President Joe Biden said the United States would use military force to defend Taiwan if China were to invade, abandoning the usual “strategic ambiguity” American presidents adopt when discussing the self-ruled island.

What he said: During a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, Biden was asked if he planned to go further to help Taiwan fend off Chinese aggression than the U.S. did with Ukraine, according to CNN.

  • “You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons,” a reporter asked, according to The New York Times. “Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?”
  • “Yes,” Biden replied.
  • “You are?” the reporter followed up.
  • “That’s the commitment we made,” Biden said.
  • The president continued: “We agree with the “One China” policy. We signed on to it, and all the attendant agreements made from there, but the idea that it can be taken by force, just taken by force, it’s just not appropriate.”

What is the “One China” policy? China considers Taiwan its territory under the “One China” policy, and says the issue is the most important in its relationship with the U.S., according to Reuters.

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Why it matters: According to The New York Times, the statement “set the stage for fresh tensions between the United States and China, which insists that Taiwan is a part of its territory and cannot exist as a sovereign nation.” The U.S. has previously warned China about using force against Taiwan but typically remains vague about how it would respond.

  • China’s Foreign Ministry quickly condemned Biden’s comments, saying they were interference in its internal affairs, NPR reports.
  • U.S. relations with Taiwan have been governed by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which does not require military intervention if China invades, but stipulates that American policy ensures Taiwan has the resources to defend itself, according to the The Associated Press.
  • AP also reports that China has increased its “military provocations” against Taiwan, which are aimed at intimidating the country into unifying with the mainland.
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What’s next? This is the third time that Biden has issued similar statements recently, and the White House has walked back previous comments, according to CNN. But, as NPR reports, not everyone sees the president’s recent comments as a “gaffe,” and one expert on Japanese politics thinks the statement will reassure Washington’s allies in Japan.

  • “Greater U.S. commitment or involvement with regards to Taiwan will certainly be appreciated by Kishida and others in the Japanese government,” said Corey Wallace, Japanese politics expert at Kanagawa University, near Tokyo.
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