The US secretary of defense has reiterated a vow made by Joe Biden this week that Washington would support Taiwan militarily if attacked by China, seemingly in a break with traditional US policy.
On Friday, NATO defense ministers gathered for the second day of a Brussels summit amid an ongoing debate among EU nations over whether to establish a small European rapid reaction force.
Speaking at a press conference, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin reiterated Washington’s resolute commitment to NATO and its “sacred obligation” to the bloc’s Article 5.
Asked whether the United States would defend Taiwan if attacked by China, Austin doubled-down on US backing for Taipei after President Biden vowed to support the island nation against Beijing on Thursday. Austin promised that the US would continue to help Taipei with its defense capabilities.
“We remain committed to the One China policy…As we’ve done under multiple administrations, we will continue to help Taiwan with resources and capabilities it needs to defend itself,” the Pentagon chief stated.
Beijing’s ‘One China’ policy has been tacitly accepted by US policymakers for decades recognizing the People’s Republic of China as the legal government of China, while also maintaining unofficial diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Austin said he would not “engage in any hypotheticals,” concerning exactly what the US would do if China attacked the island nation which Beijing regards as an inalienable part of the mainland, adding that nobody wants to see a conflict erupt.
On Thursday, Biden raised eyebrows when he responded to a student’s question about Taiwan at a CNN forum by vowing to support the island and saying he was not worried about Chinese military development. While Biden claimed the US had made a “commitment” to defend Taiwan, the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which governs relations between the two, does not contain any mutual defense treaty.
Austin also pledged to “collectively work” with European partners “to ensure that the Indo-Pacific area region remains free and open,” while saying he was open to hearing how a European defense force could complement what already exists within the NATO alliance.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded on Friday by calling on the US not to interfere in China’s core interests.
Austin also said on Friday that NATO wishes for a “predictable and stable” relationship with Russia, as relations between the two soured further after the bloc expelled eight Russian diplomats from Brussels and Moscow responded by completely suspending the operations of its NATO mission.