Biden: America Will Defend Taiwan

The President continues his recent penchant for saying the quiet part out loud.

WSJ (“Biden Says U.S. Would Intervene Militarily if China Invaded Taiwan“):

President Biden said the U.S. would respond militarily to defend Taiwan if China tries to take it by force, sparking uncertainty over whether the U.S. was moving away from its longstanding policy of strategic ambiguity and prompting a clarification from the White House.

Mr. Biden’s comments were met with anger from Beijing and praise from Taipei. They were also part of a pattern: In August and October of last year, the president answered questions on Taiwan by suggesting a break in U.S. policy toward the democratically self-ruled island, only to have aides jump in to say nothing had changed.

This time, he chose a venue much closer to Beijing. Mr. Biden spoke Monday alongside the Japanese prime minister in Tokyo during his first trip to Asia as commander-in-chief.

The president was asked if the U.S. would get involved militarily in response to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan after declining to send American troops to Ukraine to fight Russia’s invasion.

“Yes. That’s the commitment we made,” he said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin raised his voice when asked at a regular briefing about Mr. Biden’s remarks and said Beijing was strongly dissatisfied by them.

China “has no room for compromise and concession” on core concerns like Taiwan and “will take firm action to safeguard its sovereignty and security interests,” Mr. Wang said. “We do what we say.”

Mr. Biden, in his Monday remarks, stressed that the U.S. remains committed to the bedrock “One China policy,” which recognizes the present rulers as the only legitimate government and acknowledges—but doesn’t endorse—Beijing’s claim that Taiwan is a part of the nation. But the president said that policy doesn’t give China the right to forcefully take over the island.

“We agree with the One China policy and all the attendant agreements we made. But the idea that it can be taken by force, just taken by force, would just not be appropriate,” Mr. Biden said. “It would dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine. So, it’s a burden that is even stronger.”

He also played down the possibility that China would try to take Taiwan.

“My expectation is that it will not happen, it will not be attempted,” Mr. Biden said, adding that it is important for world leaders to send a strong message that there will be consequences if Beijing takes such action.

Taiwan is thankful to the U.S. for its “rock solid” commitment, foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said.

“Our government’s determination to firmly defend Taiwan’s freedom, democracy and security has never changed, and we will continue to improve self-defense capabilities,” she said in a written statement.

Responding to Mr. Biden’s comment, a White House official underscored the president’s assertion that American policy toward Taiwan hasn’t changed. The official said Mr. Biden was referring to the U.S. obligation to bolster Taipei’s ability to defend itself, which is enshrined in the Taiwan Relations Act.

The act, passed in 1979, portrays any attempt to determine Taiwan’s political future through anything other than peaceful means as a threat to American interests. Congress is committed to selling defensive weapons to Taiwan, but Washington has previously avoided saying whether it would intervene directly in the event of an invasion.

As has happened so many times in recent months, the President is speaking the blunt truth in departure from longstanding practice. For complicated reasons, the United States maintained that the rump government that fled the mainland for Formosa/Taiwan was the legitimate government of China when Mao on the Communists took over in 1949. That softened in 1972 when President Nixon did that thing that only he could do and changed altogether when President Carter formally recognized the PRC on January 1, 1979.

As part of that opening, the United States formally ended the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty, which committed us to the defense of Taiwan, and agreed to pretend that there was but One China. Nearly simultaneously, though, the Taiwan Relations Act went into effect, essentially stating that, while the United States would have no formal diplomatic relations with the “governing authorities on Taiwan,” it would have unofficial official relations.

For all intent and purposes, we treat Taiwan as an independent country. While we have maintained a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on the matter, we have also long been unofficially committed to the defense of Taiwan from a Chinese invasion as though they were still a treaty ally.

This is all manifestly silly. A series of legal fictions. And China is fully aware of all of this and has been since the beginning. But, oftentimes in diplomatic relations, fictions are enough. China gets to pretend that the United States recognizes that there is but One China and that they have the right to take Taiwan back, by force if necessary, any time they choose. And the United States pretends that World War III wouldn’t thereby ensue because they know China is well aware that it would.

Joe Biden has been doing foreign policy a long time. It’s therefore entirely possible that he knows something I don’t here. But saying the quiet part out loud serves no obvious strategic purpose and seems needlessly to poke the panda at a time when its relationship with our adversary Russia is strained. Why now?

