Has Biden passed the point of no return in provoking China?

The US President has once again said American soldiers will defend Taiwan against potential Chinese aggression. Beijing can only stand such provocations for so long.

In an interview with CBS 60 minutes on Sunday, just before attending the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, US President Joe Biden answered “yes” to a question asking if US servicemen would be used to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

It’s not the first time Biden has made such direct comments regarding American involvement in a potential conflict. It’s actually the third time in a year. Yet each time, the White House has walked back on it stating the “policy has not changed” regarding the island.

But at this point in time, it can hardly be described as a gaffe worth overlooking, and Beijing is no longer likely to see it that way. In their eyes, the US policy of “strategic ambiguity” is coming to an end, with America moving irreversibly toward the de-facto support of Taiwan independence to contain China.

When the United States normalized relations with the People’s Republic of China in the 1970s and accepted the “One China Policy,” Congress quickly imposed the “Taiwan Relations Act” on the Presidency in order to legally entrench US commitment towards the island.

By stating that the US would support “peaceful reunification” but in the process was obligated to give the island a “means to defend itself”– the policy of strategic ambiguity was born, that is the lack of clarity as to whether the US would directly intervene in the event of a contingency.

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The US has made periodic weapons sales to the island which has enraged Beijing, yet things otherwise remained stable for decades bar one crisis in the 1990s. But now, we live in a completely different world. The US is increasingly abrogating its commitment to the “One China Policy” and “strategic ambiguity,” increasingly giving unconditional support to Taiwan with a view to obstructing reunification altogether.

Whilst the US continues to speak of maintaining the “status quo” it is quite obvious that its actions have sought to completely undermine the equilibrium between the two by backing Beijing into a corner.

Nancy Pelosi’s highly provocative visit, and the scores of hawkish US congressmen who have flowed in after, talk of the US pre-emptively placing sanctions on China over Taiwan irrespective of whether it invades or not, and the advancing of the Taiwan Policy Act which aims to give Taipei billions in military aid.

China’s stern response to these provocations, which involved considerable military exercises, did not deter the US or make it think twice at all. Rather, events in Ukraine – where Washington supports Kiev against Russia – have only emboldened the US to push forward with the Taiwan issue even more, precisely because it sits on the side lines and allows other countries to be destroyed whilst selling its arms and using mass media coverage to market it. Now, for example, Taiwan wants to buy HIMARS launchers from the US in 2023.

As a result of this, the United States sees growing opportunity in the ability to deliberately instigate conflict, blaming China as the aggressor. The only “strategic clarity” in the American approach seems to be the strategy of provocation, as the US shows no interest in peace or compromise.

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In this case, the US is already on its way to promoting the formal independence of Taiwan at all costs as a means of containing China. There is a widespread understanding that the US’s lip-service to the “One China Policy” is hollow, meaningless, and disingenuous. Biden’s repeated comments, that the US would defend the island only serves to decimate any trust that is left.

As this happens, Taipei has also become considerably more aggressive in its efforts to provoke Beijing, perceiving that the US has its back. Since the Pelosi visit, it followed up by inviting scores of US lawmakers and figures in the space of a month, sticking it to China once again.

This scenario means Beijing is essentially forced to act. What will it do in the face of such provocations as the strategic environment narrows? How does it respond to a US which is growing more and more aggressive by the week?

China is aware the consequences of starting a war may be disastrous and will benefit the US by allowing it to shape the global security landscape in its favour.

Yet, wars often emerge out of desperation and necessity, and whilst Beijing has tried to exert strategic patience over Taiwan, the window for peaceful reunification is very much closing.

This means a conflict in the future may be closer, or more likely than we think. The US of course knows that, and just like its aspirations with Ukraine, it very much hopes it can rally public opinion against China, force its allies to follow all its demands and make a fortune out of it in the process.

Strategic ambiguity is all but gone, no matter how many times Biden or the White House says, “we support the One China Policy.” Actions speak louder than words.

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