Secretary Austin Delivers Remarks During Virtual Ukraine Defense Contact Group

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin gives opening remarks during a virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at the Pentagon May 23, 2022 in Arlington, Virginia. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin today reiterated that US policy towards Taiwan has not changed, hours after President Joe Biden appeared to make news by saying the US would intervene militarily should China invade.

“As the president said, our One China policy has not changed,” Austin told reporters at the Pentagon. “He reiterated that policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also highlighted our commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act to help provide Taiwan the means to defend itself. So again, our policy has not changed.”

In remarks in Japan, Biden did say that US policy had not changed, but later prompted international headlines when he answered simply “yes” to a reporter’s question about whether he was “willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan.”

“That’s the commitment we made,” Biden said after a follow-up question. “Look, here’s the situation: We agree with the One China policy; we’ve signed on to it and all the attendant agreements made from there. But the idea that — that it can be taken by force — just taken by force — is just not a — is just not appropriate. It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine. And so, it’s a burden that is even stronger.”

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While Biden may have been referencing US commitments to arm Taiwan’s own self-defense in line with longstanding policy, the Chinese Foreign Ministry, for one, appeared to make a less generous interpretation of his wording. Spokesperson Wang Wenbin expressed “strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition,” saying, “China has no room for compromise or concessions on issues involving China’s core interests such as sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to The Associated Press.

Prior to Austin’s remarks, the White House appeared to clarify Biden’s remarks as well, telling the AP that Biden’s comments did not reflect a policy shift.

When asked to walk through what the US would do if China invaded, Austin said the US has multiple “highly classified” contingency plans for various developments around the world.

“It would be very inappropriate for me at a microphone to discuss the risk associated with those plans relative to anything with respect to Taiwan or anywhere else in the Pacific,” he said.

Then asked whether he would support sending troops to Taiwan in the event of an invasion, Austin said he would “render [his] advice at the moment in time to the president.”

For years the US has pursued a policy of “strategic ambiguity” when it comes to Taiwan, balancing US support for the autonomous island while being careful not to further strain relations with China over an intensely sensitive subject. The Taiwan Relations Act, referenced by Austin, allows for the US to “make[] available defense articles and services as necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability,” according to the State Department.

Austin praises European arms to Ukraine

The official reason for Austin’s public appearance was a virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. The secretary praised European nations on their latest commitments to send arms to assist in its defense from Russia.

“I’m especially grateful to Denmark, which announced today that it will provide a Harpoon launcher and missiles to help Ukraine defend its coast,” he said. “I’d also like to thank the Czech Republic for its substantial support, including a recent donation of attack helicopters, tanks and rocket systems.”

Austin recognized Italy, Greece, Norway and Poland for agreeing to send “critically needed artillery systems and ammunition,” as well as the United Kingdom for “its leading role in helping to coordinate security assistance and for the significant quantities of British equipment that continue to flow to Ukraine.”

Last last week the Defense Department announced an additional $100 million in security assistance to Ukraine, including howitzers, tactical vehicles, counter-artillery radars and other field equipment.

As of May 19, the US had committed some $4.6 billion in assistance since the beginning of the Biden administration, the DoD said, including approximately $3.9 billion since Russia’s February invasion began.

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