The United States seeks peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and continues to "oppose unilateral changes in the status quo by either side,” U.S. President Joe Biden told the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday.
The remarks were the first in which a sitting U.S. president had explicitly laid out U.S. policy toward China and Taiwan in a UNGA speech since 1971.
“We will lead with our diplomacy to strive for peaceful resolution of conflicts,” he said. “We seek to uphold peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. We're committed to our 'one China' policy, which has helped prevent conflict for four decades. And we continue to oppose unilateral changes in the status quo by either side.”
For decades, the U.S. has been clear that its decision to establish diplomatic relations with China in 1979 rested on the expectation that “the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means,” as stipulated in the Taiwan Relations Act.
The U.S. also does not support Taiwan independence.
On October 25, 1971, the U.N. General Assembly passed U.N. Resolution 2758, which replaced the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan’s formal name) with the People's Republic of China (PRC) as a permanent member of the Security Council in the United Nations.
While the resolution stated the representatives of the PRC government were the only legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations, it neither determined Taiwan’s status nor said Taiwan was part of China.
Zhou Enlai, then the PRC’s prime minister, noted that if Resolution 2758 passed, “the status of Taiwan is not yet decided.”
“We thank President Biden for valuing the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” a spokesperson from Taiwan’s representative office in the United States told VOA Mandarin on Wednesday.
In 1985 and 1987, then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan had cited China and Taiwan’s economic success during UNGA speeches. But from 1971 to 2021, sitting U.S. presidents had not explicitly mentioned the peace across the Taiwan Strait in their UNGA speeches, added the spokesperson, citing U.S. government records.
The PRC’s embassy in the U.S. has not responded to VOA’s request for a comment.
Biden’s remarks came after he said the U.S. would defend Taiwan if it were attacked by China, the fourth time he has made such remarks since taking office in 2021. The White House said Biden was not making a policy change.
Chinese officials responded angrily to Biden’s comments and lodged a formal complaint over them, according to a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson.
On Wednesday, the U.S. president repeated that Washington is not seeking a military conflict with Beijing. Officials from Washington and Beijing have been planning for their leaders’ in-person meeting during one of the regional summits in Southeast Asia scheduled for November.
“Let me be direct about the competition between the United States and China,” Biden said. “We do not seek conflict. We do not seek a cold war. We do not ask any nation to choose between the United States or any other partner. But the United States will be unabashed in promoting our vision of a free, open, secure and prosperous world.”
But some experts noted the tougher tone in Biden’s speech where he called out China’s “unprecedented, concerning nuclear buildup without any transparency,” as well as human rights violations in Xinjiang.
Richard Gowan, U.N. director for the International Crisis Group, wrote in a tweet:
During last year’s speech to the UNGA, Biden made no explicit mention of China.
“We’ll stand up for our allies and our friends and oppose attempts by stronger countries to dominate weaker ones, whether through changes to territory by force, economic coercion, technological exploitation or disinformation,” Biden said in September 2021.
“We’ll continue to uphold the long-standing rules and norms that have formed the guardrails of international engagement for decades” and the “bedrock commitments like freedom of navigation, adherence to international laws and treaties, support for arms control measures that reduce the risk and enhance transparency,” added Biden last year.
This week, American and Canadian warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait. China has claimed the Taiwan Strait as China's “internal waters” and “territorial sea.” However, under international law, the Taiwan Strait contains a corridor of international waters and airspace beyond the territorial sea of any state where all vessels can navigate freely.
The United States opposes the PRC’s attempts to redefine U.N. Resolution 2758 and has pushed back against U.N. statements claiming that Taiwan is a province of the PRC, including issuing a 2007 “non-paper” asserting its position that Taiwan’s status is not yet determined, according to Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and Jessica Drun, who is a nonresident fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub.