National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday that President Joe Biden was answering a “hypothetical question” when he told 60 Minutes that he would come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked.
“He was asked a question, a hypothetical question in this interview,” Sullivan said at the White House news conference. “She gave a similar response in Tokyo in May to the one he gave in the 60 Minutes interview,” Sullivan noted.
Sullivan reminded reporters that after Biden was asked about Taiwan in Tokyo, someone specifically told him, “Did you just announce a major policy change?” and he said, “No, I haven’t, I’ve answered a hypothetical question. I haven’t announced a policy change.”
‘When the president of the United States wants to announce a policy change, he will. He hasn’t,” Sullivan said.
During a segment on 60 Minutes, which aired Sunday, Biden answered “yes” when asked if “American forces, American men and women, would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.”
“Yes, if indeed there was an unprecedented attack,” Biden said.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday that President Joe Biden was answering a “hypothetical question” when he told 60 Minutes that he would come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked.
President Joe Biden said during a 60 Minutes interview that aired Sunday that “yes,” US forces would defend Taiwan in the event of an “unprecedented attack.”
China considers Taiwan part of China, while Taiwan has its own democratic government, a split that came about after the 1949 civil war that ended when the communists took over the mainland. The United States does not officially recognize the Taiwanese government, but sells arms to Taipei.
Biden’s comments further angered the Chinese, with Beijing saying Monday that the “American comments” violated a long-standing policy that the United States does not support Taiwan independence.
“China strongly deplores and rejects it and has lodged solemn complaints with the US side,” spokeswoman Mao Ning said, according to The Associated Press.
Sullivan said Tuesday that US support for the so-called one China policy remains firm.
“Well, as the president said in his interview with 60 Minutes, we continue to support the one-China policy, we continue to oppose unilateral changes to the status quo, and we continue to uphold peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” Sullivan said.
“The president has reiterated those basic commitments every time he has spoken about Taiwan, including in this interview,” Sullivan said, pointing to the 60 Minutes meeting. “Where he specifically, emphatically and unequivocally reinforced and reiterated the One China policy.”
In the briefing, Sullivan was asked if Biden’s comments should be considered a strategic deterrent, if by responding to a hypothesis he was “delivering an explicit message” to Beijing.
“Well, all I’m going to say is that the president is a direct, direct person,” Sullivan replied. He answered a hypothetical. He has responded before in a similar way. And he has also made it clear that he does not and has not changed US policy towards Taiwan.”
“He supports America’s historic policy toward Taiwan that has existed through Democratic and Republican administrations and has helped maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait for decades,” the national security adviser added.
During his visit to Tokyo in May, Biden replied “yes” and added “it’s a commitment we made” when asked by a reporter if he would be willing to get involved militarily if China invaded Taiwan.
“But the idea that you can take by force, just take by force, is just not appropriate,” Biden said. “It will dislocate the entire region and it will be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”
“My expectation is that it will not happen, it will not be attempted,” the president added.
The White House was asked almost immediately to clarify Biden’s comments, and an anonymous official responded by saying “our policy has not changed.”
He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself,” the official said.
More recently, however, China has stepped up military exercises near Taiwan around House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to visit the self-governing island in August.
She was the highest-ranking US official to visit since House Speaker Newt Gingrich made the trip in 1997.
Since Pelosi’s trip, several US lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, have visited Taiwan as a show of support.