President Joe Biden’s off-script remarks regarding Taiwan have overshadowed the president’s first trip to Asia during his term.
President Joe Biden’s latest off-script remarks regarding Taiwan during a press conference in Japan have overshadowed the president’s first trip to Asia during his term.
- Biden said the US would intervene militarily if China invaded Taiwan, adding that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine made the US’s commitment to protect the island even more important.
- The president’s comments signaled a major Taiwan policy shift from the US’s posture of “strategic ambiguity”, but a senior administration official and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin quickly insisted there was no change.
- Biden’s Taiwan remarks came as his administration excluded Taiwan from Biden’s new Asian economic initiative to counter China, which includes thirteen Asian nations but not the island microchip powerhouse.
- Russian and Chinese jets conducted joint Asia-Pacific military exercises in a “pointed farewell” to the US president as Biden departed on Tuesday morning.
- The New York Times “The Daily” podcast assessed the implications of Biden’s apparent policy shift after decades of walking “a careful line” on Taiwan with China.
- CNN published a useful explainer on China-Taiwan tensions as relations have hit their “lowest point in decades – raising fears of military escalation.”
- Politico reported Biden’s pledge to defend Taiwan has “inflamed US-China relations.” A former US ambassador to China told Politico, “I still think this is Biden’s gut instinct reflected in mindless wording, not a policy reversal, but it is needlessly unsettling.”
- Fox News called Biden’s Taiwan gaffe “just [the] latest mistake that could start a war,” saying Biden’s comments could give China the excuse to take even more aggressive steps towards Taiwan and allow Xi Jinping to divert attention away from China’s draconian Covid lockdowns.
- The Commentary Podcast asked, “when Biden speaks, does he change policy?” as the hosts try to understand how seriously Americans should take Biden’s off-the-cuff comments if his staff are just going to walk them back, and what to make of the administration’s unusual (to put it kindly) communications.
- The Washington Examiner covered the staff walk-back of Biden’s comments, interviewing a Taiwan policy expert who called the “dissonance” in the Biden administration’s messaging “irresponsible.”
Are Biden’s off-the-cuff remarks the new Trump tweets? During the Trump administration, the Department of Justice and Department of Defense adopted the policy that Trump’s tweets did not constitute presidential directives and would only act on tweets if they were followed up with an official presidential directive. Before the Trump and Biden presidencies, presidential remarks were thought to carry the weight of policy. This is not normal.
Biden’s off-the-cuff remarks about defending Taiwan are just the latest unscripted moments to be quickly walked back by his staff. The president’s habit seems to be going off-script only on issues of tremendous geopolitical importance. Biden said the U.S. could tolerate a “minor incursion” into Ukraine just weeks before Russia invaded its neighbor. He told a crowd in Poland Putin ‘cannot remain in power,’ an apparent policy shift in favor of regime change.
In October, Biden said the US would defend Taiwan at a CNN town hall before his staff walked it back, only for him to double down once he arrived in Japan. Three major policy shifts. Four impromptu statements. Four hasty staff walk-backs. Who is really in charge, the elected president, or the unelected staff?
© Dominic Moore, 2022