News & Politics

Biden Says He and Xi Will Abide by the Nonexistent 'Taiwan Agreement.' What Could Go Wrong?

AP Photo/Los Angeles Times, Jay L. Clendenin, Pool

Joe Biden told reporters when asked about China’s provocations against Taiwan in recent days—more than 150 Chinese warplanes flew uncomfortably close to the island recently—that he and President Xi have agreed to abide by the “Taiwan Agreement.”

That statement caused a lot of reporters to scratch their heads. There is no U.S.-China “Taiwan Agreement” on record.

“We made it clear that I don’t think he should be doing anything other than abiding by the agreement,” Biden told reporters when asked about Chinese-Taiwanese tensions, according to Reuters.

Reuters tried to be helpful in clarifying what the doddering old fool meant.

Biden appeared to be referring to Washington’s long-standing policy under which it officially recognizes Beijing rather than Taipei, and the Taiwan Relations Act, which makes clear that the U.S. decision to establish diplomatic ties with Beijing instead of Taiwan rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means.

While that act binds the United States to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, Washington only acknowledges China’s stance that the island belongs to it and that there is “one China”, and takes no position on Taiwan’s sovereignty.

Beijing is not a party to official U.S. policy on Taiwan or the Taiwan Relations Act, so whatever “agreement” Biden was talking about is fantasy.

Even if there were an “agreement” on Taiwan, what difference would that make to China? Recall that Great Britain inked a solemn treaty with Beijing in 1997 guaranteeing the political rights of Chinese citizens in Hong Kong.

Perhaps the president would like to ask how that “agreement” with China is working out today for the people of Hong Kong?

As is usually the case in these matters. the United States issued a “strong statement” warning Beijing.

“The United States is very concerned by the People’s Republic of China’s provocative military activity near Taiwan, which is destabilizing, risks miscalculations, and undermines regional peace and stability,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement on Sunday.

Biden also appeared to be referencing a 90-minute call he held with Xi on Sept. 9, their first talks in seven months, in which they discussed the need to ensure that competition between the world’s two largest economies does not veer into conflict.

While China may not be strong enough to take on the United States in a stand-up fight — although its military power is increasing rapidly — the country is beginning to feel that the balance of forces is tipping its way. When they feel the time is right and the U.S. is powerless to stop them — short of using nuclear weapons — Taiwan will go the way of Hong Kong and be annexed by Communist China.

Taiwan harbors no illusions about its ability to fight off a Chinese invasion alone. President Tsai Ing-wen is one of Taiwan’s most aggressive leaders in decades and she’s been making noises about declaring some kind of independent status for Taiwan.

This is forcing a reaction from Beijing. The violations of Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone have been increasing and, as the BBC points out, anything is possible.

Every time dozens of mainland fighter jets and bombers fly into Taiwan’s air defence zone, Taipei scrambles its own aircraft. It is not hard to imagine a scenario whereby a misunderstood signal or action could lead to a deadly incident.

There is considerable debate amongst analysts as to whether Beijing might be building towards a move to retake Taiwan by force.

Each time a Chinese government official or a senior party member threatens to do this it fuels fears that this could come sooner rather than later.

And such threats have been coming thick and fast recently.

A Chinese invasion is not imminent, but China is forcing the U.S. to move pieces on the board and is gauging the U.S. capabilities and reactions. It’s a very long game the Chinese are playing and they know that time is on their side.