Dire Straits: White House Walks Back Biden's Taiwan Gaffe

May 23, 2022

The White House on Monday walked back President Joe Biden's comments declaring the United States would defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion, the latest instance of the president's own administration repudiating his foreign policy statements.

At a news conference in Tokyo after Biden met with Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida, a reporter asked the president whether the United States would "get involved militarily to defend Taiwan."

"Yes," Biden replied. "That's the commitment we made."

The declaration would have represented a departure from U.S. foreign policy, which has been ambiguous as to whether the United States would defend Taiwan from China. But Biden administration officials quickly walked back the president's pledge, saying his statement did not amount to a new commitment to fight for Taiwan.

"Our policy has not changed," a White House official told CNN.

The incident marked the third time the White House has retracted comments Biden made proclaiming a commitment to defend Taiwan. In August, Biden said the United States has a "sacred commitment" to respond to an attack on Taiwan, and in October, he said he was committed to "come to Taiwan's defense if China attacked." In both cases, White House officials later insisted U.S. policy regarding Taiwan remained unchanged.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) said Biden's gaffe provides an opportunity for the United States to clearly state its Taiwan policy, and that "strategic clarity and military strength is the best way to deter China."

"It's now essential that President Biden restate our new policy of strategic clarity in clear, deliberate remarks from a prepared text," Cotton said. "Otherwise, the continued ambiguity and uncertainty will likely provoke the Chinese communists without deterring them—the worst of both worlds."

Clarifying Biden's comments on foreign policy is nothing new for administration officials. In March, the White House walked back three provocative statements the president made during a trip to Poland: that Russian president Vladimir Putin "cannot remain in power," that the United States would respond "in kind" to Russian use of chemical weapons, and that U.S. troops would be deployed to Ukraine.

In January, after Biden let slip that Russia might get away with lesser punishment for a "minor incursion" into Ukraine rather than a full-scale invasion, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki insisted the United States remained committed to respond forcefully to any attack on Ukraine.

Last June, Biden said he was "open" to Putin's proposal for a prisoner swap of cybercriminals. That same day, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the president's comments were "over-read or misread" and that the United States was not interested in a prisoner swap.