‘No Doubt or Ambiguity’: Hawkish US Senators Want Dramatic Upgrade to Taiwan Support
© AP Photo / Susan WalshSen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., talks about the the Build Back Better bill during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021.
© AP Photo / Susan Walsh
The launching of Russia’s special operation in Ukraine has been exploited by hawkish US politicians to further increase support for Taiwan, claiming China is preparing its own operation to reunite the island with the mainland.
Two US senators introduced a bill on Friday to overhaul Washington’s relationship with Taiwan, including dramatically increasing military aid to the autonomous island and designating it a “Major Non-NATO Ally.”
“As Beijing continues to seek to coerce and isolate Taiwan there should be no doubt or ambiguity about the depth and strength of our determination to stand with the people of Taiwan and their democracy,” US Sen. Bob Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a Friday news release. The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
Taiwan’s de facto foreign ministry thanked Washington for the bill, calling it a “flagship” proposal.
The so-called Taiwan Policy Act of 2022 would provide a total of $4.5 billion in military aid to Taiwan over the next four years and loosen the requirements for that aid from the present requirement that the weapons be useful only in a “defensive manner” to “arms conducive to deterring acts of aggression by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA),” China’s military.
The bill would also designate Taiwan a “Major Non-NATO Ally,” a status given to 20 countries around the globe opening up substantial military perks, including the ability to cooperate with the Pentagon on research, to buy restricted weapons like depleted uranium rounds, permission to use Foreign Military Financing (FMF) money set aside by Congress to buy US weapons, and the right to store American War Reserve Stocks of Pentagon-owned equipment that’s pre-staged outside US military bases in places where the US expects to use them.
The bill would require the US to push harder for Taiwan to be included in international organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations, and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB).
FInally, the bill would amend the 2019 Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act, a bill that already pushed the US to advocate for Taiwan’s inclusion in international organizations, to include a passage stating that the UN General Assembly “did not take a position” on the issue in its 1971 resolution recognizing the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the only lawful representatives of the Chinese people at the UN. It would also add the clause to the TAIPEI Act that “The United States opposes any initiative that seeks to change Taiwan’s status without the consent of the people of Taiwan.”
Washington’s Pressure Point Against Beijing
The government on Taiwan is all that remains of the old Republic of China, which ruled all of China from the time the last emperor abdicated the throne in 1912 until the communist victory in the civil war in 1949. Both governments claim to be the real Chinese government, but only a handful of small, US-dominated nations continue to recognize the Taipei government as such. The US switched its recognition in 1979 in an attempt to further divide China from the Soviet Union, but has maintained open but informal support for Taipei.
Beijing sees Taiwan as a Chinese province in rebellion that’s destined to be reunited with the mainland under a “one country, two systems” framework similar to how Macau and Hong Kong, two former European colonies seized from China long ago, were returned to Chinese sovereignty. US support for Taiwan is seen as a serious infraction of Chinese sovereignty and interference in China’s internal affairs.
Since 2016, US support for Taiwan has grown steadily stronger, thanks to a pro-separatist faction taking power in Taipei and a shift in US global strategy away from the War on Terror and toward so-called “great power competition” with Russia and China. Massive new weapons sales and visits to the island by high-profile politicians have followed, and US President Joe Biden has been forced to walk back several claims that Washington is obligated to defend Taiwan in case of attack.
However, for some US lawmakers, it still isn’t enough: Menendez also introduced a bill in February to change the name of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in Washington, DC, Taiwan’s de facto embassy, to the Taiwan Representative Office. Last November, a group of Republican senators introduced a bill to set aside $2 billion in FMF annually from 2023 until 2032, provided Taipei commits to matching spending on a dollar-for-dollar basis.
That drive has only increased since Russia launched its special operation in Ukraine in February, with American commanders and politicians further pushing Taiwan to buy defensive weapons, including asymmetric weapons, and become “as prickly as possible” to deter a Chinese attack, as Mara Karlin, assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities, put it.
Following reports in the Taiwanese press that Taipei had shelled out millions for US lobbyists to push its interests in Washington, the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Friday asked if the US government would treat this “political infiltration” as seriously as it has reacted to accusations of such attempted influence operations by other nations.
“We’ve noticed that the Taiwan authorities only admitted to this and disclosed the figures after being probed by the press,” spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters. “In fact, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the big bucks paid to the US. According to media reports, US politicians like former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pocketed $150,000 for a four-day visit to Taiwan. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham openly asked the Taiwan authorities to buy Boeing airplanes worth $8 billion while visiting Taiwan.”
“How much of Taiwan people’s hard-earned money have the DPP authorities squandered for such activities? The DPP authorities wouldn’t even dare disclose a complete list of payments. The US says others are engaged in political infiltration against the US. What then is the US’s attitude over these activities? Will it take punitive action against them?”
The topic of Menendez’s and Graham’s bill did not arise at the presser, since it was held before the bill was introduced on Friday.