Making matters worse, frankly, is that every time the President does this, his staff tries to walk it back—giving the impression that the Commander-in-Chief isn’t thinking before shooting off his mouth.

FT (“Joe Biden pledges to defend Taiwan militarily if China invades“):

A Japanese government official said it was unclear whether Biden’s comments were intentional or not, but they were seen positively by Tokyo as a message that would serve as deterrence against China.

Washington’s policy of “strategic ambiguity” was designed to discourage Taipei from formalising its independence — which would almost certainly spark a Chinese attack — while deterring Beijing from using military force to press its claim to sovereignty over the island.

Over the past few years, Washington has emphasised its support for Taipei, for example by declassifying documents that make clear it does not take a position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan, and that the “one China” policy is conditional on Beijing resolving the dispute peacefully.

Shortly after Biden spoke in Tokyo, the White House insisted US policy was unchanged. “He reiterated our ‘one China policy’ and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” said a White House official. “He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”

But the president’s remarks caused some confusion in the region. “What he said reflected his attitude, but we have to wait to see what he will actually do,” said Lo Chih-cheng, chair of the foreign affairs and defence committee in Taiwan’s parliament. Alexander Huang, representative to the US for Taiwan’s opposition Kuomintang, said that while Biden’s remarks conveyed his sincere commitment to Taiwan’s security, it was unlikely the US would announce a change in policy in response to a reporter’s question.

Matthew Kroenig, a security expert at the Atlantic Council think-tank, said: “Some say it’s a carefully co-ordinated campaign of ambiguity. Others say that Biden is senile and misspoke. I would argue that at this point the reason doesn’t really matter. “In the event of a war, it would always be up to the president to decide whether to intervene or not regardless of the formal policy. We now have a clear window into Biden’s instincts on the matter and what his decision would be.”

Last May, Kurt Campbell, the top White House Indo-Pacific official, warned that any US declaration that it would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack would carry “significant downsides”. Other top US officials privately argued that shifting to “strategic clarity” would provoke a Chinese attack on Taiwan.

Again, I really hope the President is making calculated decisions here rather than just spouting off.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Military Affairs, National Security, US Politics, World Politics, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Part of me thinks this is all what happens when you have a 79-year-old as president. And I don’t mean in terms of cognitive decline, but more from a bluntness-comes-with-age POV.

    17
  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Given that TFG backed off from any number of actual or implied US commitments to allies, Biden’s overtly stating a US commitment to the defense of Taiwan, will make it more difficult for a future prez to turn their back on the country. As you note, the ambiguity was a fiction and the expectation is that the US will defend Taiwan. What ‘defense’ entails is still an open question.

    The situation within China has also changed. Xi has shown more aggression towards Taiwan in the last year than Chinese leadership has in the past. Washington may have come to the conclusion that a China move against Taiwan has become more likely and that requires a differing rhetorical response from the US.

    Of course, Biden being a gaffe machine, also creates a different ambiguity for China to discern and take into their calculations. The beauty of imprecise language.

    An outlet that you contribute to has begun a series on a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan; AMATEUR HOUR PART I: THE CHINESE INVASION OF TAIWAN

    5
  3. Scott says:

    @Sleeping Dog: I was thinking somewhat similar thoughts along these lines. Maybe Biden is just spouting off or maybe he is blocking the growing isolationist wing of the Republican far right. I mean, who is going to condemn this for anything but being impolitic with China. Let those who would not defend Taiwan, or Korea, or the Philippines say the quiet part out loud.

    3
  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    You’re both wrong. There’s no advantage in ambiguity, ambiguity invites mistakes. China is accelerating into a demographic downturn as their labor costs rise – now half the cost of Mexican labor. China was coming to a now-or-never moment in the next decade. Taking Taiwan was already going to be a heavy lift for China, and now it’s impossible short of a deliberate decision to commit suicide. It’s about time we shut Xi down before he rolls the dice and the world goes up in smoke.

    7
  5. DK says:

    Again, I really hope the President is making calculated decisions here rather than just spouting off.

    What difference does it make really? America is not going to war with China. Biden knows it and China knows it.

    That does not change whether Biden is just running mouth or trying to play good cop bad cop ambiguous 4D confusion chess.

    1
  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    @DK:
    I don’t think it is at all a given that the US would stand around with its thumb up its ass while a hostile power seized control of every single advanced microchip on earth. It would be devastating to our economy, and to our military. It would be madness to let China take Taiwan.

