The United States is not backing off its defensive support for Taiwan, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday, a day after President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed the future of the island democracy at a summit of Pacific Rim nations in San Francisco.
“In terms of what we will continue to do with respect to Taiwan, as you know, of course with the Taiwan Relations Act, we are committed to doing what’s necessary to help Taiwan acquire the means to defend itself,” Mr. Austin told reporters traveling with him on a visit to Indonesia. “And we’ve done that for a number of years, and we’ll continue to do that,” he said.
Mr. Austin said there was nothing in the discussions between the two leaders that would cause American support to “move in a different direction.”
The Pentagon will continue to follow the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act that calls for supplying defense arms to Taiwan, Mr. Austin said, adding that he did not believe a conflict with China over Taiwan was inevitable or imminent.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi held four hours of talks on Wednesday, with Taiwan prominent among the topics of discussion between the two leaders.
Mr. Xi told the president that Taiwan was the “most dangerous” issue in U.S.-China relations, according to a senior U.S. official who briefed reporters after the talks.
The Chinese leader reportedly said again that Beijing prefers to resolve the Taiwan issue peacefully but then outlined conditions under which the Communist regime was ready to use military force, the official said.
Mr. Xi‘s remarks indicated China was not preparing for an invasion of Taiwan and they do not change the American approach to deterring a conflict, the official said.
“”President Xi … underscored that this was the biggest, most potentially dangerous issue in U.S.-China relations, laid out clearly that, you know, their preference was for peaceful reunification but then moved immediately to conditions that the potential use of force could be utilized,” the official said, according to Reuters.
Mr. Biden told the Chinese leader the United States is determined to maintain peace in the region and would stick by its existing commitments to Taipei.
“President Biden responded very clearly that the long-standing position of the United States was … determination to maintain peace and stability,” the official said.
“President Xi responded: ‘Look, peace is … all well and good but at some point we need to move towards resolution more generally,” the official said.
The commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. John Aquilino, has said Mr. Xi has ordered his forces to prepare for military action against in the next several years.
Mr. Biden declined to comment on the specifics of the discussion on Taiwan when asked by a reporter after the talks if he is still committed to sending U.S. troops to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese military attack.
Instead, he repeated the U.S. policy of adhering to a “one-China” principle that is defined differently in Beijing and Washington.
China insists Taiwan, which broke from the mainland in 1949, is part of its sovereign territory. The United States position is Taiwan‘s sovereignty remains undetermined.
Mr. Biden has pledged on several occasions to defend the island democracy in the event of Chinese military action. The White House and State Department each time sought to clarify that the remarks were not a new policy.
The Taiwan Relations Act states that the response to threats to Taiwan will be determined by the president in consultation with Congress.
The Biden-Xi meeting did result in defense and military communication being restarted between the two militaries. China cut off all military and non-military talks in August 2022 to protest the visit of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in August 2022.
The Pentagon said Thursday the scope of the talks has not be established, but they will include defense policy meetings and military maritime consultations aimed at preventing accidents and mishaps that could lead to conflict. U.S. officials have complained that China in the past two years has stepped up dangerous aerial intercepts of U.S. surveillance aircraft and also has shadowed and confronted U.S. warships in the region.
During a speech Wednesday night, Mr. Xi said the No. 1 question is whether the United States sees China as an adversary or partner.
“If one sees the other side as a primary competitor, the most consequential geopolitical challenge and a pacing threat, it will only lead to misinformed policy-making, misguided actions, and unwanted results,” he said.
The Chinese leader then said Beijing is ready to be a friend and partner to the U.S. based on “mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation.”
Mr. Xi said respect means not seeking to undermine China‘s communist system.
“The path of socialism with Chinese characteristics has been found under the guidance of the theory of scientific socialism, and is rooted in the tradition of the Chinese civilization with an uninterrupted history of more than 5,000 years,” he said. “We are proud of our choice, just as you are proud of yours.”
Mr. Austin said no one wants war with China and said any change in the status quo across the Taiwan Strait is “undesired.
“We have maintained our course there. …. That hasn’t changed,” he said.
Mr. Biden, meanwhile, prompted fresh outrage from China‘s Foreign Ministry after repeating his earlier characterization that Mr. Xi is a “dictator” at Wednesday’s press conference.
“Look, he is,” Mr. Biden said in response to a reporter’s question. “He’s a dictator in the sense that he’s a guy who runs a country that is a communist country that’s based on a form of government totally different than ours.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told reporters Thursday: “This statement is extremely wrong and irresponsible political manipulation.”