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US envoy Nicholas Burns sticks to strategic ambiguity on Taiwan

Envoy nominee signals intention to shore up US military position in Western Pacific

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U.S. Ambassador to China nominee Nicholas Burns speaks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oc...

U.S. Ambassador to China nominee Nicholas Burns speaks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oc... (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Nicholas Burns, President Joe Biden's nominee for the new U.S. ambassador to China, has indicated he views strategic ambiguity in regard to Taiwan's security situation as an effective policy at his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday (Oct. 20).

He also backed Washington's long-standing "one China" outlook, according to a Nikkei report. Strategic ambiguity means Taiwan cannot be certain the U.S. will defend the country against a Chinese attack, but that Beijing cannot rule out that possibility either.

"My own view, and this is also the view ... more importantly of the Biden administration, is that the smartest and effective way for us to help deter aggressive actions by (China) across the Taiwan Strait will be to stay with a policy that's been in place," Burns said.

"This is a policy that can succeed if we execute it consistently and with some strength," he said.

"We recognize the People's Republic of China as the sole legal government of China," he said. "And yet we have unofficial relations with Taiwan, and we have under the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) the ability, in fact, the imperative, of helping Taiwan to defend itself. Every president, Republican and Democrat, has followed that policy."

The TRA facilitates the U.S. in providing Taiwan with the necessary military hardware to defend itself. It also states the U.S. will "consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States."

"Maybe the most important thing we can do is maintain the American military position in Japan, in the Republic of Korea and that First Island Chain, but also out to our Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, and to be an effective deterrent to keep the peace," Burns said.

Burns’ statement comes after recent calls by prominent U.S. foreign policy experts like Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, to make the country’s defense commitments to Taiwan explicit, arguing this would more effectively deter China from attacking.