Joe Biden Backs Down on Taiwan After Xi Jinping Warns of ‘Playing with Fire’

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Mandy Cheng/AFP/Getty, Drew Angerer/Getty

President Joe Biden walked back a comment apparently describing Taiwan as “independent” on Tuesday after dictator Xi Jinping threatened Biden in a virtual meeting that those supporting the island nation would get “burned.”

After an event on infrastructure in New Hampshire, Biden told reporters he made it very clear to Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping during their video conference that the United States supported the 1979 Taiwan Act.

“We have made very clear we support the Taiwan Act, and that’s it,” Biden said to reporters. “It’s independent. It makes its own decisions.”

The Taiwan Act does not recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty. The United States does not acknowledge that Taiwan – run under a democratic system independent from Beijing for its entire existence – is a sovereign state as doing so would automatically trigger the end of diplomatic ties with communist China. The Taiwan Act does allow Washington to establish “relations” with Taipei separately from Beijing and allows the United States “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character,” effectively lending support against a Chinese invasion.

Biden acted quickly to correct his comments to reporters, speaking to them again before boarding Air Force One for his trip home.

“We are not encouraging independence,” Biden said, repeatedly saying that “nothing” would happen on the issue of Taiwan.

“We’re encouraging that they do exactly what the Taiwan Act requires, and that’s what we’re doing,” he continued. “Let them make up their mind. Period.”

Biden repeatedly cited the Taiwan Act.

“Nothing happens. We’re not going to change our policy at all,” he clarified.

Biden commented on Taiwan after his over three-hour video conference call with Xi on Monday evening where the Chinese dictator scolded the United States on the issue of Taiwan.

“Such moves are extremely dangerous, just like playing with fire,” Xi said to Biden according to Xinhua. “Whoever plays with fire will get burnt.”

In this April 12, 2018 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, the Liaoning aircraft carrier is accompanied by navy frigates and submarines conducting an exercises in the South China Sea. China has announced live-fire military exercises in the Taiwan Strait amid heightened tensions over increased American support for Taiwan. The announcement by authorities in the coastal province of Fujian on Thursday was accompanied by a statement that the navy was ending a three-day exercise in the South China one day early. (Li Gang/Xinhua via AP)

In this April 12, 2018 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, the Liaoning aircraft carrier is accompanied by navy frigates and submarines conducting an exercises in the South China Sea. China has announced live-fire military exercises in the Taiwan Strait amid heightened tensions over increased American support for Taiwan. (Li Gang/Xinhua via AP)

Chinese warplanes actually entered Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone during Biden’s video call with Xi on Monday.

Biden’s stumble over his rhetoric on Taiwan occurred after he promised to improve communications with China to “manage differences,” on the issue.

It’s not the first time that the White House has had to clarify the president’s comments on Taiwan.

In October, the White House clarified remarks from Biden during a CNN town hall where he said the United States would act to defend Taiwan if China attacked.

“Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” he said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki reassured reporters after the town hall that the Taiwan policy had not changed.

“There has been no shift. The President was not announcing any change in our policy nor has he made a decision to change our policy,” she said. “There is no change in our policy.”

Biden’s rhetorical stumble on the issue of Taiwan happened hours after White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan said that the president fully understood the nuances of the Taiwan act.

Sullivan spoke about Biden’s video conference with Xi during an event with the Brookings Institution on Tuesday morning.

“He also reminded President Xi that he voted for the Taiwan relations act as a senator and so he understands deeply first-hand that the act makes clear that any effort to shape Taiwan’s future, by other than peaceful means is of grave concern to the United States,” Sullivan said.

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