Congress seeks to arm Taiwan quickly as China threat grows

Explanation

Taking lessons learned from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Congress is trying to arm and train Taiwan ahead of any potential Chinese military attack, but whether that help materializes may depend on President Biden himself.

Talks over an unprecedented package of billions of dollars in military aid to the self-governing island democracy come as Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet in Bali on Monday, with peacekeeping in the Taiwan Strait a hot topic of discussion.

The bilateral effort will allow the U.S. military to immediately stockpile weapons such as Javelins and Stingers — something that has only been done on this scale for Ukraine, officials said — and for the first time to send weapons to Taiwan through the Foreign Military Financing Program. to provide , paid by the United States.

Through the provision, Taiwan can acquire weapons and equipment such as cruise missiles and anti-aircraft systems, drones, sea mines, command and control systems and secure radios.

The idea is essentially to do for Taipei what is being done for Kyiv — but before the bullets fly, lawmakers said.

“One of the lessons of Ukraine is that you have to arm your partners before you start shooting, and that gives you your best chance of avoiding war,” said Navy Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), a veteran who serves on the Committee on He serves in the armed forces of the House.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on a Bloomberg show in September that it “remains a distinct threat that there is a potential military presence around Taiwan.”

Blinken says China plans to conquer Taiwan “much faster.”

Democratic leaders of the House and Senate support the provision to arm Taipei, but it is unclear whether lawmakers who control the purse strings — the Appropriations Committees — are convinced of the need to allocate the funds.

Currently, there is no funding for this package in the 2023 budget proposal that Congress is working to pass, and if funding is not cut to cover arms aid, Biden will have to make an emergency request to fund spending on Taiwan and why it is needed. do it, say congressional aides.

Administration officials declined to say whether they would do so.

“Our partnership with Congress is focused on ensuring that the legislation we advance is fully consistent with our policy framework that has helped maintain peace and stability around the world. [Taiwan] Streit,” said a senior administration official who, like several others interviewed for this report, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Congressional aides said the aid package, the details of which are now being finalized in the National Defense Authorization Act, was drafted with input from the White House. It would allow $1 billion worth of US stockpile ammunition to Taiwan, known as the “presidential cancellation authority,” and up to $2 billion worth of weapons annually over five years to be paid in U.S. dollars. Only Israel earns more on an annual basis.

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Congressional advocates say the aid would be consistent with the United States’ obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act, which states that it is US policy to provide arms to Taiwan for its own defense.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a member of the Armed Services Committee, said the goal is to “turn Taiwan into a strong military force that can defend itself like the Ukrainians, or at least become tougher for the People’s Liberation Army.” to attack them.”

But skeptics doubt whether the aid will boost Taiwan’s defense capabilities in the near future.

Offered help comes at a time. Following the visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (California) from Taipei in August of this year, China has increased its provocative military exercises in the skies near Taiwan. It also recently concluded the landmark 20th Communist Party Congress, where Xi secured an unprecedented third term as party general secretary and cemented his iron grip on power.

Beijing claims Taiwan as an integral part of its territory and says its goal is “peaceful reunification.” But at last month’s party congress, Xi reiterated that he would “never give up the use of force” to that end, saying he was ready to take “all necessary measures” to do so.

The Chinese Communist Party gives Xi an indefinite mandate to change power

US military leaders have been warning for years about China’s growing threat to the region. In March 2021, Adm. Philip S. Davidson, then head of US Indo-Pacific Command, noted during Senate testimony a number of actions taken by China: a rapid and massive military buildup of ships, aircraft and long-range missiles; war operations in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet; border clashes with India; and the militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea.

China has long said it wants to achieve great power status by its 100th anniversary in 2049. “Taiwan,” Davidson said in March 2021, “is clearly one of their ambitions going forward, and I think the threat will play out over the course of this decade. In fact, over the next six years.”

His words caused an uproar, and some observers took it to mean that China would attack by 2027.

In an interview, Davidson said that while China could attack, Beijing has other ways to pressure Taiwan. “It could be a blockade, a missile strike, deep attacks on Taiwan’s infrastructure,” he said. “I think this is a decade of worry, and I’m still worried about the next six years.”

Senator Sullivan, a Marine Corps reserve colonel, said a military takeover or blockade of Taiwan by China would cause massive damage to the global economy, particularly affecting the global computer chip supply chain. Taiwan is the world’s leading supplier of advanced chips that power artificial intelligence and supercomputers.