    ETA: Not to mention that if we lose Taiwan then the Chinese escape containment and can have a genuine blue water fleet.

    3
  7. Kathy says:

    Did he say something someone on planet Earth didn’t know?

    2
  8. DK says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Oh I don’t think America will “stand around with its thumb up its ass.” I also don’t think America will go to war with China. Both of those can be true.

    2
  9. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds If that’s Biden’s, and especially if it’s his natsec team’s, considered judgment, I’m prepared to live with it. My strong hunch, though, is that @Steven L. Taylor is closer to the mark and this is just Biden in honey badger mode.

    6
  10. rachel says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    There’s no advantage in ambiguity, ambiguity invites mistakes.

    This, right here. You all think Putin would have appreciated a warning before he whacked that wasps’ nest he’s currently dealing with?

    2
  11. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Yeah, he probably spends several hours each week hearing about China and Taiwan in a military context, reviewing preparations, etc. and he’s tired of pretending that he doesn’t do stuff like that.

    2
  12. Mister Bluster says:

    …Putin would have appreciated a warning…

    He would have appreciated a warning so much that if it came from his lap dogs he would have:
    A …had them jailed…
    B …had them shot…
    C …see A + B

    1
  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    I analogize it to Biden going off the reservation on gay marriage. May have been a gaffe, but if it was it sure did work out well in the end.

    Biden’s stand-alone statement is a warning, getting the National Security apparatus to start generating plans and appearing on talk shows is a provocation. As @rachel: suggests, there might be a lot more live Ukrainians (and Russians) if we’d told Putin we’d flood Ukraine with weapons. (Not to mention taking their Big Macs away.) As it was Putin thought he was looking at a 2 out of 10 on the difficulty scale. Had he known it was an 8 or 9?

    I’d add that Finland and Sweden have opted for the, ‘best to warn the bad guys what they’re getting into,’ approach.

    1
  14. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    I think what has happened re: Russia/Ukraine has given Xi pause. No one expected Biden to be able to rally the world to Ukraine’s aid the way he has, including Xi. And I don’t think anyone expected the breadth and the depth of the sanctions the world has rained down on Putin.
    Taiwan was always going to be a heavy lift for China. Now they have to be having second thoughts.
    To me this is just putting an exclamation point on that. And Biden specifically mentioned “what we agreed to.” Another mountain out of an anthill.

    3
  15. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “Biden’s stand-alone statement is a warning, getting the National Security apparatus to start generating plans and appearing on talk shows is a provocation. ”

    My guess is that there is concern that China is watching what’s happening to Russia over Ukraine and calculating how badly similar international treatment would hurt them and whether or not it would be worth it. Biden is interrupting them to say “that’s not how it’s going to work.”

    1
  16. Michael Reynolds says:

    We are at a very interesting moment in history. Russia is depopulating and aging with no chance of making up the difference by immigration. So is China, so is Japan, so is Europe. But unlike Russia, China and Japan we, and most of our European allies have doors that swing both ways.

    Economically Russia and China are very low value-added when it comes to their work forces, very much unlike the US, Japan and Europe. China has the additional very large problem of being import dependent and resource poor. As long as we own the oceans they are second rate at best.

    Three months ago military powers were ranked:
    USA
    China
    Russia
    France and UK independently.

    Now that ranking is:
    USA
    China
    NATO even apart from the US


    Russia.

    If we can hold the inner island chain China never moves past the number 2 spot. Not ever. If we lose Taiwan, China can become a real competitor.

    1
  17. DK says:

    @Mister Bluster: Where is this revisionist history of ‘if we had only warned Putin’ coming from? Are so many of us so forgetful so quickly, or were we just paying as little attention to the warnings as Putin himself?

    Jan 25, 2022: Biden warns Putin with sanctions as West steps up Ukraine defenses

    Jan 26, 2022: Biden Warns of ‘Severe’ Actions if Russia Invades Ukraine

    Feb 12, 2022: Biden warns Putin of ‘swift and severe costs’ if Russia invades Ukraine

    Feb 13, 2022: In hour-long phone call, Biden warns Putin of severe sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine

    The US and NATO was in process of arming Ukraine while repeatedly warning Putin he was in for a world of hurt. Putin did not care because he was high on his own supply, overestimated Russia’s army and economy, and sorely underestimated Ukraine, its NATO neighbors, and their global allies.

    Hopefully, Xi is less delusional.

