Biden vows to protect Taiwan, launches Indo-Pacific trade pact
President Joe Biden launched a new trade deal with 12 Indo-Pacific nations Monday aimed at strengthening their economies. Mr. Biden also said the U.S. would intervene militarily if China were to invade Taiwan. But the island nation was not included in the trade deal.
| Tokyo and Washington
President Joe Biden said Monday that the United States would intervene militarily if China were to invade Taiwan, saying the burden to protect Taiwan is “even stronger” after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It was one of the most forceful presidential statements in support of self-governing in decades.
Mr. Biden, at a news conference in Tokyo, said “yes” when asked if he was willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if China invaded. “That’s the commitment we made,” he added.
Mr. Biden, who is in the midst of a five-day visit to South Korea and Japan, also launched a new trade deal with 12 Indo-Pacific nations Monday aimed at strengthening their economies.
As for Taiwan, speaking alongside Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Mr. Biden said any effort by China to use force against Taiwan would “just not be appropriate,” adding that it “will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”
The U.S. president called the U.S.-Japanese alliance a “cornerstone of peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific” and thanked Japan for its “strong leadership” in standing up to Russia.
The United States traditionally has avoided making such an explicit security guarantee to Taiwan, with which it no longer has a mutual defense treaty, instead maintaining a policy of “strategic ambiguity” about how far it would be willing to go if China invaded. The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which has governed U.S. relations with the island, does not require the U.S. to step in militarily to defend Taiwan if China invades, but makes it American policy to ensure Taiwan has the resources to defend itself and to prevent any unilateral change of status in Taiwan by Beijing.
Mr. Biden’s comments drew a sharp response from the mainland, which has claimed Taiwan to be a rogue province.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin expressed “strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition” to Mr. Biden’s comments.
“China has no room for compromise or concessions on issues involving China’s core interests such as sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
He added, “China will take firm action to safeguard its sovereignty and security interests, and we will do what we say.”
A White House official said Mr. Biden’s comments did not reflect a policy shift.
Under the “one China” policy, the U.S. recognizes Beijing as the government of China and doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. However, the U.S. maintains unofficial contacts including a de facto embassy in Taipei, the capital, and supplies military equipment for the island’s defense.
Taipei cheered Mr. Biden’s remarks, with Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Joanne Ou expressing “sincere welcome and gratitude” for the comments.
“The challenge posed by China to the security of the Taiwan Strait has drawn great concern in the international community,” said Ms. Ou. “Taiwan will continue to improve its self-defense capabilities, and deepen cooperation with the United States and Japan and other like-minded countries to jointly defend the security of the Taiwan Strait and the rules-based international order, while promoting peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.”
Taiwan left out of Indo-Pacific trade pact
Mr. Biden’s comments came just before he formally launched a long-anticipated Indo-Pacific trade pact that excludes Taiwan.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed Sunday that Taiwan isn’t among the governments signed up for the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which is meant to allow the U.S. to work more closely with key Asian economies on issues like supply chains, digital trade, clean energy, and anticorruption.
Nations joining the U.S. in the pact are: Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Along with the United States, they represent 40% of world GDP.
The countries said in a joint statement that the pact will help them collectively “prepare our economies for the future” after the fallout from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
“We are looking to deepen our economic partnership with Taiwan including on high technology issues, including on semiconductor supply,” Mr. Sullivan said. “But we’re pursuing that in the first instance on a bilateral basis.”
The framework is meant to establish Mr. Biden’s economic strategy for the region. Matthew Goodman, senior vice president for economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, suggested that some Pacific signatories will be disappointed because the pact is not expected to include provisions for greater access to the U.S. market.
“I think a lot of partners are going to look at that list and say: That’s a good list of issues. I’m happy to be involved,” said Mr. Goodman, a former director for international economics on the National Security Council during President Barack Obama’s administration. “But, you know, are we going to get any tangible benefits out of participating in this framework?”
Beijing, in anticipation of the launch of the pact, has criticized the U.S. effort.
“We hope they will build an open and inclusive circle of friends in Asia-Pacific, rather than an exclusive cliques, and do more for peace and development, rather than creating turmoil and chaos in the region,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.
Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, said the pact is focused on “issues that would matter most for American families,” like avoiding empty shelves in stores. “This framework will help us build more resilient early warnings for supply chains,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “We can solve those types of issues.”
Critics say the framework has gaping shortcomings. It doesn’t offer incentives to prospective partners by lowering tariffs or provide signatories with greater access to U.S. markets. Those limitations may not make the U.S. framework an attractive alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which moved forward without the U.S. after former President Donald Trump pulled out. China, the largest trading partner for many in the region, is also seeking to join TPP.
The launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, also known as IPEF, has been billed by the White House as one of the bigger moments of Mr. Biden’s Asia trip and of his ongoing effort to bolster ties with Pacific allies. Through it all, administration officials have kept a close eye on China’s growing economic and military might in the region.
This story was reported by The Associated Press. Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.