Mr. Biden had ignored the practiced imprecision of his predecessors with regard to China and Taiwan before in his presidency. Last August, in reassuring allies after his decision to abandon the government of Afghanistan, he promised that “we would respond” if there was an attack against a fellow member of NATO and then added, “same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with Taiwan.”
Taiwan, however, has never been granted the same U.S. security guarantees as Japan, South Korea or America’s NATO allies, and so the comment was seen as significant. Two months later, Mr. Biden was asked during a televised town hall if the United States would protect Taiwan from attack. “Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” he said. That also set off a frantic scramble by the White House to walk back his remark by insisting that he was not changing longstanding policy.
Indeed, the president has made a habit of disregarding the cautions his staff would prefer he take in confronting overseas adversaries. In March, Mr. Biden went further than his administration had gone by calling President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia a war criminal in response to a reporter’s question. Barely a week later, he caused a stir when he ad-libbed a line at the end of a speech in Poland declaring that Mr. Putin “cannot remain in power.”
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been watched closely in Asia for whatever lessons it would hold for China’s longstanding ambition to reincorporate Taiwan. If Russia had succeeded in conquering Ukraine, once part of its empire, some feared it would offer a dangerous precedent. Yet Russia’s abject failure to take over the entire country and the unified Western response may serve as a red flag to military adventurism.
China, which has considered Taiwan to be one of its provinces for more than seven decades, sent 14 aircraft into the island’s air defense zone last week on the day that Mr. Biden arrived in Asia, according to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry, part of a pattern of increasing incursions over the last year. Taiwan scrambled fighter jets in response, but no direct conflict was reported.
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry welcomed Mr. Biden’s latest comments on Monday, expressing “gratitude” to the president for affirming America’s “rock-solid commitment to Taiwan.” In a statement, the ministry said Taiwan would “continue to improve its self-defense capabilities and deepen cooperation with the United States and Japan and other like-minded countries.”
Beijing, on the other hand, issued a ritual rejection of the president’s remarks. “On issues concerning China’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and other core interests, China has no room for compromise,” Wang Wenbin, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters, adding that no one should underestimate China’s determination to defend itself.