    11
  18. Rick DeMent says:

    Does China really want to invade Taiwan when the resultant economic impact on such an act would make the economic impact of the Russian action into Ukraine seem like Jack and Jill?

    I mean, talk about cutting their own economic throat for what I can see as ridiculously small gain. I mean the value of Taiwan to China is minuscule when you consider that they would be disrupting an economy that is low on natural resources and completely reliant on manufacturing and trade. Sure they could take over the Island, but only by destroying the one thing that makes Taiwan worth having, it’s manufacturing and exporting.

    It’s not like the country is sitting on a giant gold mines or has vast oil reserves. After an invasion it will take years to get back to the point where Taiwan is now from an economic stand point and that’s not taking into consideration the ancillary economic disruption such a move would trigger. It might be as bad as lobbing nukes.

    Maybe I’m wrong about this, but it seems to me that a forced reintegration of Taiwan, to be a net positive, would have to relatively bloodless. Even if the US did nothing to aid Taiwan militarily, the invasion would still be pretty bloody and a lot of infrastructure would get demolished in the process. I mean Taiwan has a small military (relative to China), but they are on an island and to be valuable the country would need to be kept more or less intact with a compliant citizenry.

    Who wants to go house to house in Taiwan?

    1
  19. Mister Bluster says:

    @DK:..Where is this revisionist history of ‘if we had only warned Putin’ coming from?

    See @rachel: at 10:14 in this thread. You all think Putin would have appreciated a warning before he whacked that wasps’ nest he’s currently dealing with?

    As I am not clear where the warning that Rachel mentions would have originated I should have just replied to the inquiry: No.

  20. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I agree. By all appearances Putin informed Xi of his coming invasion and coordinated with China vis-a-vis the Olympics. It also appears that both leaders sincerely believed that the West’s support of Ukraine was only talk, and would collapse within hours of the start of the military campaign. Further, they seemed to believe that the West would not be willing to take such strong economic sanctions (such as freezing Russian assets) or be willing to give up Russian oil and gas. So it is not unreasonable to believe that Xi considered Ukraine to be a trial run for seizing Taiwan. Biden’s words reduce any remaining doubt Xi may have on the West’s determination. And that doubt is dangerous. Any sense that Xi has that the West would not respond strongly increases the danger of a miscalculation.

    3
  21. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Rick DeMent:

    I mean the value of Taiwan to China is minuscule when you consider that they would be disrupting an economy that is low on natural resources and completely reliant on manufacturing and trade. Sure they could take over the Island, but only by destroying the one thing that makes Taiwan worth having, it’s manufacturing and exporting.

    You’re thinking like a capitalist westerner. Reclaiming Taiwan has absolutely zip to do with economics or resources. It’s about pride.

    And in the eyes of the Chinese, they wouldn’t be “taking” Taiwan–they’d be affirming the fact that it already belongs to them.

    5
  22. MarkedMan says:

    @Rick DeMent:

    the value of Taiwan to China is minuscule

    I wish this was true, but Taiwan’s capabilities exactly match China’s plans to become a technological leader as opposed to just a low cost manufacturer. And they need to do that because they are no longer are THE low cost manufacturer. Taiwan is the world leader in sophisticated IC manufacturing, something China has struggled with for years. And the Taiwan engineering base creates new and innovative products, something China has strived for over the past several decades with only minimal gains. So it is a very real danger that China may view Taiwan as a strategic acquisition, with pros outweighing cons.

    4
  23. Drew says:

    If this was planned, and is official policy, he might want to inform his people, and State. Just sayin’.

    “Biden’s words, according to The New York Times, “surprised some members of Mr. Biden’s own administration watching in the room” and set off another round of quick clarifications from West Wing aides about what the president meant to say.”

    “The White House quickly tried to deny that the president meant what he seemed to be saying,” The Times added in their dispatch from Tokyo. “‘As the president said, our policy has not changed,’ the White House said in a statement hurriedly sent to reporters. ‘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.'”

    But, as The Times notes, Biden’s statement “went beyond simply reiterating that the United States would provide Taiwan with arms, because the question was posed as a contrast to what he had done with Ukraine.”

    Looks more like a straight out geriatric gaffe, not surprising in what is his steady stream of them. Or, perhaps, he just couldn’t resist the temptation to engage in his Chinese “I’m a tough guy” Corn Pop moment.

