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Biden's Asia policy

US vows to approach Taiwan with 'clarity and resolve'

Biden national security adviser warns against unilateral changes to status quo

The U.S. will continue its obligation to ensure Taiwan's self-defense capabilities and deepen ties with the island, President Joe Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Friday.   © Reuters

NEW YORK -- A comprehensive American strategy on China under President Joe Biden's administration is still in the works, but Washington has promised to approach the Taiwan issue with "steadiness and clarity and resolve."

"The American position on this is quite straightforward," U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Friday at a virtual forum held by the Aspen Institute. "We believe in the 'One China' policy, the full implementation of the Taiwan Relations Act, the six assurances ... and we oppose unilateral changes to the status quo."

His remarks came the day after Biden's 100th day in office -- a traditional milestone upon which an administration's early achievements are measured and the direction of its policy gauged.

While Sullivan spoke of "clarity," he framed it as not marking a shift from America's so-called strategic ambiguity on the island to an explicit promise to intervene in the event of Chinese military action against it.

The administration's stances are in line with bipartisan consensus on U.S.-China policy "going back decades," Sullivan said.

The need to increase pressure on Taiwan has been a "central feature" of China's current foreign policy under President Xi Jinping, who regards the island as "critical to Chinese prestige and stability over the long term," the national security adviser said.

So Washington needs to continue meeting its obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act to assist the island with its self-defense, to elevate its concerns on the issue with countries in the Indo-Pacific, and to continue to deepen our economic and educational people-to-people ties to Taiwan, Sullivan said.

"What we would like to see is stability in cross-strait relations and no effort to unilaterally change the status quo," Sullivan said, adding that the administration has communicated this to China and affirmed it to Taiwan, as well as U.S. partners including Japan.

When Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met with Biden in Washington in mid-April, the two leaders issued a joint statement underscoring "the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues."

China hit back at the statement, saying: "These matters bear on China's fundamental interests and allow no interference. We express strong concern and firm opposition to relevant comments in the joint leaders' statement."

Under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, the U.S. does not guarantee to intervene but provides arms and services to ensure that Taiwan has sufficient self-defense capabilities.

Under the "One China" policy, Washington "acknowledges the Chinese position" that there is but one China and that Taiwan is part of China. The U.S. recognizes the government of the People's Republic of China as the "sole legal government of China," but does not explicitly recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan.

This has been the "One China" policy that the U.S. has maintained since 1979. This is distinct from Beijing's "One China" principle, which considers Taiwan a Chinese province and part of its sovereign claim.

Sullivan's remarks Friday also came the day after Avril Haines, the U.S. director of national intelligence, told Congress that the Chinese would find a U.S. shift from strategic ambiguity "deeply destabilizing."

"I think it would solidify Chinese perceptions that the U.S. is bent on constraining China's rise, including through military force, and would probably cause Beijing to aggressively undermine U.S. interests worldwide," Haines testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

As Biden's presidency enters the next phase, the U.S. is still in the middle of policy reviews and consulting with allies to formulate a whole-of-government as well as multilateral strategy to counter China. These include addressing the economic, trade and technology challenge posed by Beijing.

"We have patience, and we are going to be systematic in how we approach this," Sullivan said, later adding that he believes Beijing is taking note.

Washington's goal is not to contain China or "start a new Cold War" or get into conflict, but to "compete vigorously and push back in service of our values and what we believe to be universal values," he said.

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