A Senate panel is set to consider a major overhaul of U.S. policy toward Taiwan on Wednesday despite concerns from the Biden administration.
The Taiwan Policy Act of 2022 — introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in June — seeks to clarify America’s commitments to the island, which were established by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.
The new bill would set aside $4.5 billion in assistance for Taiwan over four years and designate Taiwan a major non-NATO ally, which would benefit the island in terms of defense, trade and security cooperation. The bill would also support Taiwan’s participation in international organizations and multilateral trade architecture.
China is vehemently opposed to the legislation, viewing it as an affront to the U.S. “One China” principle — a politically ambiguous policy dating back to 1972’s Shanghai Communique that states “Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China.”
Beijing views Taiwan as its territory and has sought to put diplomatic pressure on countries around the world to not recognize the island’s government. Under the One China principle, the U.S. doesn’t officially recognize Taiwan as independent from Beijing but is committed to ensuring the island can defend itself.
Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in the U.S., said in a statement to The Hill that Taiwan Policy Act would “systematically undermine the One-China principle and change the long-standing one-China policy of the US, which is extremely egregious in nature.”
“Once passed as law, it will have a subversive impact on China-US relations and send a gravely wrong signal to the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces,” Liu continued.
“We are firmly opposed to this. We urge the US side to fully recognize the high sensitivity of the Taiwan question, earnestly respect China’s core concerns, abide by the one-China principle and the three Sino-US joint communiques, observe international law and basic norms governing international relations, stop marking up these negative bills on Taiwan, and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs,” he added.
The White House hasn’t released a formal statement of administration policy outlining its objections to the bill, but White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in an interview with Bloomberg that the Biden administration had some concern about the bill.
On Tuesday, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that the administration has held discussions with members about the bill.
“I don’t want to get too far ahead of it because it is proposed legislation. But as we do, normally we are working with members of Congress about it as it goes forward,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “We’ve been adamant about being committed to Taiwan’s self-defense and moving forward, and we look forward to working with Congress on this proposed legislation as it works through the process.”
Brad Bowman, senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says the most important element of the bill is the guaranteed military financing over four years.
“There’s a huge gap between the deterrent capabilities that Taiwan needs and the capabilities that can afford,” Bowman said.
“So, providing by providing this security assistance program, which is sent to which is essentially a foreign military financing program, with some similarities to what we provide Israel on an annual basis, Taiwan would be able to purchase American weapons that it would not otherwise be able to afford,” he said.
The bill comes as tensions between China and Taiwan — and China and the U.S. — have ramped up in recent years.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also made U.S. officials more anxious about the possibility of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed to purse ‘reunification’ with Taiwan.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) led a congressional delegation to Taiwan in August, a significant move that was followed by China halting climate and military cooperation with the U.S. and holding large-scale drills around Taiwan.
Twenty-eight members of Congress visited the island this year alone, the highest number to visit since 2013, Bloomberg reported.
Taiwan has been a point of tension between Biden and lawmakers in both parties, who resoundingly backed Pelosi’s trip even as the White House signaled its discomfort.
As a result, the administration faces a politically fraught challenge in pushing back on the Menendez-Graham legislation.
“There’s very little bipartisan ship these days here in Washington. And here we have something that both Democrats and Republicans agree on,” said Dean Cheng, a senior research fellow on Chinese political and security affairs at the Heritage Foundation.
“Democrats and Republicans are sponsoring this legislation. And yet, the administration rather than playing to that something that would unify the country is seemingly throwing sand in the gears,” he continued.
It’s unclear whether the bill has a path to become law in the remaining days of this Congress, but people will be watching for signals from members of the panel closely on Wednesday.
“It’ll be really interesting to watch the business meeting. And if we see Democrats not supporting Chairman Menendez, one of my first questions is going to be were they being told by the White House to do that? Or encouraged by the White House to do that?” Bowman said.