Image source, Getty ImagesImage caption, Mr Biden said the US had a "commitment to do that" when asked if the US would defend Taiwan

US President Joe Biden said his country would defend Taiwan if China attacked, in an apparent departure from a long-held policy.

"Yes, we have a commitment to do that," he said when asked at a town hall whether the US would defend Taiwan.

But a White House spokesman later told some US media outlets that his remarks did not signify a change in policy.

The US has long practised "strategic ambiguity" when it comes to the thorny issue of defending Taiwan.

This has meant the US has been deliberately ambiguous about what it would do if China attacked the island.

The US has no official diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but sells arms to the island as part of its Taiwan Relations Act, which states that the US must help Taiwan defend itself.

  • What is the 'One China' policy?
  • What's behind the China-Taiwan divide?

China sees Taiwan as a breakaway province, one that it may take back by force one day if necessary, whereas Taiwan claims that it is a sovereign state.

Tensions have been rising between the two in recent weeks after Beijing flew dozens of warplanes into Taiwan's air defence zone.

Media caption, Ros Atkins on… China-Taiwan Tensions