US and China flags ahead of a meeting in Beijing, China. Picture: REUTERS/JASON LEE
US and China flags ahead of a meeting in Beijing, China. Picture: REUTERS/JASON LEE

Washington — US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he has spoken to Chinese President Xi Jinping about Taiwan and they agreed to abide by the “Taiwan agreement”, as tensions have ratcheted up between Taipei and Beijing.

“I’ve spoken with Xi about Taiwan. We agree ... we’ll abide by the Taiwan agreement,” he said. “We made it clear that I don’t think he should be doing anything other than abiding by the agreement.”

Biden appeared to be referring to Washington’s long-standing policy under which it officially recognises Beijing rather than Taipei, and the Taiwan Relations Act, which makes clear that the US 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 US 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.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said it had sought clarification about Biden’s comments, and were reassured US policy towards Taiwan had not changed, the US commitment to them was “rock solid” and that the US will continue to help Taiwan maintain its defences.

“Facing the Chinese government’s military, diplomatic and economic threats, Taiwan and the US have always maintained close and smooth communication channels,” it said, noting recent US comments of concern about China’s activities.

The remarks to reporters at the White House — made after Biden’s return from a trip to Michigan touting a spending package — come amid escalations in the Taiwan-China relationship.

China claims Taiwan as its own territory, which should be taken by force if necessary. Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend its freedoms and democracy, blaming China for the tensions.

Taiwan has reported 148 Chinese air force planes in the southern and southwestern part of its air defence zone over a four-day period beginning on Friday, the same day China marked a key patriotic holiday, National Day.

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

On Wednesday,  Taiwan defence minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said  China will be capable of mounting a full scale invasion of the democratic island by 2025.

Reuters

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