Congress seeks to arm Taiwan quickly as China threat grows

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Heeding lessons learned from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Congress is pushing to arm and train Taiwan ahead of any potential Chinese military strike, but whether that help materializes is up to President Biden himself.

An unprecedented package of multibillion-dollar military aid to the self-ruled island democracy was discussed when Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met in Bali on Monday to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

The bilateral effort would enable the U.S. military to immediately dip into its stockpile of Javelins and Stingers — something that has only been done on a large scale for Ukraine — and provide weapons to Taiwan for the first time through the Foreign Military Financing Program, paid for by the United States.

Through these provisions, Taiwan can acquire weapons such as anti-ship cruise missiles and anti-aircraft defense systems, self-exploding drones, naval mines, command-and-control systems, and secure radios.

The idea is essentially to do for Taipei what is being done for Kiev — but before the bullets fly, lawmakers said.

“One of the lessons of Ukraine is that you need to arm your partners before the shooting starts, and that gives you the best chance of avoiding war in the first place,” said former Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.). Sagari who serves on the Armed Services Committee.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on a Bloomberg TV show in September that “a distinct threat could be a military contingency around Taiwan.”

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Democratic leaders of the House and Senate support provisions to arm Taipei, but it is not clear that lawmakers who control the purse strings — the Appropriations Committee — are convinced of the need to allocate funds.

Currently, there is no money for this package in the 2023 budget proposal that Congress is working to pass, and if appropriators cannot find cuts for arms assistance, Biden will have to submit an emergency request to finance the costs for Taiwan and the case for why it is needed, congressional aides say.

Administrative officials declined to say whether they would do so.

“Our engagement with Congress is focused on ensuring that legislation moving forward is clearly consistent with our policy framework that has helped maintain peace and stability across the country. [Taiwan] Straits,” said a senior administration official, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The aid package, the details of which are now being finalized in the pass-through National Defense Authorization Act, was crafted with input from the White House, congressional aides said. It would allow the provision of $1 billion worth of stockpiled U.S. munitions to Taiwan each year – known as “presidential drawdown authority” – and $2 billion worth of weapons each year for five years, paid for with U.S. tax dollars. Only Israel receives more on an annual basis.

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Congressional advocates say the aid would be consistent with the United States’ obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act, which states that it is US policy to provide arms to Taiwan to enable its self-defense.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a member of the Armed Services Committee, said that “making Taiwan a powerful military force that can defend itself like the Ukrainians, or at least make it very difficult for the People’s Liberation Army to attack them.

But skeptics question whether the aid will boost Taiwan’s defense capabilities in the near term.

The proposed aid comes at a very difficult time. China has stepped up provocative military maneuvers in the waters and skies near Taiwan in the wake of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) visit to Taipei in August. The 20th Communist Party Congress also recently concluded, with Xi securing an unprecedented third term as party general secretary and cementing his iron grip on power.

Beijing claims Taiwan as an integral part of its territory and says its goal is “peaceful reunification”. But at last month’s party congress, Xi reiterated his vow to “never abandon the use of force” in that direction and said he was ready to “take all necessary measures” to do so.

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US military leaders have been warning of China’s growing threat for years. In March 2021, the then head of US Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. Philip S. Davidson, testifying in the Senate, noted the actions taken by China: ships, aircraft and a long-term military build-up. Range Rocket; crackdowns in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet; border conflict with India; and the militarization of disputed South China Sea islands.

China has said it wants to achieve great power status by its centenary in 2049. “Taiwan, clearly one of their ambitions before that, and I think the threat has manifested itself in this decade,” Davidson said in March 2021. In the next six years.

His remarks caused a stir, with some observers taking them to mean that China would invade by 2027.

In an interview, Davidson said that while China may attack, Beijing has other ways to pressure Taiwan. “It could be a blockade, a missile barrage, serious cyber attacks on Taiwan’s infrastructure,” he said. “I think it’s been a decade of worry, and I’m still worried about the next six years.”

Sen. Sullivan, a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve, said a military occupation or blockade by China of Taiwan would cause “enormous” damage to the global economy, particularly affecting the global supply chain of computer chips. Taiwan is the world’s leading supplier of artificial intelligence and advanced chips that power supercomputers.

