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Biden vows to defend Taiwan if attacked by China

WASHINGTON, Oct 22: The United States will defend Taiwan if it is attacked by China, President Joe Biden said, seemingly changing long-standing American “strategic ambiguity” on the issue.

“Yes,” Biden said at a Town Hall hosted by CNN when asked by the anchor, Anderson Cooper, if the US will come to Taiwan’s defence if attacked by China. “Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” the US president said further when the anchor pressed him, on Thursday.

Joe Biden’s remarks came just a day after his pick for ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, told US senators at his confirmation hearing that “strategic autonomy” in relation to Taiwan is working and there is no need to change it.

The United States recognises China’s claims over Taiwan under its One-China Policy, but under the Taiwan Relations Act, it is committed to helping the island nation defend itself against China. The United States provides Taiwan with massive amounts of military hardware to that end.

But the US has kept its commitment to coming to Taiwan’s defence in the event of its invasion by China vague, which is defined as “strategic ambiguity”.

President Joe Biden seemingly changed that.

The White House sought to walk back his comments. “The president was not announcing any change in our policy, and there is no change in our policy,” a White House spokesperson said after the Town Hall.

“The US defence relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. We will uphold our commitment under the act, we will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defence, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo.”

That indeed remains the policy of the Joe Biden administration as stated by Nicholas Burns at the hearing. “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,” he said in response to a senator’s remarks that Beijing takes strategic ambiguity as a sign of weakness.

“This is a policy that can succeed if we execute it consistently and with some strength.”

He further said: “We recognise the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China. And, yet we have unofficial relations with Taiwan, and we have under the Taiwan Relations Act the ability, in fact, the imperative, of helping Taiwan to defend itself. Every president, Republican and Democrat, has followed that policy.”

The United States has been closely watching recent escalation in tensions between China and Taiwan. Beijing sent a “record number” of warplanes close to Taiwan earlier this month forcing a top Taiwanese defence official say that tensions were at their worst in 40 years.

Biden names Neera Tanden as White House staff secretary

WASHINGTON, Oct 22: US President Joe Biden on Friday named Neera Tanden, a longtime Democratic insider in Washington, to be White House staff secretary, moving her into a little-known but influential West Wing post after failing earlier this year to install her as the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

For the last several months, Tanden has been a senior adviser to the president, working quietly behind the scenes to build support among interest groups for his social spending agenda and overseeing a government reform agenda with officials at the budget office.

Tanden had previously served as the president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, and was a close adviser to former Sen. Hillary Clinton. In her new job, Tanden will be at the center of the flow of information between Biden and his senior White House advisers.

A White House official, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak publicly about internal staff moves, described Tanden’s new role as “the central nervous system of the White House,” helping to facilitate presidential decision-making.

But the official said that Tanden would retain the title of senior adviser and would continue to offer advice to the president and other senior White House officials on a range of topics.

The decision by Biden is a remarkable comeback for Tanden, who met fierce resistance from members of the Senate on both sides of the aisle for her frequent caustic remarks on social media.

During the four years of President Donald Trump’s administration, Tanden fashioned herself as a fierce and outspoken liberal critic of the administration and lawmakers — in both parties — who she felt were not adequately supportive of the causes she believed in.

On Twitter, she often expressed her views with unsparing language. Once she was nominated to lead the budget office, those comments proved challenging to explain away.

In 2017, when Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a moderate Republican, announced she was supportive of Trump’s effort to lower the corporate tax rate, Tanden lashed out.

“No offense but this sounds like you’re high on your own supply,” she wrote on Twitter. “You know, we know, and everyone knows this is all garbage. Just stop.”

In February, a spokesman for Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said it would be “hard to return to comity and respect with a nominee who has issued a thousand mean tweets.”

The job of staff secretary is rarely a high profile one. But it is known inside the White House as a powerful position because of the access that the occupant has to information.

Top White House advisers who want the president to sign off on policy proposals will now have to send paperwork through Tanden. She will control the flow of that paperwork, deciding what documents get to the president’s desk and when they are delivered.

Some high-profile names in Washington have served as staff secretary. John Podesta, the founder of the Center for American Progress and a former chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton, was also staff secretary to Clinton. Brett Kavanaugh, who now is an associate justice on the Supreme Court, was staff secretary for former President George W. Bush.

US Says Been Very Honest About Concerns With Pak Over Terrorist Safe Havens

WASHINGTON, Oct 1: The US has been very honest about its concerns with Pakistan for a long time about the terrorist safe havens along with the border areas of Afghanistan, the Pentagon has said.

Afghanistan and the US have criticised Pakistan in the past for allowing Taliban fighters to cross into Pakistan where they are provided safe havens and also receive medical treatment.

"We've been very honest about our concerns with Pakistan for a long time, about the safe havens that exist on their side of the border along that spine. And those concerns are still valid today," Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said on Thursday at a news conference.

As Afghanistan's neighbour, Pakistan certainly has equities and responsibilities with respect to terrorism in that part of the world, Kirby said.

"We continue to have candid conversations with Pakistani leaders about our concerns," he said in response to a question.

"I think it's important to continue to remind that the Pakistani people, likewise, have been rendered victim by terrorist threats that emanate from those groups and along that same border," he said.

