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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. President Joe Biden pledges to defend Taiwan , a Russian diplomat resigns over the war in Ukraine, and Iran seeks revenge after a weekend assassination.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. President Joe Biden pledges to defend Taiwan, a Russian diplomat resigns over the war in Ukraine, and Iran seeks revenge after a weekend assassination.
If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.
Biden Vows to Defend Taiwan
U.S. President Joe Biden pledged to defend Taiwan militarily on Monday, concluding his first Asia tour with a declaration that surprised White House staffers in the room and elicited sharp reactions from Chinese officials.
“That’s the commitment we made,” he told reporters in Tokyo while drawing parallels between Russia and China. “The idea that [Taiwan] can be taken by force, just taken by force, is just not appropriate.”
While Biden’s remarks have ignited a fierce debate over Washington’s stance on the island, former U.S. officials and China experts say these remarks do not necessarily suggest a significant shift in U.S. policy toward Taiwan.
Biden has “indicated that he believes the United States has a commitment to defend Taiwan and that he intends to uphold long-standing American policy. I think in his mind, those two things are in alignment with each other,” said Ryan Hass, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who served as the director for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia on the U.S. National Security Council during the Obama administration.
The U.S. president also has a track record of misspeaking on Taiwan when responding to reporters, which has long raised questions over whether he has been hinting at a new policy or simply bungling details, as FP’s Amy Mackinnon and Anna Weber reported in November 2021.
“Although experts believe the latter is more likely,” wrote Mackinnon and Weber, “they warn that precision is of the utmost importance when it comes to Taiwan, which many fear could be the spark that ignites a wider conflict between the United States and China.”
White House officials quickly clarified that Biden was not trying to indicate a new U.S. position over Taiwan. “As the president said, our policy has not changed,” the White House said on Monday. “He reiterated our One China policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”
But the statement angered Chinese officials, who declared there was “no room for compromise or concession” and warned that they would protect their interests. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Biden may also get a chance to clarify Washington’s stance: U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has said the two leaders could speak in the coming weeks.
Ultimately, Biden’s remarks likely won’t change China’s calculations over Taiwan, Hass said. “The underlying question is: ‘Does it alter any of Beijing’s assumptions about how the United States would respond to a military intervention?’” he said. “Probably not.”
And in the long run, the current turmoil surrounding Biden’s Taiwan pledge will likely fade. “In the current moment, this feels like a significant statement,” Hass said. “But if you sort of take a step back, I think it’s going to have less effect over the long term than many people at the moment assume.”
What We’re Following Today
Russia’s high-profile resignation. Boris Bondarev, a Russian diplomat to the United Nations, resigned from his post in Geneva on Monday. “[N]ever have I been so ashamed of my country,” he wrote in his resignation letter.
“Those who conceived this war want only one thing—to remain in power forever, live in pompous tasteless palaces, sail on yachts comparable in tonnage and cost to the entire Russian Navy, enjoying unlimited power and complete impunity,” he wrote in a searing condemnation of the war. “To achieve that they are willing to sacrifice as many lives as it takes. Thousands of Russians and Ukrainians have already died just for this.”
Raisi seeks revenge. After a senior official in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was assassinated over the weekend, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has promised to avenge his death. “I have no doubt that revenge for the pure blood of this martyr on the hands of the criminals is inevitable,” Raisi said on Monday. So far, nobody has claimed responsibility for the killing.
FP Live: What Australia’s Elections Mean for the World
Australians voted for change this past Saturday in a historic election that replaced almost a decade of conservative rule, with Anthony Albanese and a Labor Party-led government replacing the old administration. What does this change mean for the rest of the world? Why was climate change one of the leading issues in this election, and will the world follow in Australia’s footsteps? How will new leadership in Canberra impact China’s influence in the region, including in the Solomon Islands?
To answer all these questions and much more, join FP executive editor Amelia Lester for a wide-ranging interview with former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd today at 10 a.m. EDT.
Keep an Eye On
Rebuilding Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky implored global leaders and the international community at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to withdraw their business engagements from Russia and support efforts to reconstruct Ukraine—including by seizing Russian assets abroad—as the war passes its 90th day. “I invite you to take part in this reconstruction,” he said in a video. “The work to be done is colossal.”
Boris Johnson’s future. The British prime minister’s political future has been called into question once again as new photos emerged of him drinking at a November 2020 gathering at Downing Street that appears to have breached government COVID-19 restrictions. The revelations come as Westminster braces for the release of a full report on the rule violations, which is expected on Wednesday.
Johnson was fined once already by London police but was not fined for his attendance at this particular event. There are now 15 Conservative members of Parliament openly calling for him to resign; it would take 54 votes to trigger a no-confidence vote.
Odds and Ends
This past weekend, roughly 200 people gathered in a Nebraska park to compete for an unusual prize: the opportunity to be the No. 1 Josh.
The competitors, many of whom were named Josh, battled one another with pool noodles and wore costumes and animal suits, as the Lincoln Journal Star reported. The winner was 5-year-old Joshua Vinson Jr., who also triumphed in last year’s “Josh fight.”
Although the Josh fight started as a Twitter joke, it has since become a popular charity event. Almost $21,000 in donations were raised at this weekend’s fight for Omaha’s Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.