(CNSNews.com) – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday approved sweeping bipartisan legislation to strengthen U.S. support for Taiwan, with a pushback from some members reflecting concerns about provoking China that are evidently shared by the administration.
The panel marked up the Taiwan Policy Act, initiated by committee chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), in a 17-5 vote. The dissenting votes came from Republican Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Democrat Sens. Ed Markey (Mass.), Chris Murphy (Conn.), Brian Schatz (Hawaii), and Chris Van Hollen (Md.).
Tensions flared this summer over a visit to Taiwan by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with China holding its biggest wargames ever around the self-governing island which it claims as its own.
Although the legislation was introduced before Pelosi’s trip, Menendez in an early August New York Times op-ed cited the visit in arguing that there was a “critical window of opportunity” to reinvigorate U.S. strategy, “before China unalterably changes the cross-strait dynamic to its advantage and sets the stage for a possible invasion of Taiwan.”
“The result of Beijing’s bluster should be to stiffen resolve in Taipei, in Washington and across the region,” he wrote.
Key elements in the legislation include:
--Providing Taiwan with $4.5 billion in foreign military financing over fiscal years 2023-2026
--Designating it a major non-NATO ally
--Including Taiwan as a partner in President Biden’s new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework
--Supporting its “meaningful participation” in international organizations – wording that is vague enough not to challenge the U.S. non-recognition of Taiwanese sovereignty.
--Initiating a process that could lead to the name of Taiwan’s de facto embassy in D.C. changing from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office to the Taiwan Representative Office. The small but symbolic change would anger Beijing, which last year withdrew its ambassador from Lithuania and imposed sanctions when that country took the same action.
One of the potentially most sensitive provisions would amend wording in the Taiwan Relations Act, the 1979 legislation that has governed U.S. policy since President Jimmy Carter severed formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan and recognized Beijing.
Currently the TRA commits the U.S. “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character.”
The Menendez-Graham legislation would add the words “… and arms conducive to deterring acts of aggression by the People’s Liberation Army.”
Nowhere in the 107-page bill does the term “one China” appear, although it does state that nothing in the measure may be construed “to restore diplomatic relations” with Taiwan, or to alter the U.S. government’s position with respect to Taiwan’s international status.
‘Raising the cost of taking the island by force’
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Wednesday responded cautiously to queries about the bill, although she confirmed that the administration has been in touch with lawmakers about it.
“It’s going to go through multiple processes before it reaches an end. So we’re going to let that go through,” she said. “But we appreciate the bipartisanship that we have seen when it comes to Taiwan specifically.”
Last week, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told Bloomberg Television the administration has “some concern” about the bill, without elaborating. He confirmed that he was consulting with lawmakers.
“There are elements of that legislation, with respect to how we can strengthen our security assistance for Taiwan, that are quite effective and robust, that will improve Taiwan's security," Sullivan said. “There are other elements that give us some concern.”
China’s foreign ministry has voiced its strong opposition to the legislation.
“The Chinese side has repeatedly expressed its firm opposition to the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022,” spokeswoman Mao Ning told a briefing on Wednesday, adding that the U.S. must abide by the “one-China” principle and three joint communiques, “and stop advancing the relevant Taiwan-related act.”
“Only by handling Taiwan-related issues prudently and properly can further damage be prevented to China-US relations,” she said.
Alluding to concerns about the legislation, Menendez said on Wednesday, “Despite what some may try to argue, the primary focus of this bill has always been on deterrence and on enhancing Taiwan’s capabilities.”
“The bill we are approving today makes clear the United States does not seek war or increased tensions with Beijing. Just the opposite. We are carefully and strategically lowering the existential threats facing Taiwan by raising the cost of taking the island by force so that it becomes too high a risk and unachievable.”
The committee’s ranking member, Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), said it was imperative to act to bolster Taiwan’s self-defense, “before it’s too late.”
“What happens to Taiwan is not only critical for 23 million Taiwanese, but also the future of the free and open Indo-Pacific,” Risch said, “We must get ahead of a future crisis and give [Chinese President] Xi Jinping reasons to think twice about invading or coercing Taiwan. I hope the full Senate will vote on this legislation soon.”
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