Biden administration says Taiwan commitment ‘rock-solid’ after Beijing sends warplanes

Foreign Affairs

During the first weekend of the Biden administration, China sent dozens of warplanes into the Taiwan Strait, prompting the U.S. State Department to issue a statement blaming Beijing for tensions and reaffirming American commitments to Taiwan.

Illustration by Derek Zheng

Over the weekend, Beijing sent dozens of military aircraft into the Taiwan Strait — 13 on Saturday, and 15 on Sunday — in a large, but not unprecedented show of force, the New York Times reports. Also starting on Saturday, January 23, the U.S. sent an aircraft carrier group into the South China Sea on a “freedom of navigation” operation, per AFP

  • China’s Foreign Ministry said (in English, Chinese) that it “does no good to regional peace and stability” for the U.S. to be operating in the South China Sea, and repeated its usual lines on Taiwan about Beijing’s goal of the “peaceful reunification of China.” 
  • In other words: “It’s business as usual for strategic competition,” Renato de Castro, a defense expert in the Philippines, told Reuters

The Biden administration’s first official comments on Taiwan were released in response to Beijing’s warplane maneuvers, via State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

The United States notes with concern the pattern of ongoing PRC attempts to intimidate its neighbors, including Taiwan. We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected representatives.

The statement added that the U.S. would continue to “assist Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability” — i.e., sell weapons — and reaffirm that the U.S.-Taiwan relationship was “rock-solid.” 

Both Beijing’s military maneuvers and the U.S. reaction were seen as continuations of existing trends in geopolitics, further confirming that a reversion to Obama-era U.S.-China relations is not in the cards. Scholar of Taiwan issues Jessica Drun observed that the U.S. statement sent the message that the responsibility for “deteriorating cross-Strait relations is on Beijing for terminating official contacts with Taipei and ratcheting up tensions.” 

“We want to approach this with some strategic patience,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said today of the overall U.S.-China relationship.