While Kabul claims that Islamabad is sending thousands of militants to fight in the war-ravaged country and providing safe haven for the Taliban, Pakistan alleges that Afghanistan harbours the anti-Pakistani group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan -- the Pakistani Taliban -- and also the secessionist Balochistan Liberation Army.

Kirby also said that the United States is within its rights to continue drone strikes inside Afghanistan.

"We believe we have the authorities that we need to continue to protect the nation," he said.

The Taliban has accused the US of violating the withdrawal agreement by continuing to fly drones over Afghanistan and warned Americans against doing that in the future.

"We have the authorities that we need to continue to defend our interests and the security of the American people there and around the world, and we're going to do that," John Kirby said.

"Over-the-horizon operations don't always have to include unmanned aerial assets, and they don't. That we use unmanned aerial assets clearly is true, and the Secretary (of Defence) cited one that was just a week or two ago in Syria. But over-the-horizon doesn't have to mean unmanned. It doesn't even always have to mean aviation," he said.

Not That Quad Exists Simply To Counter China Or Their Influence: US

WASHINGTON, Oct 1: China's aggressiveness and the coercive nature in the resource-rich Indo-Pacific region is a frequent topic of discussion among the Quad nations, the Pentagon has said.

In November 2017, India, Japan, the US and Australia gave shape to the long-pending proposal of setting up the Quad to develop a new strategy to keep the critical sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of any influence, amidst China's growing military presence in the strategic region.

“There are lots of outcomes to the Quad relationship. And they don't all have to do with China... It's not that the Quad exists simply to counter China or their influence,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters on Thursday at a news conference.

“Now, obviously, what China's doing in the Indo-Pacific region, the aggressiveness, the coercive nature with which they try to press their claims, certainly is a frequent topic of discussion with all our allies and partners, and certainly inside the Quad,” he said.

“What the Quad arrangement gives us is another terrific opportunity to work multilaterally on all kinds of initiatives that can help create what we really want here, which is a free and open Indo Pacific region. And there's a lot that goes into that, and not all of it has to do with China,” Kirby said.

Recently, on September 25, Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with his counterparts from Australia and Japan attended the first in-person meeting of Quad leaders hosted by US President Joe Biden.

India, the US and several other world powers have been talking about the need to ensure a free, open and thriving Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of China's rising military manoeuvring in the region.

US government shutdown averted hours before deadline

WASHINGTON, Oct 1: US Congress approved a stopgap funding bill Thursday in a rare show of cross-party unity to avert a crippling government shutdown, as Democratic leaders struggle to overcome fierce infighting over President Joe Biden's domestic agenda.

Hours ahead of the midnight deadline, the House of Representatives voted to keep the lights on for another two months with a resolution that had already advanced comfortably from the Senate, with opposition Republicans supporting the ruling Democrats in both chambers. Biden signed the bill shortly after.

"This is a good outcome, one I'm happy we are getting done," Chuck Schumer, the top Democratic senator, told colleagues on the chamber floor ahead of both votes, which were never in serious doubt.

"With so many things to take care of here in Washington, the last thing the American people need is for the government to grind to a halt."

The rare example of bipartisan cooperation comes with Democratic leaders trying to hammer out a deal over Biden's faltering $3.5 trillion social spending package, which has no Republican support, and a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill.

Democratic progressives and moderates are entrenched in a war of words over the programs, as Republicans enjoy the disarray from the sidelines with one eye on next year's midterm elections.

The Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill is due for a crucial vote in the House on Thursday that appears to have no chance of passing, with the Democrats' left wing in open revolt.

The progressives don't trust that centrists, who object to the size and scope of the larger spending package, will honor an agreement to pass the legislation once infrastructure is across the line.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin inflamed tensions Wednesday with a statement arguing that trillions of dollars in extra spending was "fiscal insanity," solidifying opposition to the smaller infrastructure bill.

He told reporters Thursday that he was unwilling to go above $1.5 trillion.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- who maintains she won't put out a bill that doesn't have the votes -- said she planned to forge ahead, while White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters: "We're working towards winning a vote tonight. We have several hours left in the day."

Despite the optimism, the necessary support remained unlikely to materialize, leaving Pelosi the option of putting the infrastructure package on ice and returning to it when the plan for the larger package is more fully formed.

This would not be a fatal blow to Biden's agenda, although the delay -- likely until later in the fall -- would be a frustration to White House aides who risk losing momentum after spending the week marshalling lawmakers.

"It is not some major cataclysm if there isn't a vote today... This will get through. Mark my words," Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told CNN.

"The infrastructure bill will be passed and a version of the (social spending) bill will be as well."

A delay would also see the way clear for tempers to cool while Congress focuses on other enormous challenges, such as raising the debt limit.

The US is nerve-janglingly close to defaulting on its $28 trillion debt, with 19 days to go until the Treasury Department exhausts its ability to obtain new loans.

No one in the leadership of either party has spelled out a clear way to avoid the crisis, which would tank the US economy and roil world markets.

Republicans are demanding that Democrats -- whom they regard as profligate over-spenders -- carry the political burden of running up the debt on their own as they control Congress and the White House.

But Democrats are against using the arcane budget process known as "reconciliation" to pass the extension without Republican support. It would take three to four weeks, they argue, making it a non-starter.

The House passed a debt limit hike Wednesday on a party-line vote, but it will be dead on arrival in the Senate thanks to Republican leader Mitch McConnell's opposition.

 

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