From promising to defend Taiwan militarily to proposing regime change in Russia, US President Joe Biden has developed a knack for casual rhetoric that has rocked diplomacy.
For reporters who follow Biden abroad, it has become almost routine — a candid US president grabs headlines with a loaded or blunt answer, and then the White House quickly insists he wasn’t setting up new policy.
In the final moments of a press conference in Tokyo on Monday, Biden responded in the affirmative that the United States would defend Taiwan militarily if it was attacked by China, which claims an autonomous democracy as its own.
This is not the first time Biden has raised a flurry of wording on Taiwan. For more than four decades, under a policy established when he was a senator, the United States has provided the island with weapons to defend itself, but has remained deliberately vague about whether to intervene.
US policy has not changed, a White House official and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin quickly said, with Beijing expressing anger and Taiwan welcoming what it sees as evidence of strict compliance.
The episode comes two months after Biden declared in a speech in Poland about Russian President Vladimir Putin, “For God’s sake, this man can’t stay in power.”
The White House immediately denied that Biden was calling for Putin’s impeachment, which would be a major escalation of a US campaign that Biden himself said was limited to support for Ukraine.
Before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Biden, who had been warning of dire consequences if Russia went ahead with an attack, also raised eyebrows by suggesting a softer Western response to a “minor incursion.”
But Biden, who has been notorious throughout his life in politics for wearing his emotions up his sleeve and minimizing opportunities at home for verbal missteps, sometimes runs deep.
Biden stood firm in accusing Russia of “genocide” in Ukraine and, before the rest of his administration, accused Moscow of “war crimes.”
A “two-level game”?
Each time, Biden’s remarks raise questions. Does the 79-year-old simply speak from his heart? Or is he developing a new policy – or perhaps testing one?
“It is very difficult to determine if this is slips or a two-level game. But if it is a two-level game, it is very dangerous,” said Joshua Shiffrinson, assistant professor of international relations at Boston University.
“It could exacerbate tensions and generate uncertainty,” he added.
Biden took office with more experience in foreign affairs than any president in decades and promised more predictability than his fickle predecessor Donald Trump.
Trump has often astonished the world with his undiplomatic remarks, from insulting the leaders of allied nations to threatening war on Twitter.
“With Trump there was no predictability, but Biden was expected to be a very consistent kind of guy,” Shifrinson said.
“Honestly can be a good thing but in a situation like Taiwan it can be very dangerous.”
Bonnie Glaser, an expert on Taiwan at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said Biden undoubtedly believed what he was saying.
“But it is a slip in the sense that he misses the mark of US policy,” she said.
“I don’t think it’s in the interests of the United States for the president to get our policy wrong,” she added.
I think it will be more effective if our policy is clear and understandable to our friends, allies and enemies.
Some hawks who often feud with Biden have given him credit for his remarks.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted that Biden’s statement was “the right thing to say and the right thing to do.”
But others saw risks in what appeared to be loose speech after months of US-backed efforts to mobilize support for Ukraine.
“The West’s strong response to Russian aggression in Ukraine could serve to deter China from invading Taiwan,” Stephen Werthem, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote on Twitter.
“But Biden’s statement risks nullifying the potential benefits and instead helping to bring about the Taiwan conflict.”
(This story has not been edited by the NDTV crew and is automatically generated from a shared feed.)