Antony Blinken Says China Attacking Taiwan Would Be a 'Very Unfortunate Action'

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States and its allies would "take action" if China were to use force against Taiwan, a scenario that he said would be "very, very, very unfortunate."

Blinken spoke virtually at a New York Times forum on Wednesday, where he was quizzed on the perennial question of whether the U.S. would come to the democratic island's defense in the event of an armed conflict across the Taiwan Strait.

Under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, successive administrations have been obligated to sell Taipei the defensive articles necessary for it to defend itself. However, the TRA's lack of a clear-cut security guarantees has become the subject of much discussion as cross-strait tensions flare and the world awaits an American response.

The U.S.'s role is to ensure that Taiwan "has the means to defend itself," Blinken said in the carefully crafted and deliberately ambiguous language of the legislation. The Biden administration's top diplomat said a Taiwan with a credible self-defense capability "is the best deterrent against any very, very, very unfortunate action that might be contemplated by China."

"At the same time, I think it's fair to say that we're not alone in this determination to make sure that we preserve peace and stability in that part of the world," said Blinken, who went on to describe the potential for a coordinated response from American allies.

"There are many countries, both in the region and beyond, that would see any unilateral action to use force to disrupt the status quo as a significant threat to peace and security, and they, too, would take action in the event that that happens," he added.

In a foreword for Taiwan's biennial defense white paper published earlier this week, Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng noted for the first time the critical role that Taipei's allies could play in preventing conflict with Beijing. Chiu said only "a collective power" could keep peace in the region.

During Wednesday's event, Secretary Blinken redirected the topic of Taiwan's defense toward the arguably more pertinent question of what the U.S. and in particular Taiwan could do now to prevent what would ultimately be a failure of deterrence.

Asked about specific U.S. action if China were to "breach" Taiwan, Blinken added: "But we will make sure that Taiwan has the means to defend itself, because the purpose here is never to get to that point, where anyone is actually trying to disrupt the status quo by force, to make sure that deterrence is there, and that no one engages in actions that could be profoundly, profoundly disruptive, dangerous to world peace and security."

It was a callback to remarks by President Joe Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, who, when asked the same question by the BBC in October, answered: "Let me just say this, we are going to take action now to try to prevent that day from ever coming to pass."

Blinken said he agreed with a recent assessment by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who said the Chinese government under Xi Jinping had global ambitions. The secretary of state said Beijing seeks a leadership role both economically and militarily.

The U.S. is not looking to "decouple" from Beijing, Blinken said, refuting claims that Washington was looking to contain China's development. "This is not about containing China. It's not about holding China back."

Blinken said the at times adversarial relationship with China was about upholding "the infamous international rules-based order," which he said has "real meaning."

"We took the lead many years ago, many decades ago, in helping to put that order together, that, among other things, encouraged the free flow of ideas, of capital, of people, and based on widely shared rules, and rules that were inspired by liberal values," he noted. "To the extent that order is being challenged by anyone—whether it's China or anyone else—we will stand up and defend it."

U.S. Would 'Take Action' If Taiwan Attacked
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a U.S.-Egypt strategic dialogue event with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on November 8, 2021. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States and its allies would "take action" if China were to use force against Taiwan. ALEX BRANDON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images