Biden Pushes United States Assertiveness in the South China Sea; Strong U.S. Support for Independent Taiwan

3 min read

Olivia Papp ’23

Managing Editor

Amidst growing tension between the United States and China over Taiwan in the wake of Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) visit this past summer, President Joe Biden (D-DE) has aimed to expand American support for the island. This past Sunday, Biden, on 60 Minutes, stated that the United States would come to Taiwan’s support in the event of a Chinese attack. These sentiments mark a notable transition in United States policy toward the island, with the official policy having toed the line of the One China Policy—official support for a unified Chinese state that does not recognize Taiwanese independence or sovereignty, for fear of inflaming pro-independence on the island and provoking a mainland invasion. The ramifications of this policy shift are similarly profound.

Taiwan and the United States have enjoyed long but unofficial state-tostate relations since the stalemate in the Chinese Civil War that ended in Communist victory on the mainland but Nationalist victory on the island, with both maintaining victory over the entirety of all Chinese territory. While recognizing Taiwan as the official representative of all of China, the United States shifted recognition of the mainland People’s Republic of China in the 1970s. Since then, the status of Taiwan has been one of the most contested and complex issues in international politics, and a frequent flashpoint for conflict between the United States and China as Beijing attempts to consolidate control over its territory claims.

While Biden has verbally signified his willingness to use force to deter Beijing encroachment onto Taipei autonomy, experts worry that the United States will not be able to make good on this promise. Should the United States engage militarily with mainland China in Taiwan, this would be the first direct conflict between two nuclear powers over an issue that the Chinese Communist Party views as integral to its legitimacy as a power. According to Kalley Hui and Kerry Brown, authors of The Trouble with Taiwan, the loss of Taiwan could signal the unraveling of China’s many contentious territory claims, including those in the South and East China Seas, Tibet, Hong Kong, and Xinjiang. Given its importance, a conflict over Taiwan has long been feared for its potential to go nuclear. Notably, this stands in contrast to Biden’s position to not enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine— another policy that would have risked hot confrontation between two nuclear powers.

ween two nuclear powers. Other branches of the United States government have also inched toward revising the One China Policy. Senators Bob Menendez (DNJ) and Lindsey Graham (RSC) have recently advanced legislation to expand United States engagement with Taiwan. Provisions in this legislation include renaming the U.S. representative to the “Taiwan Representative Office” (deviating from the Beijing-prescribed name “Taipei”) and recognizing Taiwan as a major non-NATO ally. This is in addition to maintaining American arm sales to the island to bolster Taiwanese defenses.

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