President Joe Biden said Monday that the United States would be willing to intervene militarily if China were to invade the self-governing island of Taiwan, again sowing confusion over American policy in the region.
Speaking during a news conference in Tokyo alongside Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Biden said Beijing was already “flirting with danger” with its recent decision to hold military drills near Taiwan, which China views as its own territory.
The question came up in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons,” a reporter asked. “Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?”
“Yes,” Biden responded.
“That’s the commitment we made,” he added.
Shortly after the president’s comments, a White House official appeared to walk back the declaration that the U.S could intervene militarily.
“As the President said, our policy has not changed. He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” the official said. “He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”
Similar comments Biden made about Taiwan have prompted confusion in the past.
While the U.S. is required by law to provide Taiwan with defensive weapons, a policy of “strategic ambiguity” has long made it unclear what exactly America would do if Taiwan were attacked.
During the news conference, Biden said Washington’s “policy toward Taiwan” had “not changed at all.”
Chinese officials did not immediately respond to Biden’s comments.
Biden said the U.S. will continued to act in line with the One China policy, which recognizes Washington’s formal relationship with Beijing, but added: “We remain committed to supporting the peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits and ensuring there’s no unilateral change to the status quo.”
Under the One China policy, the U.S. does not have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but it does maintain an unofficial embassy on the island.
During the news conference, Biden also addressed concerns over the possibility of a recession in the U.S.
Asked whether he believed a recession in the U.S. was inevitable, Biden responded with a simple: “No.”
With the U.S. facing record high inflation and supply shortages fueled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Biden acknowledged that the U.S. had “problems that the rest of the world has.” However, he said those issues were “less consequential than the rest of the world has.”
The president said the U.S. was in for “a haul” and that addressing supply shortages and high energy prices deepened by the war in Ukraine would “take some time.” However, he said he ultimately did not believe a recession was unavoidable in the U.S.
Asked whether the U.S. was considering lifting tariffs on Chinese imports to reduce the impact on consumers and businesses in the U.S., Biden said he was “considering it.”
“We did not impose any of those tariffs and they’re under consideration,” he said.
During an earlier meeting in Tokyo, Kishida said Biden confirmed that the U.S. would support Japan becoming a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council as the two countries sought to deepen cooperation on security issues.
“The Pacific Ocean does not separate Japan and the United States,” Kishida said.
In a readout of Biden’s meeting with Kishida, the White House said Biden had met with his Japanese counterpart to advance cooperation “on a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues.”
The two leaders committed to working closely together to address security challenges, including North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, as well as China’s “increasingly coercive behavior that runs counter to international law,” the White House said.
They further agreed to deepen cooperation in a number of areas, including emerging technologies, supply chain security and clean energy.
Associated Press contributed.