what he said in last Thursday's CNN town hall:
COOPER: "Are you saying that the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense?"— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) October 22, 2021
QUESTIONER: "If China attacked?"
BIDEN: "Yes, we have a commitment to do that." pic.twitter.com/YTgxMaD4MP
And on Friday the White House tried to downplay and walk back the comments:
"He wasn’t announcing a change in policy nor have we changed our policy," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. "We are guided by the Taiwan Relations Act."
The Defense Department too sought to dodge the implications of Biden's statements:
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday dodged questions about Biden’s remarks, and about whether the U.S. would defend Taiwan from a military attack by China.
"Nobody wants to see cross-strait issues come to blows, certainly not President Biden, and there’s no reason that it should," Austin said from NATO headquarters in Brussels. Austin also said the US remained committed to the Taiwan Relations Act and the "One China" policy.
Neither side is interested in talks or compromises, and the administration now seems to want to avoid further talk of Biden’s position by restoring some measure of ambiguity by offering contradictory statements on the matter. At best, that would put the US back in a position that Biden felt he needed to revise in the first place.
It isn’t about the internal doubts of Taiwan, but concerns with the reaction in Pacific nations — China’s own response, along with concerns about South Korea and other regional powers that the US is threatening stability.