Fred Fleitz: Biden's Taiwan flubs, weakness embolden China

This was not the first time White House officials backtracked on supposed policy shifts by President Biden

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Media outlets were quick to report that President Biden shifted U.S. policy on Taiwan during a CNN town hall last week. When asked whether the U.S. would protect Taiwan if China attacked, the president stated, "Yes, we have a commitment to do that." This seemed to be a shift away from America's stated policy of "strategic ambiguity" on how the U.S. would respond.   

The media is now focusing on how the White House quickly walked back Biden’s comment. An unnamed White House official said Biden was "not announcing any change in our policy and there is no change in our policy."  

This was not the first time White House officials backtracked on supposed policy shifts by the president on Taiwan, China, the southern border, Afghanistan and other issues. 

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Predictably, Chinese officials expressed outrage at President Biden’s apparent change in U.S. policy on Taiwan. But we can be sure Beijing actually interpreted this incident as another indication that America currently is being led by the weakest president ever. 

U.S. adversaries respect strength and exploit weakness. America’s enemies detested President Trump, but they also feared him. They knew Trump would not hesitate to use military force or impose trade sanctions to defend American interests. This enabled progress in trade talks with China and the summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Trump. It’s no accident that Kim’s missile and nuclear weapons tests ceased after Trump threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea in a speech to the United Nations in September 2017. 

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States like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea typically test new U.S. presidents and look for ways to manipulate and extract concessions from weak ones. But they know they can only push so far because even weak presidents are typically mentally competent, savvy leaders, and have well-developed policies, and strong advisers.   

Not only are Biden’s advisers exceptionally weak, but his national security policies have also been feeble and unserious, especially his obsession with climate change, rejoining the deeply flawed Iran nuclear deal, and the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

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A weak president who is viewed as incapable of serving as U.S. commander in chief and who has extraordinarily weak national security officials and policies is uncharted territory, at least in modern history. So rather than being truly angry at Biden’s recent statement on Taiwan, China is adding this incident to its calculations on how to exploit unprecedented American foreign policy weakness and confusion. 

This explains the recent surge in Chinese provocations, especially naval and air drills near Taiwan, the test launch of a hypersonic missile, the first joint naval exercises with Russia in the Asia-Pacific, and building more than 100 new ICBM silos. In addition, there have been increasing threats by China to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.   

So how real is the Chinese government’s determination to eventually invade and conquer Taiwan? Center for Security Policy senior fellow Grant Newsham explained it is very real in a recent op-ed: 

The Biden presidency has created a period of extraordinary danger for the freedom and security of Taiwan.

"Xi Jinping means it when he says he will seize Taiwan – either via intimidation or outright force. The PLA [China’s People’s Liberation Army] has, in fact, had its marching orders for decades – long before Xi came along: prepare to take Taiwan, and to defeat American forces. Major elements of its training and weapons and operational development have been specifically designed for these tasks. And, over the last 15 years or so, the PLA has markedly improved its capabilities for an invasion or armed attack on Taiwan – and it thinks it might succeed." 

Taiwan's defense minister, Gen. Chiu Kuo-cheng, said this month that by 2025, China will be able to mount a "full-scale" invasion of Taiwan. INDOPACOM Commander Adm. John Aquilino testified to a House hearing last June that China was preparing to take Taiwan within the next six years.   

Many experts claim China is not quite ready to invade Taiwan and will not attack until after the 2024 Beijing Olympics. But Biden’s incompetent leadership and incoherent policies may drastically change Beijing’s timeline to exploit this period of American weakness before a possible new U.S. president assumes office in January 2025.   

China sent 124 military aircraft – bombers, fighters, reconnaissance and anti-submarine planes – through Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) between Oct. 1 and 22. It sent 117 aircraft in September and a total of about 692 in 2021 so far. By comparison, 380 Chinese military aircraft flew through Taiwan’s ADIZ in 2020.   

This surge in violations of Taiwan’s air zone may be a prelude to a Chinese invasion in the next three years. This mix of warplanes and naval ships was similar to what China would use for an assault on Taiwan. The air drills likely are allowing PLA pilots to train for an attack on Taiwan. They probably have other purposes, including testing Taiwan’s air defenses, testing possible responses by the U.S., Japan and other states, and undermining the morale of the Taiwanese people. 

Just as important, the U.S. and its allies must press Beijing to convince it that an assault on Taiwan will have profound political and economic repercussions for China. The U.S. should end the ambiguity about whether it would come to Taiwan’s defense in conjunction with Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom and possibly other states.   

Then, the Biden administration should work with its allies to strengthen Taiwan’s defenses by arming it to the teeth, including with naval strike missiles to attack amphibious assault ships, sea mines and Stinger missiles to defend against PLA helicopters.   

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A single Taiwan Military Command should be created that includes Japan, the United States and Taiwan to foster military cooperation. This should include allowing Taiwan’s air and naval forces to train and operate from Japanese bases and Guam. Center for Security Policy senior fellow Stephen Bryen and Shoshana Bryen, senior director of the Jewish Policy Center, recently published an Epoch Times op-ed on how to implement such a strategy.   

The Biden presidency has created a period of extraordinary danger for the freedom and security of Taiwan. The U.S. and its allies must act immediately and aggressively to stand with and defend Taiwan to close what Beijing may see as a window of opportunity to invade the island state. 

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