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The administration, seeking to “responsibly manage” its relationship with Beijing, treads carefully when it comes to Taiwan. When Pelosi planned to visit Taiwan in August, the Biden administration made a strong behind-the-scenes effort, arguing that a visit by such a senior U.S. official so close to the party’s congress would be seen as provocative and an affront to Beijing. Still, when Xi himself asked Biden to find a way to dissuade her, Biden said he couldn’t oblige him because Congress is an independent branch of government.

Soon after Pelosi’s visit, Beijing approved some trade with Taiwan and began military exercises in the waters surrounding the island. He simulated a blockade and repeatedly sent jets across the “central line”. An unofficial barrier in the strait that divides Taiwan and the Chinese mainland has been seen as a stable feature for decades – actions that analysts say signal a shift in position by Beijing.

Washington followed up by announcing the start of talks on a formal trade deal with Taiwan, and announced its intention to sell $1.1 billion in arms to Taipei in September. That package includes Harpoon anti-ship missiles and Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. Due to major structural challenges in how foreign military sales are accomplished, such sales typically take several years.

Biden says US military will defend Taiwan if China attacks

Some congressional aides say the use of foreign military financing will not accelerate arms deliveries. Others argue that with such a tool, the US government would be able to negotiate a deal more quickly and make decisions about the direction of Taiwan’s defense policy and how it aligns with US military capabilities.

The advantage of drawdown authority is speed — at least for weapons currently in the U.S. stockpile, which include shoulder-fired antitank stingers and anti-ship cruise missiles, an aide said.

A key difference with Ukraine is that Taiwan, being an island, would be hard pressed to resupply in a conflict and can only fight with what it has on hand when a conflict breaks out. “So increasing and stockpiling a lot of critical munitions for Taiwan — and west of the International Date Line in general — is our best chance to keep the peace and make Xi Jinping think twice,” Gallagher said.

Still, the debate over whether to finance the military aid package remains unresolved.

“We must make clear that we have broad support for any new initiative and what the trade-offs will be, especially at a time when senior Republicans are questioning whether we will maintain our support for Ukraine,” said one Democratic lawmaker. .

Congress has traditionally been more staunch in its support of Taiwan than presidential administrations. The military aid was part of a larger bill, the Taiwan Policy Act, which included several symbolic provisions that the Biden team found offensive and angered Beijing.

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Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (DN.J.) and Ranking Member James E. That bill, co-sponsored by Risch (R-Idaho), for example, called for Taiwan to be designated a “major non-NATO ally.” Expediting arms sales and renaming Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Washington from the “Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office” to the more official-sounding “Taiwan Representative Office”.

The White House lobbied hard to eliminate or reduce those provisions, but, congressional aides said, they provided guidance on the military assistance portion.

“There are elements of that legislation that are very effective and robust in terms of how we can strengthen our security assistance to Taiwan, which will improve Taiwan’s security,” Jake Sullivan told financier David Rubenstein on the Bloomberg podcast in September. “There are other factors that give us some concern.”

Beijing’s aggressive military maneuvers have locked bipartisan factions in Congress over the package. “We are in the final stages of negotiations,” Menendez said. “But authorizing billions for military aid alone is not enough. Both Washington and Taipei must take steps to ensure that the appropriate capabilities are delivered in a timely manner.

Leaders of both the chambers expressed confidence that the measures would be passed. “The Democratic House is committed to helping Taiwan defend itself in the face of aggression. [People’s Republic of China]” said Pelosi’s spokeswoman, Shana Mansbach.

“This legislation would strengthen military cooperation with Taiwan and show that the United States will not stand by as President Xi seeks to isolate and coerce Taiwan,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it was grateful for Congress’s efforts to boost the island’s defenses. “Ensuring national security is our responsibility and we can expect help from others only after we can rely on ourselves,” said spokesman Sun Li-fang.

Davidson, who retired last year, said that in addition to continuing to aid and train Taiwan, the United States needs to strengthen its diplomatic, economic and military capabilities in the region. “Our traditional deterrence is being eroded,” he said. “China’s air and naval forces, its rocket forces, its nuclear program and the development of weapons such as hypersonic missiles are the main reasons.”

“If Xi could pull back the curtain and look at what the United States looks like economically, diplomatically and militarily in the region” and see U.S. engagement and a stronger military, Davidson said, “he would have to say, ‘I don. ‘Don’t want to mess with it’ and close the curtain. This is what winning looks like.”

Christian Shepherd and Vic Chiang in Taipei contributed to this report.

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