Over the weekend, President Joe Biden once again said that the United States is prepared to defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack. He chose his words very carefully.
In a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday night, Mr. Biden was asked by CBS News correspondent Scott Pelley whether U.S. troops would defend Taiwan, and he replied “yes,” if it were “an unprecedented attack.”
He went on to say Taiwan makes its “own judgments” about independence and the U.S. wasn’t “encouraging … their being independent.“
“That’s their decision,” he said.
“So unlike Ukraine, to be clear, sir,” Pelley said, “U.S. forces, U.S. men and women would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion?”
“Yes,” the president said.CBS News
I have bolded the words that seem not to have been heard by local pearl-clutchers. “Whatever happened to strategic ambiguity?” they gasp.
For a time, everyone* knew that the US would come to Taiwan’s aid if China attacked it, but the US trod very carefully with regard to encouraging explicit Taiwanese independence. I have bolded the words corresponding to Biden’s statement. I invite you to find the space between what everyone* knew and what Biden said last night.
I’ll start. He didn’t say something neutral and then smirk and say “strategic ambiguity,” as was done in the past. Diplomacy sometimes requires that sort of cover, but times change. This is what happens when everyone* fetishizes words over meaning. It is possible that what the pearl-clutchers call “walking back” is simply another version of “strategic ambiguity.” Do they imagine that Biden didn’t have this set up with his people all along?
*The blob and immediate environs