US President Joe Biden’s volatility on the Taiwan issue has just thrown the island nation into a state of unprecedented crisis. We have seen Biden touch the two extremes of the Taiwan policy in an equally humiliating manner over a period of a few months. This has led to rising concern in the US over Taiwan’s fate.
In May, the US President made a dangerous statement. When asked if he was willing to “get involved militarily to defend Taiwan,” Biden had replied in a nonchalant “yes”. He had, in fact, claimed: “That’s the commitment we made.” It was, of course, a gaffe on Biden’s part. The official position is that the US scrapped its commitment to defend Taiwan in 1979 itself and has been rendering informal help to the island nation ever since to defend itself against a potential Chinese invasion. Biden’s comments had then risked a possible confrontation between Washington and Beijing while throwing Taiwan under the bus. Later, the White House had to go into damage control mode and clarify that the US policy had remained unchanged.
Yet, Biden has managed to put Taiwan at the risk of an even bigger threat. This time around, Biden hasn’t made an imprudent commitment to defend the island nation and get involved militarily. Rather, this time he has dropped the ball on the Taiwan front. In a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Biden seemed to give in to Beijing’s demands over Taiwan amidst growing concern in the US over the self-ruled island’s fate. In hindsight, it seems that Xi Jinping’s threats have forced Biden to bow down.
Pelosi’s Visit And Biden’s Abject Surrender
Taiwan has suddenly re-emerged as a source of friction between China and the US. It all started with speculations of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August. The visit would not be unprecedented as Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich too had travelled to the self-ruled island in 1997.
However, it is also true that a lot has changed over the past 25 years. The China of 2022 isn’t really the same as the China of 1997. Its leadership is now much more sensitive about the issue of Taiwan and shows a lot more willingness to use military force for ‘reunification’ of Taiwan with the Chinese mainland. China has, in part, benefitted from the benevolence of Western leaders like Joe Biden under whose watch China-US trade relationship blossomed in the twenty-first century.
Therefore, Pelosi’s speculated visit to the self-ruled island triggered some sharp and nasty remarks from Beijing. The Chinese Foreign Ministry reacted in a brash way. It said, “If the US insists on going down the wrong path, China will definitely take resolute and forceful measures to firmly defend its national sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The Foreign Ministry added, “The United States must be fully responsible for all the consequences caused by this.”
What the Chinese Foreign Ministry said is however just the tip of the iceberg and CCP-affiliated commentators seemed to go a step further. Hu Xijin, the former editor of Chinese State media-run Global Times and a particularly hawkish voice in China, said, “If the US can’t restrain her, let China restrain her & punish her.” He added, “[The Chinese] Air Force will surely make her visit a disgrace to herself and to the US.”
So, the world literally saw a former CCP-affiliate threaten one of the top US officials and strong-arm the Biden administration into abandoning Taiwan. A military power like the US could simply not afford to back down in face of over-the-top threats by a former loudmouthed editor. And for once, we did see some hint of bipartisan unity in the US Congress with both Republicans and Democrats putting their weight behind House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and urging her to follow through on her visit to Taiwan.
Yet, Biden doesn’t seem to echo the popular sentiment in the United States. The Biden administration was found working behind the scenes to somehow stop Pelosi from visiting the self-ruled island. Biden seemed to fire off the Pentagon’s shoulder for cancelling Pelosi’s high-profile visit. He even said that American military officials believe it is “not a good idea” for her to visit Taiwan at the moment.
On her part, Pelosi clarified, “I think what the President was saying is that maybe the military was afraid of my plane getting shot down or something like that. I don’t know exactly.” Yet, Biden’s final act is what seems to give away Taiwan to China on a platter.
How Biden Abandoned Taiwan
As if Biden’s public suggestion to Pelosi wasn’t enough, the US President also seemed to sacrifice Taiwan’s defence on a phone call with his Chinese counterpart.
It was a long phone call — 2 hours 17 minutes to be precise. A White House statement said that Biden “underscored that the United States policy has not changed and that the United States strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait”.
The statement added that the objective of the call was to “responsibly manage our differences and work together where our interests align”. However, it is Beijing’s statement that seems rather concerning. According to the statement, Xi emphasised the Chinese claim over the island. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, “Those who play with fire will perish by it.” The Ministry added, “It is hoped that the US will be clear-eyed about this.”
And in reply, all that the Biden administration could say was that it was managing “differences” and working together. This is the most unequivocal declaration of Taiwan getting sacrificed on Biden’s part. His weak response to Xi Jinping’s loud threats is bound to embolden Beijing to come up with plans to invade Taiwan.