The United States would come to Taiwan's defense and has a commitment to defend the island China claims as its own territory, US President Joe Biden said on Thursday, comments that appeared to be a break with official policy.
"Yes, we have a commitment to do that," Biden said at a CNN town hall when asked if the United States would come to the defense of Taiwan, which has complained of mounting military and political pressure from Beijing to accept Chinese sovereignty.
While Washington is required by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, it has long followed a policy of "strategic ambiguity" on whether it would intervene militarily to protect Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.
In August, a Biden administration official said US policy on Taiwan had not changed after the president appeared to suggest the United States would defend the island if it were attacked, reports Reuters.
Biden said people should not worry about Washington's military strength because "China, Russia and the rest of the world know we're the most powerful military in the history of the world,"
"What you do have to worry about is whether or not they're going to engage in activities that would put them in a position where they may make a serious mistake," Biden said.
"I don't want a cold war with China. I just want China to understand that we're not going to step back, that we're not going to change any of our views."
Military tensions between Taiwan and China are at their worst in more than 40 years, Taiwan's Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said this month, adding that China will be capable of mounting a "full-scale" invasion by 2025.
Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend its freedoms and democracy.
China says Taiwan is the most sensitive and important issue in its ties with the United States and has denounced what it calls "collusion" between Washington and Taipei.
Speaking to reporters earlier on Thursday, China's United Nations Ambassador Zhang Jun said they are pursuing "peaceful reunification" with Taiwan and responding to "separatist attempts" by its ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
"We are not the troublemaker. On the contrary, some countries - the US in particular - is taking dangerous actions, leading the situation in Taiwan Strait into a dangerous direction," he said.
"I think at this moment what we should call is that the United States to stop such practice. Dragging Taiwan into a war definitely is in nobody's interest. I don't see that the United States will gain anything from that."