Congress seeks to arm Taiwan quickly as China threat grows

Opinion

Taking lessons from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Congress will seek to arm and train Taiwan ahead of any possible Chinese military attack, but whether the aid materializes will likely depend on President Biden himself.

Discussions of an unprecedented multibillion-dollar military aid package for the self-governing island democracy took center stage when Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Bali on Monday to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

The bilateral effort will allow the U.S. military to immediately tap into its stockpile of weapons such as Javelins and Stingers — something on a scale unique to Ukraine, officials said — and provide arms to Taiwan for the first time through the Foreign Military Financing Program, for a fee. For the United States.

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

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

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

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on a Bloomberg television show in September that it “remains a real threat of a military emergency around Taiwan.”

China plans to invade Taiwan on a “faster timeline,” says Blinken

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

The 2023 budget proposal Congress is currently working on doesn’t have money for the package, and if lawmakers don’t find cuts to cover arms aid, Biden would have to make an emergency request for funding for Taiwan spending. why is it necessary, say congressional aides.

Administration officials declined to say whether they would do so.

“Our relationship with Congress is focused on ensuring that legislation moving forward clearly aligns with our policy framework, which has helped maintain peace and stability around the world. [Taiwan] Strait,” said a senior administration official who, like others, asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The aid package, whose details are being hammered out in the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act, was drafted by the White House, congressional aides said. It would allow Taiwan to give $1 billion worth of U.S. munitions each year — a so-called “presidential issuance authority” — and up to $2 billion in weapons paid for with U.S. tax dollars over five years. Only Israel gets more every year.

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Congressional advocates say the aid is consistent with the United States’ obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act, which is US policy to provide arms to Taiwan.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a member of the Armed Services Committee, said the goal is to “make the Taiwanese a formidable military force that can defend themselves like the Ukrainians, or at least make it difficult for the People’s Liberation Army.” attack them”.

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

Offered help comes at a critical time. China has stepped up its provocative military maneuvers in the waters and skies near Taiwan since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) visited Taipei in August. It also recently concluded the landmark 20th Communist Party Congress, where Xi was elected to an unprecedented third term as party general secretary and cemented his iron grip on power.

Beijing claims Taiwan is an integral part of its territory and says “peaceful reunification” is its goal. But at last month’s party congress, Xi vowed to “never commit to refraining from the use of force” and said he was ready to “take all necessary measures” to do so.

The Communist Party of China gives Xi unlimited power flexion

US military leaders have been warning for years about China’s threat to the region. In March 2021, the then head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. Philip S. In his Senate testimony, Davidson pointed to a series of actions China has taken: rapid and massive buildups of ships, aircraft and long-range military forces. remote missiles; Repressions in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet; Border conflicts with India; and the militarization of islands in the disputed South China Sea.

China has long said it wants to achieve superpower status by its 100th anniversary in 2049. “Taiwan,” Davidson said in March 2021, “is clearly one of their ambitions so far, and I think the threat will be evident this decade.” , in the next six years.”

His remarks have sparked panic, with some experts suggesting China will take over by 2027.

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

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

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The administration, which is committed to “responsible management” of its relationship with Beijing, is treading carefully when it comes to Taiwan. When Pelosi planned to visit Taiwan in August, the Biden administration worked hard behind the scenes, saying a visit by a senior US official close to the party convention would be seen as provocative and insulting to Beijing. However, when Xi himself asked Biden to find a way to persuade him, Biden said he could not oblige because Congress is an independent branch of government.

Shortly after Pelosi’s visit, Beijing sanctioned some of its trade with Taiwan and stepped up military exercises in the waters surrounding the island. He simulated a blockade and repeatedly sent jets across the “center line,” The unofficial barrier in the strait that divides Taiwan and mainland China has been seen as a stabilizing feature for decades — moves that analysts say represent a shift in Beijing’s status quo.

Washington has announced the start of negotiations on a formal trade agreement with Taiwan, announcing in September that it intends to sell $1.1 billion worth of arms to Taipei. This package includes Harpoon anti-ship missiles and Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. Such sales typically take several years because of the huge structural complications involved in how foreign military sales are completed.

Biden said he would defend Taiwan if US troops attacked China

Some congressional aides say the use of foreign military funding will not speed up arms deliveries. Others argue that with such a tool, the U.S. government could more quickly negotiate deals and make decisions about the direction of Taiwan’s defense strategy and how well it aligns with U.S. military capabilities.

The advantage of the administration’s withdrawal is speed — at least for weapons currently in the U.S. stockpile, including anti-tank Stingers and anti-ship cruise missiles, one of the aides said.

The main difference from Ukraine is that Taiwan is an island, so it is more difficult to resupply during a conflict and can only fight with what it has on hand when the conflict starts. “So the delivery and stockpiling of a large number of critical munitions to Taiwan and generally west of the International Sun Line is the best chance of keeping the peace and making Xi Jinping think twice,” Gallagher said.

The debate over whether to fund the military aid package remains unresolved.

“We need to be clear about our broad support for any new initiative and what the negotiations will look like, especially at a time when senior Republicans are questioning whether we will maintain our support for Ukraine,” said a Democratic lawmaker familiar with the ongoing discussions. .

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Congress has traditionally been tougher in its support for Taiwan than the presidential administration. The military aid was part of a Taiwan policy bill that included several token provisions that the Biden group opposed and angered Beijing.

The bill, co-sponsored by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (DN.J.) and Ranking Member James E. Risch (R-Idaho), for example, called for Taiwan to be designated a “major non-NATO ally” for this purpose. expediting arms sales and officially changing the name of Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Washington from the “Taipei Economic and Cultural Mission” to the “Taiwan Mission.”

The White House has made efforts to remove or water down those provisions, but congressional aides have provided guidance on this military aid.

“This legislation is very effective and credible in terms of how to strengthen security assistance to Taiwan, and has elements that will improve Taiwan’s security,” Jake Sullivan told financier David Rubenstein on a Bloomberg podcast in September. “There are other elements that concern us.”

Beijing’s aggressive military maneuvers served to close bipartisan lines in Congress on the package. “We are in the final stages of negotiations,” Menendez said. “But authorizing billions in military aid will not be enough. Both Washington and Taipei must continue to take steps to ensure that the right capabilities are delivered in a timely manner.”

Leaders of both chambers expressed confidence that these measures will be implemented. “The Democratic House is ready to help Taiwan defend itself against aggression. [People’s Republic of China]Pelosi’s representative Shana Mansbach said.

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

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it was pleased with Congress’s efforts to improve the island’s defenses. “It is our responsibility to ensure national security, and we can expect help from others only after we are dependent on ourselves,” Sun Li-fan said.

Davidson, who retired last year, said the United States should continue to help arm and train Taiwan, as well as strengthen its diplomatic, economic and military capabilities in the region. “Our traditional deterrents are wearing out,” he said. “The main reason is the staggering growth of China’s air and naval forces, its missile force, its nuclear program and the development of weapons such as hypersonic missiles.”

“If Xi pulls back the curtain and sees what the United States looks like economically, diplomatically and militarily in the region,” Davidson said, “he’ll say, ‘I don’t want to mess with him,’ and close the curtain. That’s what victory looks like.”

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

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