As President Biden jets off to the G20 summit, the world leaders he'll be meeting with there have more reason than usual to doubt his commitments. Policymakers and experts are still trying to decipher the contradictory messages from the Biden administration regarding Taiwan. The answers remain unclear -- and in a tense region where any misstep can escalate into conflict, that's a big deal.
Biden made a strong statement in a CNN Townhall last week, affirming that the United States would come to Taiwan's defense if China attacked the small, democratically led, and functionally independent island off its coast. But this seemingly straightforward remark left the White House scrambling and Press Secretary Jen Psaki clarifying that Biden's comments did not indicate a change in policy.
For decades, the United States has adopted the approach of "strategic ambiguity" regarding what we would do if China were to invade Taiwan -- a strategically important and freedom-loving ally. This shroud of mystery has helped protect Taiwan and maintain the status quo.
So, how are Chinese leaders interpreting Biden's commitment and the subsequent swift backtracking by Psaki and other administration officials?
Gordon Chang said on "Washington Watch" that Chinese leaders "are just ecstatic." He pointed to comments made by Chen Weihua, the European bureau chief of China Daily, the Communist Party media outlet. Chang noted that Biden's statement and Psaki's clarification gave Weihua the opportunity to say, "Oh, Biden's too old. He doesn't know what he's talking about. He likes to bluff, which is a real indication that the Chinese leaders look at this and say there is just disarray at the top of the Biden administration."
For Chang, this is why the administration's mixed signals are so dangerous, "because [Chinese leaders] might be impelled to act if they think they can get away with it." When dealing with the increasingly aggressive and expansionist Chinese government, there is no room to display weakness or a lack of resolve.
Biden's chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan -- and sudden abandonment of many Afghan allies and some American citizens -- proved this. It enraged European allies who had fought in that country with us. And Chinese propaganda outlets taunted that "Taiwan will be tomorrow's Afghanistan being abandoned by the U.S." Uncertainty isn't a good look for the leader of the free world, especially as authoritarian bullies around the world revel at the thought of a weak America.
President Biden has long portrayed himself as a foreign policy expert. When he came into office, Biden boldly declared, "America is back." Yet, the White House is contradicting itself, and our allies are skeptical. The apparent confusion or disagreement within the Biden administration over core foreign policy positions risks giving adversaries across the globe reason to believe that the United States is not a serious country. This is a consequence that would cause harm for years to come.