US Senate panel advances sweeping Taiwan security Bill

Taiwan military personnel carry ammunition during combat exercises on Sept 7, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON - A US Senate committee on Wednesday approved legislation that would significantly enhance US military support for Taiwan, including provisions for billions of dollars in additional security assistance, amid increased pressure from China towards the democratically governed island.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022 by 17-5, despite concerns about the Bill in US President Joe Biden’s administration and anger about the measure from Beijing.

The strong bipartisan vote was a clear indication of support from both Republicans and Mr Biden's fellow Democrats for changes in US policy towards Taiwan, such as treating Taiwan as a major non-Nato ally.

When the Bill was introduced in June, China responded by saying it would be “compelled to take resolute counter-measures” if Washington took actions that harmed China’s interests.  

On Thursday, the Chinese foreign ministry said it had lodged “solemn representations” with the US over the matter. 

If the Bill continues to go forward, it would affect US-China relations, foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said, describing the new US legislation as sending “a serious false signal to the separatist forces of Taiwan independence”. 

“China is firmly opposed to this and has made solemn representations to the US side that there is only one China in the world, that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China’s territory, and that China will unswervingly promote the complete reunification of the country,” Ms Mao said. 

US sponsors said the Bill would be the most comprehensive restructuring of US policy towards the island since the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 – the bedrock of US engagement with Taipei since Washington opened up relations with Beijing that year. 

"We need to be clear-eyed about what we are facing," said Senator Bob Menendez, the committee's Democratic chairman, while stressing that the United States does not seek war or any increase in tensions with Beijing.

“If we want to ensure Taiwan has a fighting chance, we must act now,” said Senator Jim Risch, the committee’s top Republican, arguing that any change in the status quo for Taiwan would have “disastrous effects” for the US economy and national security.  

Taiwan’s presidential office thanked the Senate for its latest show of support, saying the bill will “help promote the Taiwan-US partnership in many ways”, including security and economic cooperation.

The bill would allocate US$4.5 billion (S$6.33 billion) in security assistance for Taiwan over four years, and supports its participation in international organisations.  

The Act also includes extensive language on sanctions towards China in the event of hostilities across the strait separating the mainland from Taiwan.  

“We haven’t discussed any specifics,” Ms Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to Washington, told reporters at an event at the Capitol when asked if she has had discussions with the White House over specific sanctions.  

“We talked about integrated deterrence in a broader sense of the need to explore different tools to ensure that the status quo in the Taiwan Strait can be maintained,” Ms Hsiao said.  

She said she had expressed “gratitude” to Congress for the legislation.

“Given the complication of different views here in the United States too, we’re hoping that we can reach some consensus on security, which is our top priority,” she said.  

The committee’s approval paved the way for a vote in the full Senate, but there has been no word on when that might take place.

To become law, it must also pass the House of Representatives and be signed by Biden or win enough support to override a veto.  

The White House said on Tuesday it was in talks with members of Congress on how to change the act to ensure that it does not change long-standing US policy toward Taiwan that it considers effective.  

The Taiwan Bill is likely to be folded into a larger piece of legislation expected to pass late this year, such as the National Defence Authorisation Act, an annual Bill setting policy for the Department of Defence. REUTERS

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