Leading Democrat Adam Schiff urges less U.S. ambiguity over Taiwan defense

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FILE PHOTO: Representative Adam Schiff arrives for national security briefing for members of Congress about how Russian election interference on Capitol Hill in Washington

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The chairman of the influential House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday urged the Biden administration to be less ambiguous about what he called a U.S. obligation to defend Taiwan from attack by China.

"I think probably less ambiguity is better than more ambiguity," Democrat Adam Schiff told the Aspen Security Forum, referring to a long-held policy of strategic ambiguity over U.S. military intervention in the event of an attack.

"We need to be much clearer about our obligation to defend Taiwan," he said.

Washington needed to work with international partners "to make it abundantly clear to China what a significant cost it would pay were it to use force to try to invade and take over Taiwan," he said.

Citing Russia's invasion of Ukraine and occupation of Crimea, Schiff said that without stronger international deterrence, "China and Russia will feel that in this century, it is once again permissible to remake the map of the world by dint of military force."

Schiff said China needed to understand from the United States and its allies that the economic consequences of attacking Taiwan would be too great for it to bear, adding: "That, I think, may be the most effective deterrent."

While urging greater clarity about the U.S. response, Schiff said there was "a fine line to walk in when we talk about coming to Taiwan's military aid."

"We don't want to make any pronouncement that will accelerate Chinese thinking or timetable in terms of using military force against Taiwan," he said.

Democratic U.S. President Joe Biden caused a stir last month when he said the United States, which is obliged by a 1979 law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, would come to Taiwan's defense if China attacked.

Those remarks appeared to depart from strategic ambiguity, but the White House quickly said Biden was not signaling a change in policy, and some analysts dismissed his comments as a gaffe.

The top U.S. general, Mark Milley, told the Aspen forum on Wednesday that China was unlikely to try to seize Taiwan militarily in the next couple of years, even as it develops capabilities that would enable forcibly retaking the self-ruled island. "But anything can happen," he added.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Howard Goller)

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