    2
  24. Jay L Gischer says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Taiwan is the world leader in sophisticated IC manufacturing, something China has struggled with for years. And the Taiwan engineering base creates new and innovative products, something China has strived for over the past several decades with only minimal gains. So it is a very real danger that China may view Taiwan as a strategic acquisition, with pros outweighing cons.

    And after twenty years of rule by the Chinese government as currently constituted will pretty much strangle all that innovation and engineering base. All those engineers come over here from China for a reason.

    The Chinese government doesn’t understand this. Authoritarians have a very hard time wrapping their heads around this sort of thing. Engineering and technical innovation basically requires people to “break rules” and take risks.

    3
  25. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    I wonder if this is Biden’s way of pointing out to China that if they want us to be ambiguous on Taiwan, then need to be a lot less so with Russia. They are the only ones who might be able to get Putin to stop short of utter catastrophe.

    But more likely this is just Biden being Biden 🙂

    The similarities between how Putin views Ukraine as part of Russia and not really an independent country and how China views Taiwan the same are frightening. Especially because as far as I can tell the Chinese people are far more behind the idea that Taiwan is theirs than a Russian populace that is kinda “meh” on the subject of Ukraine.

    2
  26. Sleeping Dog says:

    @MarkedMan:

    In part, true, assuming the industrial base survives the fighting.

    Taiwan is a leading producer of the most sophisticated semiconductors, but it doesn’t own the technology that is the means of production, it licenses the tech from mostly European and US companies. It would be a fairly simple matter for the licenser to beam in and disable the machine.

    1
  27. Rick DeMent says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Sure, but if all of that is destroyed in a bloody invasion then what? I mean the physical infrastructure and intellectual capital would be disrupted for years if it could be replaced at all. Those who could would get out, accounts would be frozen. China would be in the pariah nation category. The only way China can get any benefit is if Taiwan decides to reunite or capitulate or something in between.

  28. grumpy realist says:

    @Drew: You belching out yet another piece of Russian propaganda from ZeroHedge, boy?

    6
  29. Scott says:

    Taiwan is a major investor in Mainland China (about $200B if my quick Google search went right). There is also about $190B in exports to China in 2021. You would think this would be an incentive to keep things calm. However, the ever increasing authoritarian regime under Xi gives substantial advantage to China. Taiwan has more incentive to do what China wants than vice versa. Think what has happened in Hong Kong as somewhat of a model. It may be pure speculation but I would guess the billionaires in Taiwan are not that uncomfortable with an authoritarian China.

  30. MarkedMan says:

    @Rick DeMent:

    Sure, but if all of that is destroyed in a bloody invasion then what?

    Which is why it is so important that China have no doubts that the invasion will be a hard fought one, and any victory will be pyrrhic. There is a lot of sentiment amongst the Chinese that the bulk of the Taiwanese people would welcome them, similar to the Russian belief about Ukrainians.

    1
  31. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    If we can hold the inner island chain China never moves past the number 2 spot.

    Slight disagreement here:
    They sort-of are already past the inner chain in the South China Sea.
    The Philippines are absolutely crucial there.

    Which is why the Biden administration recent diplomacy aimed at improving relations is important. I’m pretty confident the administration is working this hard; see recent contacts with incoming President Marcos.

    On everything else you are spot on: so long as China depends on imported hydrocarbons for energy, and especially for bulk fertilizers (without which: starvation) and exports to pay for critical imports, the United States Navy can choke it at any time.
    (This is also why, IMO, the US cannot walk away from the Gulf/ME until renewables transition is completed)

    The announcements shortcuts any hope in Beijing that the US might adopt a sanctions-based policy to counter a move on Taiwan.
    A policy that, with Russia onside, and judging by the neutral response of much of the “Third World” to Ukraine, Xi might calculate that China could weather and come out with a net gain.

    A blunt statement that doing so means the US steps in with, at minimum, a naval blockade, changes the calculation.

    Good: uncertainty here has outlived it’s purpose, and might be positively dangerous in inviting Chinese strategic miscalculation.

    6
  32. MarkedMan says:

    @Scott:

    I would guess the billionaires in Taiwan are not that uncomfortable with an authoritarian China.

    Maybe less true then it used to be. China has been “disappearing” even billionaires lately. A question that hasn’t been asked, as far as I can tell, “Who gets control of the billionaires assets?” And another, “What did those billionaires who didn’t get arrested have to give up, and to whom?” The Taiwanese billionaires have to wonder if they will end up in jail and their assets distributed to the adult children of CCP officials.

