The U.S. Congress is moving ahead on bipartisan action strengthening trade and defense ties with Taiwan, as the self-governing island faces new threats from China.
The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Taiwan Policy Act Wednesday, clearing the way for $6.5 billion in enhanced security funding over five years to come up for a full vote on the Senate floor. The measure would also designate Taiwan a major non-NATO ally.
“The primary focus of this bill has always been on deterrence and on enhancing Taiwan’s capabilities. The bill we are approving today makes clear the United States does not seek war or increased tensions with Beijing,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez said upon committee approval of the bill.
“Just the opposite. We are carefully and strategically lowering the existential threats facing Taiwan by raising the cost of taking the island by force so that it becomes too high a risk and unachievable.”
Ranking member Senator Jim Risch said the bill would “accelerate Taiwan’s military reform and expand training for the Taiwanese military using realistic scenarios.”
U.S. President Joe Biden approved $1.1 billion in arms sales to Taiwan earlier this month, a move that drew swift condemnation from China.
"The U.S. arms sale to Taiwan blatantly violates the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-U.S. Joint Communiqués, especially the August 17 Communiqué, seriously undermines China's sovereignty and security interests, severely damages China-U.S. relations and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and sends seriously wrong signals to the separatist forces of Taiwan independence,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said last week.
“China firmly rejects and strongly condemns it and will take resolute and strong measures to firmly defend its sovereignty and security interests,” he added.
A bipartisan delegation of U.S. lawmakers also met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen last week, the latest of several official congressional trips that began with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s historic visit last month. That trip — the first by a U.S. speaker of the House in 25 years — drew condemnation from China, which sees Taiwan as a rebellious province.
Republican Representative Claudia Tenney, a member of the latest eight-person congressional delegation, told VOA it is time for a change in the American approach to the region.
“Our policy has always been strategic ambiguity, instead of strategic clarity. But that was many, many years ago, 40 years ago, almost. And what we need to look at is, China has changed dramatically in that period of time. They were not nearly the significant military or economic power that they are today,” Tenney said.
Democratic Representative Stephanie Murphy, the leader of the delegation, said at a press conference with President Tsai that “Congress should advocate for greater Taiwanese participation in international organizations. Taiwan has shown itself to be a responsible member of the international community, especially in public health issues, and it deserves to participate in international fora when appropriate.”
There is also growing bipartisan support for the United States to sign a bilateral trade agreement (BTA) with Taiwan.
“They asked us to get involved in a free trade agreement, they would like an agreement with the United States. And that's something that we're going to be working on to see that we can do that we also want to bring more balance, we'd like to see them trading more with us and, and sort of balance the trade,” Tenney told VOA.
The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee heard testimony Wednesday that a new U.S.-Taiwan free trade agreement and bringing Taiwan into the Trans-Pacific Partnership would play a crucial role in countering authoritarianism.
“Taiwan is at the front line of this rivalry as Beijing intensifies political, military and economic coercion,” Susan Glasser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund, told lawmakers. “They brought a strategy to subvert the island's democracy and compel reunification. United States should aid Taiwan’s efforts to defend its people, its democracy and its freedoms.”
Glasser added, “A U.S.-Taiwan BTA would serve that goal. It would demonstrate American solidarity with Taiwan's people, and more than success in cultivating strong democratic institutions, robust civil society, transparent and accountable government and economic freedoms.”
Taiwan is already currently the U.S.’s ninth largest goods trading partner, with a total of $90.6 billion in 2020, according to the U.S. Trade Representative. House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal said new trade agreements would be incredibly beneficial.
“We want to deepen our ties, formalizing these efforts to build more durable ties will have benefits for both the United States and Taiwan. The people of Taiwan have built a robust and thriving democracy. In fact, it is a beacon of democracy in Asia,” said Neal.
“Recently, they've been faced with incredible pressure from their authoritarian neighbor, China. In the face of this aggression along with Russia's unprovoked war in Ukraine, this committee stands with the people of Taiwan.”