Amid what Taiwan's defense minister Chiu Kuo-cheng has just described as the worst tensions with China in 40 years following four days of consecutive PLA jet incursions into contested airspace near Taiwan, President Biden apparently sought to defuse tensions in a prior call with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Last month we warned that, for the people of Taiwan, it is officially "time to worry" about the prospect of an invasion, or another act of aggression, by Beijing to try and bring the independently governed island under the PROC's control - one of President Xi's loftiest geopolitical objectives as he prepares for an unprecedented third term as China's paramount leader. President Xi has been very clear with his rhetoric: Taiwan belongs to China (just like Hong Kong), and any foreign power that would meddle in the relationship (as the US is obligated to do, by treaty) could face the full military wrath of China.
As a series of increasingly aggressive military drills ratchets up tensions between Beijing and Taipei, President Biden - preoccupied with the battle at home over his domestic agenda - threw reporters for a loop late Tuesday when he told them after a long day of stumping behind the domestic agenda that he had spoken to President Xi about Taiwan and that they had agreed to abide by the "Taiwan agreement".
"I've spoken with Xi about Taiwan. We agree...we'll abide by the Taiwan agreement," he said. "We made it clear that I don't think he should be doing anything other than abiding by the agreement."
Reuters' Vincent Lee quickly pointed out that Biden appeared to be referencing a conversation from more than a month ago (not a recent call, as he seemed to imply) while also pointing out that there is no "Taiwan Agreement".
It surmised that Biden appeared to be referring to the Taiwan Relations Act, which binds the US to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing, not Taipei (while obligating the US to supply Taiwan with the means to defend itself).
Over the last couple of years, Beijing has made a stink about arms sales to Taiwan under the Trump Administration, with more deals expected under Biden and his successors.
Earlier this week, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki urged China on Monday to cease its “provocative military activity near Taiwan,” saying the action is “destabilizing, risks miscalculations and undermines regional peace and stability.”
Biden's remarks on the call were brief but clear while talking to reporters on the White House lawn...
Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that it had sought "clarification" from the US about Biden's comments, and was reassured that American policy toward Taiwan had not changed, and that the US commitment to them was "rock solid" - including the obligation to help maintain its military defense.
"Facing the Chinese government's military, diplomatic and economic threats, Taiwan and the United States have always maintained close and smooth communication channels," Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said, noting recent US comments of concern about China's activities.
Biden spoke to reporters about China after returning from a trip to Michigan to stump for his domestic agenda, which is presently caught in the middle of a bitter partisan fight among the Democrats.
Following the military drills over the weekend, the US on Sunday urged Beijing to stop with its provocative military "drills".
"The United States is very concerned by the People's Republic of China's provocative military activity near Taiwan, which is destabilizing, risks miscalculations, and undermines regional peace and stability," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement on Sunday.
But China is currently in the middle of its 'National Day' holiday. We wouldn't be surprised to see more "patriotic" demonstrations of China's rising military strength in the coming days. Meanwhile, Jake Sullivan, Biden's top NatSec advisor, is presently meeting a Chinese counterpart in Zurich.