Beijing on Monday hit back at US President Joe Biden’s comments that US forces would defend Taiwan in the event of an invasion, warning Washington that it should not underestimate China’s determination to defend its sovereignty.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said China has lodged a formal complaint with the US, pointing out that Mr Biden’s comments send a “seriously wrong signal” to separatist forces in Taiwan.
China was “strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed” to Mr Biden’s comments, said Ms Mao at a regular press briefing.
“We are willing to strive for peaceful reunification with our greatest sincerity and efforts. At the same time, we will not tolerate any activity aimed at secession and reserve the option to take all necessary measures,” she said.
China views Taiwan as a renegade province and has not ruled out the use of force in its quest for reunification with the self-ruled island.
“There is only one China in the world, Taiwan is a part of China, and the government of the People’s Republic of China is the only legitimate government of China,” said Ms Mao.
China’s angry rebuke was drawn by comments that Mr Biden made during an interview on CBS’ news programme 60 Minutes which was broadcast on Sunday.
Mr Biden was asked whether US forces would defend Taiwan, to which he replied: “Yes, if, in fact, there was an unprecedented attack.”
Asked if this would mean that unlike in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the US would send its forces – its men and women – to defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion, Mr Biden again said “yes”.
The interview marked the fourth time that Mr Biden had veered from the longstanding US policy of “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan, where the US does not make clear whether it would respond militarily in the event of an invasion of Taiwan.
But this is the first time Mr Biden has explicitly referred to deploying US boots on the ground if Taiwan is attacked.
A White House spokesman later said that US policy towards Taiwan has not changed.
“The President has said this before, including in Tokyo earlier this year. He also made clear then that our Taiwan policy hasn’t changed. That remains true,” said the White House spokesman.
Mr Biden’s comments come at a tense time across the Taiwan Strait, after US Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last month.
It prompted China to conduct unprecedented military exercises around the island, including the firing of ballistic missiles over Taiwan.
Chinese experts say the US President’s repeated comments on whether the US would defend Taiwan amounts to a significant erosion of “strategic ambiguity”.
Nanjing University cross-strait expert Liu Xiangping said Mr Biden’s comments were a more severe provocation than Mrs Pelosi’s visit, and threatens to destabilise the situation across the Taiwan Strait.
“What does he mean by this? Does he mean that if (Taiwanese President) Tsai Ing-wen declares independence and the mainland sends in its troops, that he would support Taiwan?” said Professor Liu.
“If Biden does not act in a clear-headed manner on the issue of Taiwan independence on this issue of China’s sovereignty, and continues with these provocations, then the situation in the Taiwan Strait will become very dangerous.”
Dr Qi Dongtao, a research fellow at the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore who studies cross-strait relations, said the latest comments could show also that Mr Biden was “playing the role of an aggressive leader on the Taiwan issue against China” in hopes of garnering support in the lead-up to midterm elections in the United States.
But he also said that it would reinforce China’s belief that it needed to ramp up military capabilities so it would have the ability to take Taiwan by force if it came to it.
“Beijing clearly believes that Washington will continue to raise its support for Taiwan, and this is something that Beijing has to prepare for,” he said.