President Biden’s remarks at a CNN town hall on Thursday that the US would come to Taiwan’s aid in the event of a Chinese attack it has caused confusion and anger around Washington, Beijing and the Western Pacific. The White House and administration have scrambled to either walk back or clarify Biden’s comments without much success. The Chinese government’s response was foreseeably stern. “When it comes to issues related to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and other core interests, there is no room for China to compromise or make concessions, and no one should underestimate the strong determination, firm will and strong ability of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told the AP.
This is the second time in his short tenure as president that Biden has publicly said the United States will aid or defend Taiwan if China attacks. Given the current state of the US-China relationship, ill-considered comments are bound to have an effect on future decisions and action by both sides. At first glance, it doesn’t seem that Biden and his handlers really grasp the fact that the game has changed. China is no longer a nation-state hemmed in by adherence to the main components of international order. The PRC has reached the point where it feels confident enough to move in direct contrast to the rules and norms of the international community. China’s moves in the South China Sea and Hong Kong, along with Beijing’s response to investigations on the origins of COVID-19 are examples of China throwing caution to the wind, so to speak. Xi Jinping’s behavior and actions in the last eighteen months have made it apparent that Chinese foreign policy and economy are driven by expansionism. These drives are being fueled by China’s growing military capabilities in the Pacific region and beyond.
US policies, actions and rhetoric have yet to catch up. Even as members of his own party become more cognizant of these realities, Biden continues to regard China as an up-and-comer instead of as a threat to American security and interests.