Politics

Biden says U.S. would respond militarily if China invades Taiwan; announces IPEF members


U.S. President Joe Biden said Monday that the U.S. would intervene militarily if China were to invade Taiwan, saying the burden to protect Taiwan is “even stronger’ after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It was one of the most forceful presidential statements in support of self-governing in decades.

Speaking alongside Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at a news conference in Tokyo, Biden said “yes” when asked if he was willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if China invaded. “That’s the commitment we made,” he added.

The U.S. traditionally has avoided making such an explicit security guarantee to Taiwan, with which it no longer has a mutual defense treaty. The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which has governed U.S. relations with the island, does not require the U.S. to step in militarily to defend Taiwan if China invades, but makes it American policy to ensure Taiwan has the resources to defend itself and to prevent any unilateral change of status in Taiwan by Beijing.

Biden’s comments were likely to draw a sharp response from the mainland, which has claimed Taiwan to be a rogue province.

A White House official said Biden’s comments did not reflect a policy shift.

Biden said any effort by China to use force against Taiwan would “just not be appropriate,” adding that it “will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”

China has stepped up its military provocations against democratic Taiwan in recent years aimed at intimidating it into accepting Beijing’s demands to unify with the communist mainland.

“They’re already flirting with danger right now by flying so close and all the maneuvers that are undertaken,” Biden said of China.

Under the “one China” policy, the U.S. recognizes Beijing as the government of China and doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. However, the U.S. maintains unofficial contacts including a de facto embassy in Taipei, the capital, and supplies military equipment for the island’s defense.

Biden said it is his “expectation” that China would not try to seize Taiwan by force, but he said that assessment “depends upon just how strong the world makes clear that that kind of action is going to result in long-term disapprobation by the rest of the community.”

He added that deterring China from attacking Taiwan was one reason why it’s important that Russian President Vladimir Putin “pay a dear price for his barbarism in Ukraine,” lest China and other nations get the idea that such action is acceptable.

Fearing escalation with nuclear-armed Russia, Biden quickly ruled out putting U.S. forces into direct conflict with Russia, but he has shipped billions of dollars in U.S. military assistance that has helped Ukraine put up a stiffer-than-expected resistance to Russia’s onslaught.

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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, U.S. President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pose for photos as they arrive at the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity launch event at the Izumi Garden Gallery in Tokyo on Monday. Photo: AP/Evan Vucci

Biden’s comments came just before he formally launched a long-anticipated Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) trade pact that includes the U.S., Japan and 11 other countries but excludes Taiwan.

The signatories are Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Along with the United States, they represent 40% of world GDP.

The countries said in a joint statement that the pact will help them collectively “prepare our economies for the future” following disruptions from the coronavirus pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed Sunday that Taiwan isn’t among the governments signed up for the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which is meant to allow the U.S. to work more closely with key Asian economies on issues like supply chains, digital trade, clean energy and anticorruption.

Inclusion of Taiwan would have irked China.

Sullivan said the U.S. wants to deepen its economic partnership with Taiwan on a one-to-one basis.

Biden also promised “concrete benefits” would emerge from the IPEF even as he warned Americans worried about high inflation that it was “going to be a haul” before they feel relief. He said he does not believe an economic recession is inevitable in the U.S.

Biden acknowledged the U.S. economy has “problems” but said they were “less consequential than the rest of the world has.”

He added: “This is going to be a haul. This is going to take some time,” even as he rejected the idea a recession in the U.S. was inevitable.

The White House said the IPEF will help the United States and Asian economies work more closely on issues including supply chains, digital trade, clean energy, worker protections and anticorruption efforts. The details still need to be negotiated among the member countries, making it difficult for the administration to say how this agreement would fulfill the promise of helping U.S. workers and businesses while also meeting global needs.

Critics say the framework has gaping shortcomings. It doesn’t offer incentives to prospective partners by lowering tariffs or provide signatories with greater access to U.S. markets. Those limitations may not make the U.S. framework an attractive alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which still moved forward after the U.S. bailed out. China, the largest trading partner for many in the region, is also seeking to join TPP.

“I think a lot of partners are going to look at that list and say: ‘That’s a good list of issues. I’m happy to be involved,’” said Matthew Goodman, a former director for international economics on the National Security Council during President Barack Obama’s administration. But he said they also may ask, “Are we going to get any tangible benefits out of participating in this framework?”

The 13 countries signing on to the framework will be announced later Monday. It’s the latest step by the Biden administration to try to preserve and broaden U.S. influence in a region that until recently looked to be under the growing sway of China.

Earlier Monday, Kishida hosted a formal state welcome for Biden at Akasaka Palace, including a white-clad military honor guard and band in the front plaza. Reviewing the assembled troops, Biden placed his hand over his heart as he passed the American flag and bowed slightly as he passed the Japanese standard.

Kishida, in brief remarks, said he was “absolutely delighted” to welcome Biden to Tokyo on the first Asia trip of his presidency. Along with Biden, he drove a tough line against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, saying it “undermines the foundation of global order.”

Biden, who is in the midst of a five-day visit to South Korea and Japan, called the U.S.-Japanese alliance a “cornerstone of peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific” and thanked Japan for its “strong leadership” in standing up to Russia.

Biden will wrap up his five days in Asia on Tuesday with the Quad meeting and one-on-one talks with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australia’s new prime minister, Anthony Albanese.

The center-left leader of the Australian Labor Party this weekend defeated incumbent Scott Morrison and ended nine years of conservative rule.

Modi, leader of the world’s biggest democracy, has declined to join the U.S. and other allies in levying sanctions against Russia over the invasion of Ukraine. In a video call last month, Biden asked Modi not to accelerate its purchase of Russian oil.

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Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.

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