Mr Biden’s remarks on Monday – during his first visit to Asia since taking office – appear to push the boundaries of US “strategic uncertainty” policy towards self-governing Taiwan, much to China’s chagrin.
Although the United States has promised under its Taiwan Relations Act to “help provide Taiwan with self-defense tools”, it has long refused to state clearly how it can react in the event of a Chinese attack on the island.
Biden’s aide later said his comment did not change the US position on the island, which China considers its own.
Officially, a similar line was adopted by Japan. Cabinet Chief Hirokazu Matsuno said on Tuesday that the Allies’ position on Taiwan had not changed, although he declined to comment on Biden’s remarks.
But some high-ranking members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) welcomed the comment, which dispelled doubts about the United States’ real readiness to act during the crisis.
“This remark goes far beyond the ambiguous strategy of past administrations. It will promote peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” Masahisa Sato, a former deputy defense minister and a well-known LDP hawk, said in a blog statement.
“The party has many lodges on this subject.”
Former Deputy Foreign Minister Keisuke Suzuki called Biden’s comment “very important and timely” on Twitter.
For Prime Minister Fumio Kisida, who stood by Biden during his speech, Taiwan’s security is vital. Taiwan and Japan are part of a chain of islands surrounded by Chinese troops. The loss of Tavan will break this line and will be seen as a threat to Japan.
“China’s renunciation of adventurous military action must remain a top priority,” said Tomohiko Taniguchi, an adviser to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Biden’s comments are “welcome to Japan, Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific,” he added.
The main topic of Biden’s visit was countering China’s growing military and economic influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
According to advisers and analysts, the president arrived in Asia with a clear message from China: do not try what Russia has done to Ukraine anywhere in Asia, especially in Taiwan.
“It is not bad for us to say that the United States will act in emergencies,” a LDP official working for an influential lawmaker told Reuters, provided his identities were not established.
Japan has difficult relations with China, which is both its largest export market and largest source of imports. For many years, Japanese companies have been building deep supply chains in China, although the Japanese government now wants them to bring some of the production home.
China’s invasion of Taiwan could also disrupt the sea routes that Japan uses to transport goods to much of the rest of the world, as well as to deliver oil from the Middle East, which feeds the world’s third largest economy.
“If Taiwan is occupied, Japan could be severely damaged because our sea lanes are near Taiwan,” said retired Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, who served as Japan’s chief of staff for five years, until 2019.
He added that Biden’s comment would help deter China from attacking Taiwan.
Japan has expressed concern about Taiwan in its latest annual White Paper on Defense, citing a “sense of crisis” over Taiwan and the threat posed by Chinese forces to that country.
In the weeks since the attack in Ukraine, which Russia calls a “special operation,” Kishida has also warned of increasingly volatile security in East Asia.
China called its maneuvers around Taiwan, which included regular air raids by Taiwan’s air defense zone, a routine military activity.
Taiwan’s air force hijacked planes to scare away 18 Chinese planes on Friday, Taiwan’s defense ministry said, becoming a regular scheme that outraged the Taipei government.
As the number of Chinese planes and ships around Japan also increases, Japan is increasing its defense spending, and the Kishida party is demanding that it double to 2% of gross domestic product.
However, even this will not correspond to the growth rate of China’s military spending, which is almost five times higher. For decades, Japan has limited itself to short-range weapons because its pacifist constitution forbade it from waging foreign wars.
These restrictions mean that Japan is likely to rely on its American ally in the fight against Taiwan, while welcoming and supporting the increase in troops, aircraft and ships needed to defeat China.