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The Biden administration, which is trying to “manage responsibly” its relationship with Beijing, is treading carefully when it comes to Taiwan. When Pelosi was scheduled to visit Taiwan in August, the Biden administration made a strong behind-the-scenes effort, arguing that a trip by such a high-ranking US official to the party’s convention would be viewed as insulting and insulting to Beijing. However, when Xi himself asked Biden to find a way to remove him, Biden said he could not oblige because Congress is an independent branch of government.

Shortly after Pelosi’s visit, Beijing imposed some trade sanctions against Taiwan and increased military exercises in the waters surrounding the island. It has simulated a blockade and repeatedly sent planes across the “central line,” an unofficial barrier in the strait dividing Taiwan and China that has been seen as a stabilizing feature for decades — actions that analysts say represent a shift in Beijing’s stance. quo.

Washington subsequently announced the start of negotiations on a formal trade agreement with Taiwan, and in September announced plans to sell $1.1 billion in arms to Taipei. This package includes Harpoon anti-ship missiles and Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. However, such sales usually take several years because of the many structural problems that arise from completing foreign military sales.

Biden says that in the event of an attack by China, American forces will defend Taiwan

Some congressional aides say the use of foreign military funding will not speed up arms transfers. Some claim that with such a tool, the US government can negotiate deals more quickly and decide on the direction of Taiwan’s defense strategy and how to match it with US military capabilities.

The advantage of reduced power is speed — at least for weapons currently in the U.S. stockpile, including anti-tank Stingers and anti-ship cruise missiles, an aide said.

A key difference with Ukraine is that Taiwan, being an island, would be more difficult to resupply in a conflict and could essentially only deal with what it has on hand when a conflict breaks out. “Therefore, moving and stockpiling large numbers of critical munitions to Taiwan and generally west of the International Line is our best chance of keeping the peace and making Xi Jinping think twice,” Gallagher said.

However, the dispute over the financing of the military aid package has not been resolved.

“We need to be clear that we have broad support for any new initiative and what the deal will look like, especially at a time when senior Republicans are questioning whether we will maintain our support for Ukraine,” said one Democratic lawmaker, who aware of current discussions. .

Congress has traditionally been more supportive of Taiwan than presidential administrations. The military aid was part of a larger bill, the Taiwan Policy Act, which includes several symbolic provisions that Biden’s team finds objectionable and that have angered Beijing.

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The bill, co-sponsored by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Rep. James E. Risch (Idaho), for example, calls for Taiwan to be designated a “major non-NATO alliance.” to be selling arms and changing the name of Taiwan’s actual embassy in Washington from “Taipei Economic and Cultural Mission” to “Taiwan Mission” sounds louder.

The White House has lobbied hard to eliminate the provision, but, according to congressional aides, it has mandated military aid.

“Elements of this legislation where we can strengthen our security assistance to Taiwan are very effective and sustainable and will improve Taiwan’s security,” Jake Sullivan told financier David Rubenstein on the Bloomberg show in September. “There are other elements that worry us a bit.”

Both parties in the Congress closed their ranks on the package in the context of aggressive military maneuvers by Beijing. “We are in the final stages of negotiations,” Menendez said. “But simply authorizing billions in military aid will not be enough. Both Washington and Taipei must continue to take steps to ensure adequate capabilities are provided in a timely manner.”

Leaders of both chambers expressed confidence that these measures will be implemented. “The House of Representatives is committed to defending Taiwan against aggression by other states. [People’s Republic of China]Pelosi spokeswoman Shana Mansbach said.

“This legislation will strengthen military cooperation with Taiwan and show that the United States will not stand by as President Xi seeks to isolate and coerce Taiwan,” said Charles E. Schumer, Senate Majority Leader (DN.Y.).

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it was grateful for Congress’s efforts to strengthen the island’s defenses. Taiwan has committed to military reforms in response to China’s aggression, including proposing a record increase in its defense budget for 2023. “Providing national security is our responsibility, and only after we rely on ourselves can we expect help from others.” Ministry spokesman Sun Li-fang said.

Davidson, who retired last year, said that while continuing to provide arms and training assistance to Taiwan, the United States should strengthen its diplomatic, economic and military capabilities in the region. “Our traditional deterrent is crumbling,” he said. “The main reason is the staggering growth of China’s air and navy forces, its missile forces, its nuclear program and the development of weapons such as hypersonic missiles.”

“If Xi pulls back the curtain and looks at what the United States is doing in the region, economically, diplomatically and militarily,” and sees the U.S. presence and the powerful military, Davidson said, “he has to say, ‘I. don’t want to deal with this’ and close the curtain. It looks like a win-win.”

Christian Shepherd and Vic Chiang in Taipei contributed to this report.

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