From Strategic Ambiguity to Strategic Confusion?


It is time for the US to take the lead and influence President Xi and the CCP to act like adults and understand that peaceful trade is far more productive than a military takeover

Biden’s comments did not reflect a policy shift away from the one China policy, said a White House official. Pic – ANI news

By Anil Madan

President Biden’s remarksduring a joint news conference with Prime Minister Kishida in Japanabout whether the US would intervene militarily if China invaded Taiwan, have drawn the ire of the Chinese Communist Party and prompted much speculation about whether Biden’s statements were calculated or a gaffe by an aging politician.

To get some perspective, we might start with a transcript of Biden’s remarks at the press conference. (N.B. This is my transcription of what I heard on the video). The relevant portion:

Reporter: Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?


Reporter: You are?

Biden: That’s the commitment we made. That’s the commitment we made… We agree with the One China policy… But the idea that it can be taken by force is just not appropriate. It would dislocate the entire region and be another actionsimilarto what happened in Ukraine, so it’s a burden that is even stronger.

This doesn’t sound to me like a gaffe. Rather, it seems more an attempt to rethink Biden’s mistaken equivocal responses about Ukraine. It seems to evince a desire not to repeat what could only have been a message to Russia that it would face no military opposition from NATO and the US if it invaded Ukraine.In fact, President Biden explicitly said as much when he equated a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and noted that the burden (on the US) is even stronger. In a previous comment, I explained my view that Biden blinked when it came to Ukraine and that his equivocating has brought us to where we are. Clearly, his comments in Tokyo were a forceful attempt to forestall a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Or at least an attempt to forestall Chinese adventurism along the lines of Putin’sUkraine invasion.

The problem is that White House and the US diplomacy and defense establishment bureaucracies sprang into action almost immediately to explain away Biden’s remarks. And at the same time, the Chinese Communist Party’s apparatchiks sprang into their chorus of petulant juvenile laments. It was almost a foregone conclusion that some Chinese official would declare that Taiwan is strictly an “internal affair” as far as China is concerned and that China would not compromise on its sovereignty or territorial integrity. Spare me, the childish antics. And, if we take a closer look at the American bureaucrats’ “explanations” we see that they really did not detract from Biden’s basic message.

Let us first understand what the one China policy is and what strategic ambiguity means.

The one China doctrine or policy (depending on which side you are on) dates to the end of the Chinese civil war when the victorious Communist Party declared that the mainland was the People’s Republic of China. Meanwhile, the defeated Kuomintang (KMT) relocated to Formosa or Taiwan and pretended to still rule China. The Communist Party not only rejected the KMT’s claim to be the legitimate ruler of China but also claimed that Taiwan was an integral part of China and that they would use force if Taiwan ever threatened to formalize its break with the mainland by declaring independence.

Of course, China was in no position to invade Taiwan and take it over by force. And so, the status quo remains that Taiwan, an independent nation in all but recognition by the CCP, has lived with the Sword of Damocles hanging over it.

To make a long story short and perhaps to oversimplify matters, when the US sought to establish diplomatic relations with China, it essentially agreed to recognize China’s claim that that there is only one China and to break diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Of course, the US found a way to maintain informal relations with Taiwan. The US also passed the Taiwan Relations Act under which it guaranteed support to Taiwan to defend itself. So far, this has meant arms sale, training and joint military exercises, but not necessarily direct military involvement in case of an attack by China.

The US recognizes the People’s Republic of China as the only legitimate government of mainland China and acknowledges, but does not agree with, China’s claim that Taiwan is an integral part of China.

When it comes to defense of Taiwan, the US has maintained what has come to be known as “strategic ambiguity” about whether it would come to Taiwan’s assistance if China attacked the island.Let us be realistic about this. From 1949 when the KMT retreated to Taipei until perhaps 2010, China was not about to invade Taiwan especially if the US came to Taiwan’s aid. Since then, China’s military prowess has been growing. There are still some who question whether China has the capability to mount a successful amphibious invasion of the island. And there is talk by Taiwanese diplomats about the need to emulate some of the asymmetric warfare strategies that the Ukrainians have successfully used. But it does seem inevitable that in the next 10-20 years, China will likely have the capability to invade Taiwan.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry thanked Biden for reaffirming US support for the island if Beijing invaded.

However, China’s Foreign Ministry expressed “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition.” Then there were the obligatory remarks that China has no room for compromise or concessions relating to matters of sovereignty and territorial integrity. In a petulant addendum, the spokesperson declared: “No one should underestimate the strong determination, firm will, and strong ability of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and do not stand against the 1.4 billion Chinese people.” Of course, the CCP probably does not speak for 1.4 billion Chinese people but that is another matter.

The apparent purpose of the doctrine of strategic ambiguity has been to dissuade the CCP from attacking Taiwan while keeping Taiwan from taking US support for granted and provoking China by declaring independence.

A White House official quickly said that Biden’s comments did not reflect a policy shift away from the one China policy. But this is meaningless. The US has surely never reconsidered the idea that there is only one China.

It is time to recognize that there is one China but also one Taiwan. Surely, the adult response is for the US to convince Taiwan to agree that it no longer has any claim to the Chinese mainland.

The stakes are not difficult to contemplate. Taiwan’s people have a democratic society and a productive economy that does significant volumes of trade with both the US and mainland China. The CCP does not need more land or more people. In the long run, trading with Taiwan is a far more productive proposition for the CCP than is satisfying some imagined national pride that an island remaining independent for 73 years is a vital necessity for China.

We should also not underestimate the importance of the Taiwanese manufacturers as supplies of semiconductors, scientific and medical equipment, and, in general, to the worldwide supply chain of engineered products.

Biden is right to point out that an invasion of Taiwan equates to an invasion of Ukraine and that such an action would destabilize the entire Pacific region.

It is time for the US to take the lead and influence President Xi and the CCP to act like adults and understand that peaceful trade is far more productive than a military takeover of an unwilling people. We have seen too much killing over imagined national pride over the course of human history and most recently in Ukraine.

If President Biden’s remarks reflect this reality, we should welcome them. If he blundered into them, it is a more welcome blunder than the blunder that Putin gave us.


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 27 May 2022

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