Democrats, Republicans in Joint Push for Laws Protecting Taiwan From China

The U.S. Congress has seen the introduction of a remarkable 60 bills that relate to Taiwan this year, as Democrats and Republicans cross the aisle to support the island's continued survival amid increasing pressure from China.

American politics are often described as some of the most divisive among Western democracies, with lawmakers almost always voting along party lines. But beyond the domestic strife in both chambers, Taiwan appears to be a rare issue on which Congress can coalesce for bipartisan action.

Defense planners in Taipei and Washington have watched as the Taiwan Strait military balance has slowly slipped away since the turn of the century. Taiwanese legislators, on the advice of American strategists, are seeking budget authorization for weapons that could make Beijing think twice before launching any invasion to capture the democratic island.

Pending in the Senate and House of Representatives of the 117th Congress are more than five dozen bills with the potential to boost Taiwan's chances of maintaining deterrence across the Taiwan Strait and prolonging the status quo that has held for over seven decades. Many revolve around the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), the central piece of legislation guiding U.S.-Taiwan relations since 1979, also aiding Taiwan's development of a credible self-defense capability over the years.

Taipei stands to gain from the National Defense Authorization Act and the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, both of which have passed the House. The NDAA seeks closer cultural and military ties between American and Taiwanese troops, and includes a move to invite the Taiwanese navy to next year's RIMPAC maritime exercise.

In the Senate, the bipartisan United States Innovation and Competition Act, passed in June, includes provisions for a stronger deterrent against China's potential use of force against the island. Much of the focus has been on China's rapidly expanding hard power and the steps Taiwan should take to counter specific capabilities given its limited budget—a concept known as asymmetric defense.

This month alone has seen the introduction of the Republican-led Arm Taiwan Act and Taiwan Deterrence Act. Both seek government funding—$3 billion and $2 billion, respectively—that would accelerate the development of Taipei's asymmetric warfare capabilities over the next decade, a period in which leaders in the U.S. and Taiwan assess China will possess the means to achieve its "historic mission" of annexing the island.

While security is among the priorities that consistently top the agenda of bilateral talks between the Indo-Pacific partners, there has also been noticeable legislative support for the expansion of Taiwan's diplomatic and economic footprint with the U.S., its allies and in international institutions such as the World Health Organization—so far to no avail.

Congress Expresses Bipartisan Support for Taiwan Defense
File: The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Lawmakers have sought to elevate the status of Taiwanese officials working on American soil, where they serve in more informal capacities as cultural or trade representatives. Bills like the GOP's ROC Act and the bipartisan Taiwan Diplomatic Review Act seek respective approval to display Taiwanese national symbols and upgrade Taiwan's offices in the U.S.

The Republican TIGER Act would see the establishment of an inter-parliamentary group comprising members of Congress and Taiwan's legislature, while the Taiwan Peace and Stability Act calls for Taiwan's meaningful participation in the United Nations system.

On public health, the United States-Taiwan Public Health Protection Act—in both the Senate and House—would lead to the creation of a center to monitor infectious disease outbreaks. Other laws introduced in both houses of Congress include the bipartisan Taiwan Partnership Act and Taiwan Fellowship Act as well as the GOP-led Taiwan Invasion Prevention Act.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry has responded with repeated thanks this year and described its backing in Congress as bipartisan. Analysts on the island have called it the "Taiwan consensus."

Although many bills don't make it past committee and ultimately never become American law, the introduction itself of pro-Taiwan legislation demonstrates the temperature of Congress, which also has the Taiwan Voice Act, Taiwan PLUS Act, Taiwan Defense Act, Taiwan Relations Reinforcement Act, Taiwan International Solidarity Act, Taiwan ASSURE Act and others on file.

While no American law or treaty exists today that would compel the U.S. to assist Taiwan militarily during a cross-strait conflict, the TRA requires that the president and Congress decide on appropriate action in response to any threat to Taiwan and its people—a discussion that would center on the intent of both the executive and the legislative branches.

During a CNN town hall last month, Biden answered "yes" when asked whether the U.S. would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack. He voted for the TRA in 1979 and, along with Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, is one of only two officials from the Senate of the 96th Congress still holding public office 42 years later.