© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden attends an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) launch event at Izumi Garden Gallery in Tokyo, Japan, May 23, 2022. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
By Trevor Hunnicutt and Sakura Murakami
TOKYO (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday said there was no change to a U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan, a day after he angered China by saying he would be willing to use force to defend the island.
The issue of Taiwan loomed over a meeting in Tokyo of leaders of the Quad grouping of the United States, Japan, Australia and India, who stressed their determination to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific region in the face of an increasingly assertive China – though Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the group was not aimed at any one country.
All four leaders shared concerns about Ukraine, Kishida told a news conference after the talks ended.
While Washington is required by law to provide self-ruled Taiwan with the means to defend itself, it has long followed a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on whether it would intervene militarily to protect it in the event of a Chinese attack – a convention Biden had appeared to break with on Monday.
On Tuesday, Biden, asked if there had been any change to the U.S. policy on Taiwan, responded: “No.”
“The policy has not changed at all. I stated that when I made my statement yesterday,” he said after a round of talks with his Quad colleagues.
China considers Taiwan an inalienable part of its territory and says it is the most sensitive and important issue in its relationship with Washington.
Biden’s Monday comment, when he volunteered U.S. military support for Taiwan, was the latest in a series of apparently off-the-cuff assertions that suggest his personal inclination is to defend it.
Some critics have said he has misspoken on the issue, or made a gaffe, and his muddying of the issue risked accelerating China’s desire to act, without carrying the muscle of a formal security guarantee.
But other policy analysts have suggested that given Biden’s extensive foreign policy experience, and the context in which he made the remarks, next to Japan’s prime minister and after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, suggested he didn’t misspeak.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said on Monday that China had no room for compromise or concessions on matters relating to its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Taiwan was not an official item on the Quad agenda and Biden spoke more about Ukraine, condemning Russia’s invasion as a global issue.
“Russia’s assault of Ukraine only heightens the importance of those goals of fundamental principles of international order, territorial integrity and sovereignty. International law, human rights must always be defended regardless of where they’re violated in the world,” he said.
Biden said the United States would stand with its “close democratic partners” to push for a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Japan’s Kishida echoed Biden’s condemnation of Russia, saying its invasion “shakes the foundation of international order” and was a direct challenge to the principles of the United Nations.
“We should not allow similar things to happen in the Indo-Pacific region,” he said.
Kishida later told a news conference that all four leaders, including India, agreed on the importance of the rule of law, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
India has frustrated the United States with what it regards as a lack of support for U.S.-led sanctions on Russia and condemnation of its invasion, and abstained in U.N. Security Council votes on Russia’s invasion.
Though India has developed close U.S. ties in recent years and is a vital part of the Quad grouping, it also has a long-standing relationship with Russia, which remains a major supplier of its defense equipment and oil supplies.
New Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said that “strong views” were expressed in the talks about Russia but did not give details.
Albanese also said his goals were aligned with the priorities of the Quad, telling his fellow leaders he wanted them all to lead on climate change.
“The region is looking to us to work with them and to lead by example,” he said.
“That’s why my government will take ambitious action on climate change and increase our support to partners in the region as they work to address it, including with new finance.”
China has been extending its influence in the Pacific where island nations face some of the most direct risks from rising seas.