US lawmakers consider actions to increase support for Taiwan

Robert Delaney, South China Morning Post

Posted at May 20 2022 10:57 AM

US lawmakers discussed measures on Thursday that Washington should take to help defend Taiwan against any moves by mainland China's military, including expedited weapon sales meant to arm Taipei "to the teeth".

Suggestions made at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing included US-Taiwan defence dialogues similar to what the Pentagon conducts with Japan and South Korea. The hearing was called to examine the implications of Russia's war on Ukraine on US policy in the Indo-Pacific.

"Ukraine should serve as a wake-up call to get our act together and arm Taiwan to the teeth," Representative Steven Chabot of Ohio, the committee's senior Republican, said.

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Chabot contended that "this committee could authorise security assistance to bolster Taiwan's defensive investments and get it the arms it needs".

"We could also enact specific reforms to speed up the delivery of arms to Taiwan, including ones that (Taipei) has already bought and paid for," Chabot said.

"We do not have regular sustained defence planning dialogues with Taipei, like we do with Japan and Korea and Nato. We should work with the Armed Services Committee to institute those immediately."

Production issues have set back the first batch of US weapons approved for Taiwan by President Joe Biden's administration, with the island's defence ministry saying this month that next year's expected delivery of howitzer artillery systems would be delayed until 2026.

The calls in the hearing to forgo what are often lengthy deliberations between Congress and the executive branch follow a series of visits by former and sitting American officials to the island, authorised by Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump.

Several bipartisan congressional delegations have also made their way to Taiwan during the two administrations, with the most recent led by Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and four Republican senators, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

These visits have infuriated Beijing, which considers Taiwan a renegade province to be eventually reunited with the mainland - by force if necessary. The Chinese government has called the diplomatic activity a violation of the one-China principle, which allowed Beijing and Washington to establish official diplomatic relations more than four decades ago.

On Wednesday Menendez and Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, added pressure on Biden to support Taiwan by sending him a letter signed by 50 of their colleagues, urging the president to include the island in his plan to deepen ties in the region.

While not a trade agreement, Biden's Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) - details of which are expected during his coming visit to Tokyo and Seoul - seeks to align Washington with Japan, South Korea, Australia and Southeast Asian countries on labour and environmental standards.

"Excluding Taiwan from IPEF would significantly distort the regional and global economic architecture, run counter to US economic interests and allow the Chinese government to claim that the international community does not in fact support meaningful engagement with Taiwan," the letter said.

"Russia's invasion of Ukraine shows the value of tangible economic support by the United States and like-minded allies and partners, and the same is true for Taiwan," it added.

At the hearing Thursday, Representative Andy Barr, a Kentucky Republican, called delays in delivering F-16 fighter jets, Abrams tanks, Paladin self-propelled missile launchers and other defensive missile systems to Taiwan "unacceptable if we are to deter the (Chinese Communist Party's) growing aggression".

Witnesses at the hearing - including Dan Blumenthal, director of Asian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and Tanvi Madan, director of the India Project at the Brookings Institution - generally agreed with representatives' assessment that Beijing's refusal to condemn Russia's invasion signals it may be inclined to take similar aggressive action against Taiwan.

Lawmakers and witnesses also cited the lack of a US response to China's building of military bases in the South China Sea and increased People's Liberation Army fighter jet sorties near Taiwan to argue for more robust American support of Taiwan's military defences.

Charles Edel, a senior adviser at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that Washington and its allies should have learned a lesson when they failed more than a decade ago to carry forward with the Quad, a security dialogue which comprises Australia, India, Japan and the US.

The Quad held a single round of dialogue and joint military drills in 2007 during the George W. Bush administration, but drifted into a hiatus when Australia withdrew the following year to boost ties with Beijing. The grouping was revived during the Trump administration and will convene its next summit while Biden is in Tokyo.

The Quad failed initially "because the Chinese made such noises that these were aggressive moves by US ... and if we continued to proceed down this path, they would pursue a path of military modernisation and become more aggressive", Edel said.

"So Quad 1.0 fell apart and China chose to pursue military modernisation and become more aggressive in the region," he added.

Representative Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, outlined other measures that Congress could take to deter China from attacking Taiwan, including immediate revocation of most-favoured nation trading status.

Another approach, he said, would be to simply impose across-the-board tariffs on Chinese goods. Tariffs now on Chinese imports amount to about 6 per cent on average, he added, which is "hardly much of an incentive for many companies to do anything other than sourcing China".

Blumenthal, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, went furthest in arguing for a stronger defence of Taiwan by suggesting that a Chinese seizure of Taiwan would lead to events that would quickly unravel the US-led security networks in the Pacific.

"Japan becomes very hard to defend - if not indefensible - if China holds Taiwan," he contended. "With an attack on Japan, you begin the unravelling of the alliance system in the Asia-Pacific, (which) is what has kept us safe since World War II.

"A forward defence of Taiwan is essentially a forward defence of the American homeland."

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