Tensions with Beijing are getting worse, so on Wednesday, a Senate committee took the first step toward the U.S. giving Taiwan billions of dollars in military aid and making relations official.
The US has been giving Taiwan weapons for a long time, but the new law goes even further by giving Taiwan $4.5 billion in security aid over four years. This is sure to anger Beijing.
It also spells out punishments for China if it tries to take the island by force.
The Taiwan Policy Act was passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with support from both parties. It was called the most comprehensive change to the relationship since the US switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
After Russia invaded Ukraine and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went to Taipei, which caused China to hold large military drills that were seen as a practise invasion, lawmakers moved forward with the measure.
Senator Bob Menendez, who heads the committee and is a member of Biden’s Democratic Party, said that the US “does not seek conflict or heightened tensions with Beijing,” but that it must be “clear-eyed.”
Menendez said, “We are carefully and strategically lowering the existential risks that threaten Taiwan by making it more expensive and dangerous to take the island by force.”
Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the committee, said that Taiwan’s defence needs to be strengthened right away, before it’s too late.
The bill still needs to be passed by the whole Senate and House. The White House hasn’t confirmed that President Joe Biden signed the bill, but since the bill has a lot of support, Congress may be able to overturn any possible veto.
On Thursday, the office of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said that it was “sincerely grateful” to the US for “yet another example of its bipartisan friendship and support for Taiwan.”
less unclear connection
The law still says that the United States can’t have diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
China thinks of Taiwan as its land and fights hard against any international recognition of Taipei, which has become a thriving democracy and a major economic force. In 1949, when the nationalists on the mainland lost, they ran away to Taiwan.
But because recognising China would upset them, the new rule would get rid of a lot of the workarounds and codewords that have been used.
The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, which is the de facto embassy right now, would be renamed the Taiwan Representative Office, and the US government would be told to treat Taiwan like any other government.
As with a US ambassador, the top US official in Taipei, who is currently called the director of the American Institute in Taiwan, would be called the “representative” of the office and would need Senate approval.
The bill would also give Taiwan the title of “major non-NATO ally,” which is only given to the US’s closest allies outside of NATO.
The measure also says that the United States won’t just send “defensive” weapons, but also weapons that will “deter acts of aggression” by China. This shows how things have changed since the historic Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.
In addition to the $4.5 billion in aid for Taiwan, the proposal would let Taiwan buy US weapons with the help of $2 billion in loan guarantees.
When he said earlier this year that the US would help Taiwan right away if it was attacked, Biden seemed to end decades of uncertainty about what the US would do.
But his advisers later took back what they said, and the White House told Pelosi in a subtle way that she shouldn’t go because it might upset President Xi Jinping before a key Communist Party meeting.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre only said that the Biden administration had talked to lawmakers about the plan.
We value the strong support for Taiwan from both parties and hope to build on it with Congress, she said.