Biden’s statement riled diplomats in D.C. and communist bosses in Beijing with a White House spokesman once again pressed into clean up duty, saying, “…our policy has not changed.”
The People’s Republic of China considers the self-ruled island nation of Taiwan to be one of its provinces even though the Chinese Communist Party has never ruled there.
The U.S. has a stronger security pledge to Taiwan, via the Taiwan Relations Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, than it made to Ukraine in 1994. But America’s commitment to protect Taiwan from any attempt by China to take the island democracy by force has always been couched in “strategic ambiguity”—meaning that America’s policy was to leave everyone in the region guessing as to what we would do.
Strategic ambiguity served two purposes. First, America’s “will we or won’t we?” stance complicated China’s war planning. If China invaded Taiwan but didn’t also attack American forces in the region at the onset of hostilities, then the U.S. would be better able to help Taiwan stave off attack. Second, it was feared that a clear pronouncement of support for Taiwan would encourage Taiwan to pursue a formal declaration of independence from China, thus goading China into war.
But strategic ambiguity isn’t what it used to be. China is much more powerful than it was in 1979. American credibility is at a nadir in the wake of last year’s embarrassing collapse in Kabul and the failure of deterrence in Ukraine. And, while no doubt tempered by Russia’s difficulties in its ongoing effort to subdue Ukraine, the Chinese Communist Party sees itself as having distinct advantages over Russia and the West in terms of its party discipline, ability to command a vast economy, and control its population.
Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton sees a link between Ukraine and Taiwan, connecting his vote for $ 40 billion in aid to help Ukraine to defend itself against Russia’s invasion as necessary because if China sees weakness on Ukraine, it will go for the jugular in Taiwan.
What’s at stake in Taiwan? Why should America care? There are three broad reasons why the U.S. has a major national security interest in seeing Taiwan’s democracy continue.