Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday dodged questions about whether the U.S. would defend Taiwan against an invasion from China.
“In accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, you know, we were committed to helping Taiwan develop the capability to defend itself and that work has gone on over time,” Austin told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on “GPS.”
President Biden last month in a “60 Minutes” interview said the U.S. military would take action to defend Taiwan against “an unprecedented attack,” a position that takes a step further than the U.S. is obligated under current policy.
The 1979 policy committed the U.S. to helping provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, but didn’t commit troops. Biden’s recent interviews, though, have suggested that the U.S. would intervene in a potential invasion from China, which claims the self-governed island as its own.
Pressed on the discrepancy, Austin said “the American military is always prepared to protect our interests and live up to our commitments” but didn’t confirm whether the U.S. was specifically prepared to intervene in a China-Taiwan spat.
“I think the president was clear in providing his answers as he responded to a hypothetical question, but, again, we continue to work to make sure that we have the right capabilities in the right places to ensure that we help our allies maintain a free and open Indo Pacific,” Austin said.
Tensions further heightened earlier this year when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) added Taiwan to her congressional delegation tour of Asia. China was vocal about its upset over the visit and appeared to retaliate against the island.
The defense secretary on Sunday said he didn’t see “an imminent invasion” on the horizon, but noted that China appears to be trying to establish “a new normal” by increasing its presence in the air space and waters around the Taiwan Strait.
The U.S. has maintained a stance of strategic ambiguity with regard to China and Taiwan, maintaining the Taiwan Relations Act but also accepting the “One China” policy, under which Taiwan isn’t recognized as a state separate from China.