Taiwan and 'Feigned Ambiguity'

By professing to respect the one-China policy while treating Taiwan as an independent state, Washington's strategy is more properly titled “feigned ambiguity.”

Taiwan and 'Feigned Ambiguity'
Former President of Taiwan Lee Teng-hui Speaks at Cornell University in 1995, sparking the Third Taiwan Crisis

To observers and experts alike, the United States’ Taiwan policy is as clear as Joe Biden’s dementia babble.

That said, Biden’s episodes of word salad have not prevented him from pledging to defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion. In fact, since his presidency began, he has promised to do so at least three times.

These seemingly definitive statements did not add clarity to U.S. policy–which since 1979 has been described as “strategic ambiguity.”

In August 2021, Biden stated that, much like a NATO Article 5 obligation, the U.S. has a “sacred” commitment to defend Taiwan.

A few months later, at an October 2021 CNN town hall, Biden was asked if the U.S. would defend Taiwan from Chinese attack. He affirmed, stating “yes, we have a commitment to do that.”

In May 2022, during his first presidential visit to Japan, Biden was asked if the U.S. would “get involved militarily” if China invaded Taiwan. Biden answered “yes…[t]hat’s the commitment we made.”

After each of these statements, White House staff swooped in to perform damage control, reiterating that U.S. policy has not departed from the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979–a piece of legislation that Biden himself voted to pass. Due in part to its vagueness, the law marked the beginning of “strategic ambiguity.”

Since the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, the United States has followed the “one-China” policy, meaning it does not recognize Taiwan as an independent nation. Accordingly, the United States has not maintained official diplomatic relations with Taiwan since its passage. Through these decades, however, the U.S. has regularly provided weapons and, more recently, training to Taiwan’s military. The U.S. has also “informally” engaged in diplomacy with Taiwanese officials.