China has warned that the United States is “playing with fire” after President Joe Biden said that Washington would defend Taiwan militarily if the self-governed island is attacked by Beijing.
The Chinese State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office said on Monday that the US is “using the ‘Taiwan card’ to contain China, and will itself get burned”.
State outlet Xinhua cited the office’s spokesperson Zhu Fenglian as saying that he urges the US to “stop any remarks or actions that violate” previously established principles between Beijing and Washington.
Speaking from Tokyo during a trip to Asia, Biden had answered with an unambiguous “yes” when asked by reporters whether the US would “get involved militarily” to defend Taiwan if it is attacked by China.
Pressed further about the apparent shift in US policy, Biden said: “That’s the commitment we made.”
“Look, here’s the situation: We agree with the ‘One China’ policy; we’ve signed on to it and all the attendant agreements made from there,” the US president added. “But the idea that it can be just taken by force is just not appropriate.”
While Biden is prone to gaffes, this is not the first time he has voiced commitment to Taiwan’s security.
During a town hall hosted by CNN last October, the US president also said the US would come to Taiwan’s defence if China tries to capture the island.
Beijing still claims Taiwan, whose formal name is the Republic of China, as a province and has not ruled out unifying the two sides by force.
Washington has warm ties with Taiwan, but it officially pursues a “One China” policy, which states there is a single China but does not define it.
Despite not having official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the US describes the island as a “partner”. It also sells weapons to Taiwan and has strong trade relations with the island.
Meanwhile, the relationship between Washington and Beijing has been tested in the past few years as the US prioritised strategic competition with China in its foreign policy under former President Donald Trump, a position fully embraced by Biden.
On Monday, Pentagon officials in Washington were quick to stress that Biden’s comments do not signal a change in the US position.
“As the president said, our ‘One China’ policy has not changed. He reiterated that policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters at the Pentagon.
Standing alongside Austin, top US general Mark Milley declined to answer a question on the risks that would be involved in defending Taiwan in the case of a Chinese invasion.
Asked whether he supports sending US troops to Taiwan, Milley said: “I will render my advice at the moment in time to the president and the secretary of defence.”