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Biden says US would defend Taiwan if China launches an ‘unprecedented attack’

President Joe Biden said this week that the United States would defend Taiwan if China invaded, appearing to break with the US government’s stance of “strategic ambiguity” on the island. 

His comments came in an interview that aired Sunday evening, when a 60 Minutes correspondent asked the president if US forces would defend Taiwan. 

“Yes, if in fact there was an unprecedented attack,” Biden responded. 

The president went on to emphasize his administration’s support for the “One China” policy, which recognizes the government in Beijing while allowing for informal ties with Taiwan. 

“Taiwan makes their own judgments about their independence. We are not moving – we’re not encouraging their being independent. We’re not – that – that’s their decision,” Biden said Sunday. 

Tensions between China and the US have escalated in recent weeks following a visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to Taiwan in early August. 

While the United States does not have a mutual defense treaty with Taiwan, it does supply the island with weapons. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a bill on Wednesday that would give Taiwan $4.5 billion for defense over the next four years and designate Taiwan as a non-NATO ally.

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Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning criticized the new defense spending this week, saying that the “root cause of the current tensions across the Taiwan Strait is that the one-China principle has been challenged.”

“Let me stress that no country or individual should underestimate the Chinese government and people’s strong resolve and firm will to safeguard our sovereignty and territorial integrity and to realize national reunification,” she said at a press conference on Wednesday. 

It’s not the first time that Biden has said the US would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion. The president said last October that the US has a “commitment” to come to Taiwan’s defense, prompting former White House press secretary Jen Psaki to walk back his remarks. 

“There has been no shift,” Psaki said in October. “The President was not announcing any change in our policy nor has he made a decision to change our policy.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday evening. 

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