"Yes we do," Bush said when asked whether the United States had an obligation to defend Taiwan. "The Chinese must understand that."
He said the United States would do "whatever it took to help Taiwan defend herself."
In a related development, Bush told the Washington Post that he would scrap the annual review of arms sales to Taiwan, which was begun in 1982, and would reserve the right to arm Taiwan as needed.
"We have made it clear to the Taiwanese that we will not have this so-called annual review - that we will meet on an as-needed basis," he told the Post in the interview published Wednesday.
Bush's comments mark the first time ever that a U.S. president has publicly said the United States would defend Taipei from Beijing and they come after heightened tensions between the two countries following the incident over Hainan Island on April 1 and approval of the arms package to Taiwan Monday.
On Monday, the United States said it would provide Taiwan eight diesel submarines and four Kidd-class destroyers. The United States said it would also provide technical briefings on the PAC-3 missiles, officials said. However, Taipei will not be sold missiles.
On April 1, a U.S. surveillance plane made an emergency landing on China's Hainan Island after a collision with a Chinese fighter jet. The plane's 24-member crew was released after 11 days in custody and the plane is still in Chinese hands.
Bush was insistent in the ABC interview that surveillance flights over China would resume soon, but he did not give a date.
"They will start again and they need to start again for the good of the country," Bush said. "It's important for us to be gathering information and to do so, though, over international airspace. We're not violating anybody's airspace."
China is opposed to such flights, however.
Bush also defended his much-criticized environment policy and said it was based on sound science.
"My administration has made positive strides toward cleaning up the environment," he told ABC.
"We had a strategy all along to bring a common sense, science-based approach to the environment," he said.
Bush dispelled doubts about Vice President Dick Cheney's health. Cheney, who has four heart attacks since 1988, has been hospitalized twice since he was named Bush's running mate for the 2000 presidential election.
"We know that any time his body says you may be having a problem, he's going to go get it checked out," Bush said.
"He seems as healthy as can be."
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