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Hal Brands

Biden's Taiwan ‘Gaffe’ Is a Smart Strategy to Deter China

After years of “strategic ambiguity” it’s high time for clarity on whether the US would defend the island against attack.



Photographer: Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images

Once is a gaffe, three times is a policy. During his trip to Asia, President Joe Biden stated, for the third time, that the US would defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion, a comment seemingly at odds with Washington’s longstanding strategy of ambiguity on that subject.

Biden’s comments are starting to seem like a deliberate effort to strengthen deterrence without incurring all the costs of formally changing America’s stance. Yet if this is a sensible way of dealing with a sticky problem, it is also somewhat beside the point. The erosion of deterrence in the Taiwan Strait isn’t a matter of commitment; it is a matter of capabilities. Time is running out to reverse that dangerous trend.