Taiwan Pleased With 'Rock-Solid' U.S. Support After Biden-Xi Talks

Taiwan was a major topic of discussion when President Joe Biden met Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Monday. The island nation—claimed by Beijing but backed by Washington—was content with the outcome after the two leaders aired longstanding differences and ultimately agreed to disagree.

The United States and China have rarely seen eye to eye on the subject since Washington dropped recognition of Taipei in favor of Beijing in 1979, backing the legitimacy of the Chinese government while at the same time only acknowledging its claim to Taiwan.

Successive Chinese leaders, including Xi, have articulated an objective to one day unify the island, if necessary, by force, while U.S. administrations have maintained a "one China" policy that doesn't support Taiwan's independence but promises to arm Taipei so that any decision about the island's future can be made peacefully and free of coercion.

Taiwan Content With Outcome of Biden-Xi Talks
President Joe Biden, right and President Xi Jinping of China meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on November 14, 2022. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

A White House readout of the meeting in Bali, Indonesia, on the sidelines of the G20 summit, said Biden "laid out in detail that our one China policy has not changed, the United States opposes any unilateral changes to the status quo by either side, and the world has an interest in the maintenance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait."

"He raised U.S. objections to the [People's Republic of China's] coercive and increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan, which undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the broader region, and jeopardize global prosperity," the readout said.

The Taiwanese government rejects Beijing's sovereignty claims and was pleased that Washington had reaffirmed its commitment to help Taipei maintain the cross-strait status quo, an already uneasy balance that has swayed heavily in China's favor in recent years as its economy surged ahead, propelling breathtaking military modernization.

Joanne Ou, Taiwan's foreign ministry spokesperson, thanked Biden for using the talks with Xi to "once again publicly express the United States' firm support for maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and its commitment to Taiwan's security."

"Since taking office, the Biden administration has repeatedly emphasized its 'rock-solid' commitment to Taiwan's security," Ou told reporters on Tuesday.

"As a responsible member of the Indo-Pacific's democratic camp, and in this critical moment when authoritarian regimes are blatantly challenging the international order, Taiwan will continue to actively strengthen its self-defense capabilities, deepen the Taiwan-U.S. security partnership, and work closely with like-minded countries to jointly resist the threat of authoritarianism," she said.

Biden told reporters he didn't see "any imminent attempt on the part of China to invade Taiwan," tamping down popular debate about the Chinese leadership's urgency to resolve differences with Taiwan, whose public appears to be slipping further from Beijing's grasp as the political systems across the strait continue to diverge.

"I made it clear that we want to see cross-strait issues peacefully resolved, so it never has to come to that," Biden said. "And I'm convinced that [Xi] understood exactly what I was saying. I understood what he was saying."

Few expected major breakthroughs, especially on Taiwan, at the latest Biden-Xi talks, which were their sixth conversation in two years but their first in person since Biden was elected president in 2020. That was evident from the significant airtime Beijing gave to the topic of Taiwan in its subsequent readout of the meeting.

China's president called the issue of Taiwan "the very core of China's core interests, the bedrock of the political foundation of China-U.S. relations, and the first red line that must not be crossed in China-U.S. relations," according to official news service Xinhua.

"Anyone that seeks to split Taiwan from China will be violating the fundamental interests of the Chinese nation," Xi said. The Chinese people would "absolutely not let that happen," he told Biden, whose reassurances about on-paper unofficial U.S.-Taiwan ties have often rung hollow in Beijing.

In a briefing to the Chinese press, Wang Yi, who had attended the talks in his capacity as China's foreign minister, said Xi urged Biden not to let bilateral tensions over Taiwan "get out of hand."

Despite the short list of deliverables, officials from both sides believed the high-level face time would help establish guardrails that could keep differences in check. Previewing the talks last week, Jake Sullivan, Biden's national security adviser, had already anticipated that Taiwan would "feel very secure and comfortable in the United States' position."

Yeh-chung Lu, a politics professor at National Chengchi University in Taipei, said the candid exchange of views allowed Biden and Xi to "make sure their voice and stance were heard and understood by the other side."

"This is the right direction, and the meeting helps arrest the downward spiral between the two sides since 2018, at least for now," he told Newsweek.

The leaders were adamant about their respective positions on Taiwan, said Lu, who argued ongoing differences over the island "would definitely be a litmus test for both sides to see to what extent the competition could be managed."