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President Joe Biden on Thursday didn’t hesitate when asked whether the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked.
“Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” Biden said during a CNN town hall in Baltimore.
But the White House later clarified the president’s comments, telling POLITICO that there had been no change in policy.
“The U.S. defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act,” a White House spokesperson said. “We will uphold our commitment under the Act, we will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo.”
Biden made a similar comment in August during an interview with ABC News. After the president suggested that the U.S. would defend the island if there were an attack, a deviation from the United States’ long-held position, the White House said the president misspoke.
While Washington is required by the Taiwan Relations Act to provide the country with defense resources, it has followed a policy of “strategic ambiguity” when it comes to military intervention to protect Taiwan if China attacks.
The White House in recent weeks has projected the message that the U.S. commitment to Taiwan is “rock solid” as tensions rise between the country and China. Earlier this month, China sent dozens of war planes over Taiwan’s air defense zone. Taiwan has condemned the incursions as part of Beijing’s increasing military harassment.
China has defended the actions as “just” and necessary for maintaining stability in the region. Beijing still sees Taiwan as part of its own territory, though the countries split in 1949.
The U.S. does not formally recognize Taiwan, but it maintains an unofficial relationship and supports its democratic government.
A top Taiwanese security official said this week that the chances of war with China in the next year were “very low,” according to Reuters.
“I think, generally, within one year, the probability of war is very low,” National Security Bureau Director-General Chen Ming-tong told a parliamentary defense committee meeting.
“But there are many things you still have to pay attention to, called contingent events.”
Alex Ward contributed to this report.