    1
  33. MarkedMan says:

    @JohnSF:

    uncertainty here has outlived it’s purpose, and might be positively dangerous in inviting Chinese strategic miscalculatio

    Bingo

    3
  34. JohnSF says:

    @Drew:
    President Biden is an old enough hand at Washington politics to know that if you want to force a policy down the necks of the various squablling-by-nature departments and agencies, a presidential fait accompli is often the best way to get the job done fast and decisively.

    All the most effective foreign-policy presidents of recent times have used this tactic: Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton.
    Seriously, it works.

    12
  35. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Drew:

    I’d rather have a white house that has to play minor damage control by a President stating what everyone already knows to be true, than a White House that has to play major damage control because the President thinks you can inject bleach and sunlight to cure coronavirus.

    After two decades of you defending Trump and W., it’s really hard to take seriously any criticism from you about a President’s speech. Like, really really hard. Some would say impossible.

    13
  36. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Drew:
    Yeah, what Biden should do is try to extort some helpful political dirt from the Ukrainian government, and undermine NATO. Right? Right, Drew?

    Hello?

    Dishonest fuckwit.

    8
  37. Mister Bluster says:

    @Drew:..Corn Pop moment.

    You really need to stop projecting about your sexual fantasies.

    3
  38. Michael Cain says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I don’t think it is at all a given that the US would stand around with its thumb up its ass while a hostile power seized control of every single advanced microchip on earth.

    Intel and Samsung would probably like a word. And in another year TSMC will have finished replicating their bleeding-edge fab processes to multiple overseas locations. Not out of fear of the PRC or supply chain concerns (at least when they started), but in hopes of making it less likely the US and EU would nail them with improper government subsidy sanctions.

  39. Lounsbury says:

    I think this one merited a slip. The Russian ‘gaffes’ I didn’t have that feeling (due to the hot nature of the Russian situation), but as a kind of preventative ‘slip’ has some utility.

    @Michael Reynolds: No, you are wrong mate, there are advantages in ambiguity, in conveying outside of the public sphere but not putting cards in public. It allows certain kinds of negotiations and relations to be hammered out. In my world we have this. Some things if back-channeled are far easier to resolve and nego before flipping to public.

    However in this particular situation in light of Trumpis’ idiocies, and the Ukrainian development, there was merit to “oopies” saying it outright. Walk it back later, but this time it was merited.

    @MarkedMan: for this I agree.

  40. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Cain:
    There’s a deal of noise coming out of France in particular about the need for rebuilding key strategic industrial capacity in Europe.
    And perhaps they can finally get Germany onside; especially with the UK no longer in the EU, and wibbling on about free market principles (usually not so much about conviction as a contrarian desire to jam a spoke in other peoples wheels.)
    Much of the key plant for chip fabs etc is still made in Europe or the US or Japan; so why not the production facilities?
    (Which is how Germany scores: specialists in high end capital plant)

    You never know: if the EU goes ahead, maybe it will, at last, give UK governments the courage to tell the Treasury to shove its short sighted economic orthodoxy.
    See the Newport chip fab takeover by (indirectly) China’s Wingtech.
    Short sighted twittery by the “markets must rule” fools.

    2
  41. Gustopher says:

    I think Trump created too much ambiguity, and Biden needs to state some things out loud that we’re always assumed before Trump.

    It could just be Biden is getting too old to deal with this shit (not senile, just blunt and with less patience for the game play), but I think it’s largely good overall.

    Looking back at Iraq, Saddam Hussein thought he was getting signals from our ambassador that we wouldn’t care that much about invading Kuwait. I think we would be living in a very different and likely better world if we were less ambiguous in our foreign policy when there’s real danger of conflict.

    1
  42. JohnSF says:

    @Gustopher:
    See also start of Second World War: Hitler managed to convince himself that UK and France would only mount a limited, largely economic, response if he achieved a fait accompli in Poland.
    (And he was half right: the Anglo-French had decided to fight, but still wanted to avoid “provocation” or, importantly, admitting they’d f@cked up Czechoslovaki, Austria, Rhineland etc. and “alarming” the public.)

