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Joe Biden Is Making China Squirm over Taiwan Before Their Summit

J-20 stealth fighter. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
J-20 stealth fighter. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Biden Angers Xi Jinping on Taiwan Before G20 Summit. Good: Beijing expressed anger at Washington, just days before the long-awaited summit in Bali between President Joe Biden and Chinese ruler Xi Jinping.


Let China fume. It’s good for China’s aggressive leader to feel upset and disrespected at this crucial moment. The summit will not be productive if he goes into the event feeling happy and secure.

The Taiwan Issue

We have National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to thank for setting the right tone. On Thursday, he told reporters that the Biden administration would brief Taiwan about the upcoming China summit to make the island republic feel “secure and comfortable.”

Friday, the Chinese foreign ministry expressed indignation. Spokesperson Zhao Lijian called the American action “egregious in nature” and said the advance briefing was a violation of Washington’s long-standing promises to China to keep contacts with Taiwan unofficial.

“Privately briefing Taiwan on U.S.-China leader-level exchanges is standard operating procedure,” Brookings scholar Ryan Hass tweeted Friday. “Publicly and preemptively announcing plans to do so is a new wrinkle.”

The wrinkle, pronounced Paul Frandano on Twitter, is not only “new” but also “needlessly provocative.” And borrowing imagery attributed to former Admiral Dennis Blair, Frandano added this: “Nothing like tossing a turd in the punch bowl before Xi-Biden meeting.”

Frandano, who identifies himself as a former CIA official, is correct that Sullivan was provocative but wrong about him being needlessly provocative.

It is now time to provoke China.

Biden Must Push Back on Taiwan

The summit is not a good idea—Biden, among other reasons, should be using his precious time in Bali to talk with friends, not an enemy—but if the event must occur the administration is right to put China on the back foot.

As an initial matter, it is important to draw boundaries for Beijing. Showing China that the relationship with Taiwan is strong goes some way to doing that.

Moreover, Xi Jinping, on the eve of his G20 summit, needed to see the Biden administration was not afraid of him. Biden and predecessors have previously gone to great lengths to not upset Chinese leaders over Taiwan, and that has proven to be counterproductive.

By catering to Beijing, American policymakers have effectively given it a veto: Chinese leaders have noticed Washington’s hesitance to offend and have accordingly hardened their positions. Isn’t it time to force China to be the one to adjust positions?

Biden in his November 9 press conference stated that the primary purpose of the summit with Xi was to determine China’s “red lines.” Really? The American president, who continually brags about his good relationship with China’s supremo, should know by now how Xi feels about the Republic of China, the formal name of the country everyone calls “Taiwan.”

Xi, however, needs to hear the firmness of the American position. Biden at his press conference said he would not make any “fundamental concessions.” Taiwan’s territorial integrity is certainly fundamental to American security.

Why Taiwan Matters

After all, Taiwan makes most of the semiconductors that run America. One business there, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, accounts for 92% of the world’s most advanced chips.

Even more important, Washington for more than a century has drawn America’s western defense perimeter off the coast of East Asia, and Taiwan sits in the center of that line, where the South China Sea meets the East China Sea. Taiwan blocks the Chinese navy and air force from surging into the Pacific.

Moreover, the United States cannot allow China’s militant regime to destroy any democracy—and especially one as crucial as Taiwan’s—at a time when the Communist Party is relentlessly attacking democracy itself.

Finally, in the wake of Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan and the failure to deter Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine, Taiwan has become the test of American credibility.

For many reasons, the United States and the rest of the international community need a strong and independent Taiwan. How does Washington assure its future? “As the United States and Taiwan pursue efforts to make the island harder to invade, the best strategic bet is to play for time,” sensibly argues Cornell University’s Jessica Chen Weiss, in an essay last week in Foreign Affairs.

Chen’s proposals are open to question, however. She recommends negotiating “coordinated measures taken in reciprocal fashion” to deescalate tension.

That recommendation sounds good to the ear, but it is hard to see how such a deal could work to Taiwan’s advantage. “In the course of the past three months, Xi Jinping has used the People’s Liberation Army to conduct a Taiwan invasion dress rehearsal and has maintained daily tactical military operations around the island,” James Fanell, a retired U.S. Navy captain who served as director of Intelligence and Information Operations of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, told 19FortyFive. “As such, it is highly doubtful President Biden would be able to extract any concessions from General Secretary Xi, especially now that Xi has cemented his power domestically.”

China Prepares for a Showdown

Xi Jinping at the Communist Party’s 20th National Congress last month empowered the most belligerent elements in the Chinese capital. For instance, he picked what is now called a “war cabinet.” The militarization of the Chinese political system has occurred while he has been implementing one of the fastest rearmaments in history and also mobilizing China’s civilians for war.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Western democracies placed faith in agreements with bellicose powers. Now, it is hard to see how similar pacts will restrain a Chinese regime also bent on forcible annexation.

A 19FortyFive Contributor, Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China and The Great U.S.-China Tech War. Follow him on Twitter @GordonGChang.

Written By

Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Great U.S.-China Tech War and Losing South Korea, booklets released by Encounter Books. His previous books are Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On the World and The Coming Collapse of China, both from Random House. Chang lived and worked in China and Hong Kong for almost two decades, most recently in Shanghai, as Counsel to the American law firm Paul Weiss and earlier in Hong Kong as Partner in the international law firm Baker & McKenzie.