If China ends up invading Taiwan, it started last weekend

The world saw this movie not long ago — and not just in Moscow. In 2017, China claimed that its joint declaration with the United Kingdom over Hong Kong, which specified how the city would be ruled after the handover in 1997, was a historical document that ceased to be effective upon the handover. The subsequent Chinese crackdown on Hong Kong’s freedoms made clear exactly how the propaganda groundwork should have been interpreted. Never mind that the Sino-British joint declaration is a binding treaty.

The Biden administration’s recent mixed messaging on Taiwan is particularly concerning in this context. On Sunday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed that the island would not be included in the launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, the U.S. plan to get back in the game in Asia, in order to avoid irking China. But the next day, President Joe Biden again insisted the U.S. would defend Taiwan in the case of a Chinese invasion. Once again, the White House staff walked back his words almost immediately.

Generous critics might say that despite the backtracking, the president’s words are a sign that Washington is deviating from its long-held “strategic ambiguity” and might even deter Beijing. That’s optimistic and just one side of the coin. There’s no guarantee that China won’t be emboldened by the backpedaling and become more belligerent toward the island.

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