U.S. President Joe Biden said Tuesday that Washington's policy of "strategic ambiguity" toward Taiwan had not changed, despite earlier remarks that Washington would defend Taipei militarily. Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, May 24 (UPI) -- One day after he sparked outrage in China by claiming the United States would intervene militarily to protect Taiwan, U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday said Washington's policy of "strategic ambiguity" toward defending the island had not changed.
On Monday, Biden said the United States had a "commitment" to use its military to defend Taiwan in the event of an invasion attempt by Beijing, which has vowed to retake the self-governing island that it considers a wayward province.
Washington does not have diplomatic relations with Taipei but sells weapons to it under a 1979 law that stipulates threats to Taiwan are "of grave concern to the United States."
Policymakers have long maintained a stance of "strategic ambiguity" in how forcefully the United States would respond in defense of Taiwan.
On Tuesday, Biden was asked by reporters if that position had changed.
"No," he replied. "The policy has not changed at all." He declined to elaborate further.
China reacted sharply to Biden's remarks on Monday, with Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin saying that Washington should "immediately stop meddling in China's internal affairs."
"The Taiwan question is the most important and sensitive issue in China-U.S. relations," Wang said at a press briefing.
He warned that any moves by the United States to draw closer to Taiwan were "no different from playing with fire, which is very dangerous."
China's Taiwan Affairs Office also took issue with Biden's comments, saying the United States was "using the 'Taiwan card' to contain China, and will itself get burned," according to state news agency Xinhua.
Biden has made similarly off-script statements about Taiwan in the past, which officials have been quick to walk back. On Monday, the White House and the Pentagon clarified that Washington's position on Taiwan was not changing course.
"As the president said, our One China policy has not changed," U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at a press briefing. "He reiterated that policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also highlighted our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to help provide Taiwan the means to defend itself."
Under the One China policy, Washington recognizes Beijing's position that there is only one Chinese government but maintains a "robust unofficial relationship" with Taiwan and does not concede China's sovereignty over the democratic island of 23 million.
Biden's first presidential trip to Asia, which included stops in South Korea and Japan, looked to strengthen alliances and counter the growing economic and military power of China, which the administration has identified as its top foreign policy challenge.
Biden wrapped up his visit Tuesday in Tokyo by joining a summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with the leaders of Japan, Australia and India.