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President Joe Biden indicated yesterday the US would militarily defend Taiwan if China were to invade the island, a statement which came amid a visit to Japan. The comments appeared to depart from a decades-old policy of strategic ambiguity defining the US stance toward Taiwan (see 101). The White House later clarified the country’s position on Taiwan had not changed.

China and Taiwan have had bitter relations since 1949, when the island broke away following China’s Communist revolution (see history). Beijing views Taiwan as under its control, while Taiwan maintains it is a sovereign nation. The US has long supported Taiwan’s independence but has adopted a neutral stance on the question of its sovereignty. Under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, the US is committed to ensuring Taiwan has resources to defend itself but isn’t required to involve US military. 

Anxiety on the island has spiked in recent years following Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong, which raised fears of a similar fate in Taiwan.