Apr 14, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Congress sounds alarm bells on Taiwan

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Russia's invasion of Ukraine — and China's general acceptance of it — have prompted congressional concern about the security of Taiwan and the greater Indo-Pacific region.

Why it matters: While war rages in eastern Europe, the fear is that an island-nation half a world away will become another site of a violent struggle for democracy. Communist China claims Taiwan as its own.

Driving the news: Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and five Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), arrived in Taiwan on Thursday evening local time.

  • Their visit was described by the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs as being reflective of the rock solid U.S. commitment to Taiwan at a time when the situation in Ukraine is dire.
  • Also in the delegation were Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Sen. Ben Sasse (R- Neb.), Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas).

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been set to visit Taiwan herself last weekend before testing positive for COVID-19.

  • The Chinese government adamantly protested before Pelosi's diagnosis intervened.
  • Such a visit — which was praised by Republicans like Portman and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) — would have been the first visit by a serving U.S. House speaker since 1997.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the top Republican negotiator on defense appropriations committees, said the U.S. should "absolutely" be spending more to help Taiwan develop its own defense capabilities.

  • Last week, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-M0.) introduced legislation to fast-track arms sales to Taiwan by expediting congressional approval and eliminating administrative roadblocks.

What they're saying: "Now, because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, [it's] a wake-up call all over the world, I think," Shelby told Axios.

"We've got to do what we have to do to protect the American people and our allies. And it's going to cost more money."

  • Sen. Chris Murphy (D-N.J.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said: "It's certainly a moment where we should increase our defense cooperation and a moment in which we would pressure the Taiwanese to get more serious about their own defense spending."
  • Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) said conversations about protecting the Ind0-Pacific have already begun. "We've gotten together and talked about how much we want to increase the [defense] budget, because we know we're going to have to spend it."
  • "We were hoping to make a pretty smooth transition from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific, and that hadn't worked out too well, with Ukraine and Russia."

But, but, but: Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) told Axios the Chinese "have to be having second thoughts, at least, about an invasion because of the damage this has done to Russia."

  • He added: "China has a lot more at stake, in the sense of being such an international country with so many international connections that are dependent largely on foreign trade."

The big picture: The Biden administration last week approved the sale of up to $95 million worth of training and equipment to support Taiwan's Patriot missile defense system.

  • The latest omnibus spending package includes a provision banning the use of any maps by the State Department and its foreign operations that “inaccurately” depict Taiwan as part of China.
  • The China competition bills that are expected to be conferenced when Congress returns from Easter recess also include provisions to enhance U.S. military, cultural and diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

Between the lines: During a Senate Finance Committee hearing last month, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai declined to say if Taiwan would be invited to join the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific economic plan.

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