    1
  43. JohnMcC says:

    The U.S. Central Pacific Command planned to invade ‘Formosa’ in 1944-45. Operation Causeway. It would have been much larger that the Sicily invasion mentioned here: @Sleeping Dog:

    Would have been larger than the Normandy invasion. At least 500,000 infantry on the island. Which is a really big island, 90 miles wide, 250 miles long. Most of the terrain is mountainous; some peaks are over 12,ooo ft. Most of the population of something like 24million is on a plain facing the mainland. The PLA would have scores of miles of fighting through prepared defenses, house to house, in order to reach the place where the defenders would have an even larger advantage.

    It would require the PLA to completely own the 100 mile wide Straits of Formosa and the air over and around the island.

    The CINC Pacific decided to do something much easier. They invaded Leyte and Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

    I don’t think the PRC has the slightest chance of pulling off an invasion of Taiwan.

  44. Lounsbury says:

    @Gustopher: This is very good context. Sans Trump, the creative (but generally clear in real meaning) ambiguity of the USA was useful. However Trump created the kinds of doubts that make an indiscrete statement like Biden’s oddly an act of prudence.

    4
  45. Michael Cain says:

    @JohnSF:
    Seems entirely reasonable to me.

    China has invested in a company that now has a complete in-country integrated-circuit supply chain at 14nm. There is evidence to suggest that they have 12nm, if not now, soon. Another company has a quite competent processor, with no foreign IP entanglements, the latest version of which has taped out at… wait for it… 12nm. That’s enough for any weapons systems they’ve designed/built/might be interested in selling overseas. I would be stunned if there were not a bunch of bright people making their stuff independent of technology sanctions.

  46. Ken_L says:

    People spend far too much time getting agitated about the significance of what politicians say in these press conferences. Even the former guy didn’t rely entirely on tweets and rallies to convey American positions to the rest of the world. There is an entire State Department employed to ensure foreign governments have a clear, comprehensive understanding of American policies and objectives. I’d have confidence in Ambassador Burns to correct any misconceptions in Beijing about American intentions in response to open PRD/Taiwan hostilities. Which can be summarised, I imagine, as “Depends on the circumstances but we really hope we’ll never have to decide.” Strategic ambiguity, in other words.

  47. Ken_L says:

    @Gustopher: Putin would never have invaded Ukraine with Trump in the White House. Trump told him he’d bomb Moscow if he did. This was typical of former Sir’s strength.

    Biden, on the other hand, has been recklessly irresponsible in warning Xi Jinping there’d be consequences for invading Taiwan. Biden is weak.

    This is an example of consistent, principled MAGAism.

    3
  48. The Q says:

    Ken L, if you had been born first, your parents, after their experience with you, would never have had you. Which makes about as much sense as your Trump – Putin idiocy.

    Why invade Ukraine when you had control of an admiring puppet as President. Once Trump’s knob polishing was out of office, Putin decided to commit national suicide. Trump’s ball washing just delayed Igor’s disastrous decision. PS, your an only child right?

    1
  49. Ken_L says:

    @The Q: You appear to be unacquainted with the concept of ‘parody’: “An imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect.”

  50. Michael Reynolds says:

    Dear, if you ever cheat on me there is a possibility that I’ll leave you.

    Dear, if you ever cheat on me, I will absolutely leave you.

    Dear, if you ever cheat on me, I will cut off your balls while you sleep and shove them in the garbage disposal.

    I’ll agree with @Lounsbury that ambiguity has its uses. But so does a simple declaration of intent.

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  51. wr says:

    @Scott: “Think what has happened in Hong Kong as somewhat of a model. ”

    The Taiwanese people certainly are. The last election was looking for a certain defeat for the pro-independence president, as the “we should be better friends with China” candidate was surging. Then Hong Kong happened and Taiwan saw what it meant to be better friends with China…

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  52. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @JohnMcC: Actually, FDR heard both Nimitz and MacArthur argue the case for their preferred alternatives. The invasion of Formosa would have required at least 12 Army divisions. All but 1 or 2 of them would have had to come from MacArthur. FDR made the decision to have Mac liberate the Philippines, while Nimitz seized Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

  53. Raoul says:

    We need to make sure that China understands that there would be an extremely high price to be paid on an unprovoked attack on Nationalist China. How we do this is beyond my pay grade. I will add the following so people understand the reality on the ground: much in the same way Russia has fantasized about Ukraine, China has had for a long time have a fetish on Taiwan. I doubt that even 1% of the PRC think the former Formosa should be seen as another sovereignty. Chinese people are indoctrinated on the matter from a very young age. OTOH hand most Taiwanese see themselves that way and not Chinese from a political pov (meaning they could care less about China).