Taiwan Security Bill Puts U.S. on Collision Course With China

A Senate committee on Wednesday advanced a wide-ranging security assistance bill to bolster Taiwan's defenses against a future Chinese attack, despite Beijing's protests.

The Taiwan Policy Act (TPA), authored by Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by an overwhelming majority of 17 votes to 5.

If it becomes law, provisions of the TPA would grant Taipei up to $6.5 billion in foreign military financing for the procurement of weapons from the United States, one of the only countries that sell arms to Taiwan, given the island's lack of formal recognition by Western capitals. The U.S. sells weapons to Taiwan under provisions of the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.

The sum, which would be provided over five years, is roughly half of Taiwan's annual defense spending in 2020 and 2021, although its military budget has risen sharply since and is proposed to reach $19.41 billion next year.

To become law, the bill needs to pass full votes in the Senate and House, and be signed by President Joe Biden. It's also possible the standalone bill won't reach Biden's desk at all; substantive elements, like the foreign military financing, could be stripped and included in the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act to fund the Pentagon's operations in 2023.

Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, said last week that the White House was concerned about certain elements of the legislation, after noting other provisions were "quite effective and robust."

Discussions with the White House followed, leading ultimately to the Senate panel's decision to dilute some of the more symbolic—and potentially provocative—elements of the text. These included now non-binding recommendations to rename Taiwan's de facto embassy in Washington and treat the island as a "major non-NATO ally" for the purposes of expediting arms sales.

According to Politico, the amendments weren't enough to allay the concerns of five committee members who voted against the bill's passage: Democratic Senators Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, and Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney voted for the substitute text but described the bill as "highly provocative and bellicose."

He echoed the view of some policy analysts that the strength and especially the public nature of U.S. security assistance to Taiwan could force the hand of the Chinese leadership, which last month conducted unprecedented war games around the island in response to a high-profile visit to Taipei by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Senate Advances Major Taiwan Security Bill
New Jersey Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, speaks during a committee hearing on April 26, 2022, in Washington, D.C. The Senate committee voted 17 to 5 to advance Menendez’s Taiwan Policy Act on September 14, 2022. Al Drago/Pool/Getty Images

China, which claims the island as part of its territory, has lodged protests in Washington since Menendez and Graham introduced the TPA in June. The Chinese foreign ministry and other government departments said the legislation was an interference in its internal affairs.

Qin Gang, Beijing's top envoy in Washington, reportedly cautioned the Biden administration against supporting the text during a meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman last month.

Mao Ming, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, told reporters in Beijing on Thursday: "If the bill continues to be deliberated and pushed forward or even becomes law, it will greatly shake the political foundation of China-U.S. relations and cause extremely serious consequences to China-U.S. relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait."

The U.S. should "stop advancing" the TPA, Mao said. "China will take all necessary measures in light of the bill's process and final outcome to firmly safeguard our sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Ahead of the vote, Menendez, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, predicted strong support for the bill. The text passed on Wednesday retained the majority of the intended security assistance, including provisions for possible sanctions against senior Chinese officials if Beijing moves on Taiwan.

"As Beijing continues to take coercive diplomatic, political, military and economic measures against Taiwan, today's strong, bipartisan vote not only signals our unwavering support for the Taiwanese people, but our recognition of the pivotal role that the United States Congress must play in confronting these challenges," Menendez said on the committee's website.

"We need to be clear-eyed about what we are facing, just as we need to be clear in our response. Despite what some may try to argue, the primary focus of this bill has always been on deterrence and on enhancing Taiwan's capabilities," he said.

"The bill we are approving today makes clear the United States does not seek war or increased tensions with Beijing. 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," Menendez said.