Explainer: What is the one China policy?


(NewsNation) — A simple, but firm statement from President Joe Biden is causing an international stir. The president told reporters the U.S. would intervene militarily if China invaded Taiwan.

While at a news conference in Tokyo, Biden replied “yes” when asked if the U.S. would defend Taiwan if it was invaded by China. He continued: “That’s the commitment we made.”

The president added that the burden to protect Taiwan is even stronger after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He does not expect China to try to seize Taiwan, but said it “depends upon just how strong the world makes clear that that kind of action is going to result in long-term disapprobation by the rest of the community.”

“We agree with the one China policy. We signed on to it,” Biden said. “All the attendant agreements (were) made from there. But the idea tha (Taiwan) can be taken by force … it’s just not appropriate.”

Biden’s statements come with controversy since the U.S. has always appeared to be deliberately ambiguous and not really taking a clear side about Taiwan with the one China policy. The White House maintains that Biden’s remarks do not reflect any change in policy.

What is the one China policy? To break it down, the U.S. acknowledges China’s position that there is only one legitimate Chinese government, based in Beijing, and that Taiwan is part of China. Strategically, however, the U.S. has never officially recognized China’s claim to the islands or commented on what would happen if Taiwan is attacked. Also under the policy, the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan; however, the U.S. supplies them with military gear and keeps unofficial contacts there.

“The Chinese view Taiwan as this democratic, breakaway rogue province that they say at some point will be reunited into the communist control of Beijing, but they have not yet invaded it. This goes all the way back to Chinese independence in ’48,” explained Leland Vittert, host of NewsNation’s “On Balance” broadcast. “The United States began the one China policy under President Nixon, meaning they normalized relations with Beijing, and you sort of have this idea that the U.S. understands China’s position, Beijing’s position, but at the same time says that we are going to arm Taiwan and provide them the weapons for their own self defense.

‘It’s the idea of strategic ambiguity. And that sort of goes to exactly what every U.S. president had said, which is we’re not going to say what we will do if China invades Taiwan. Now, President Biden is starting to sort of say what America will do, hence this big change.”

The Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which spells out America’s relationship with Taiwan, does not require the U.S. to defend Taiwan in a military fashion against China if the communist mainland government invades. But the act does require the U.S. to make sure Taiwan has the means to defend itself.

Biden’s comments on Taiwan represent a sharp contrast between America’s approach to the invasion in Ukraine. So, what’s at stake if there was a Chinese invasion of Taiwan?

“Everything is at stake,” Vittert said. “Ninety percent of the world’s advanced semiconductors are made in Taiwan. (The) South China Sea sees two thirds of the world’s commerce that moves by sea, go through it. A Chinese invasion of Taiwan would make the price hikes and the supply chain disruptions and the worldwide earthquake that we’ve seen over in Ukraine look like a really fun and distant memory. In a way, the invasion of Ukraine has been a real wake up to the White House in terms of the dangers of some kind of takeover either by Russia or by China.”

Wang Wenbin, the spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, strongly opposed Biden’s comments on Taiwan, saying: “China has no room for compromise or concessions on issues involving China’s core interests such as sovereignty and territorial integrity.” He also added that, “China will take firm action to safeguard its sovereignty and security interests, and we will do what we say.”

The president’s remarks happened before the launch of an Indo-Pacific trade pact that does not include Taiwan. The pact aims to allow the U.S. to work closely with Asian nations on supply chain and trade issues.

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