Senators slated to take up bill to expand security support to Taiwan amid high-stakes Pelosi visit
Menendez-Graham bill would permit transfer of 'arms conducive to deterring acts of aggression' by China
As Speaker Nancy Pelosi leads a high-stakes — but largely symbolic — congressional visit to Taiwan, senators in Washington are slated Wednesday to make a lower-profile — but potentially more tangible — expression of U.S. support for self-rule in Taipei.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to mark up legislation from Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that could significantly ramp up the types and amounts of defense systems the United States can provide to Taiwan. But it could slip onto an already crowded September slate in the Senate.
While committee support for the legislation is seen as solid, the bill’s immediate future is uncertain amid concerns about whether moving forward with the markup would unproductively inflame already-high tensions with Beijing while Pelosi and the rest of a congressional delegation are still in Taiwan.
The legislation, which for the first time would authorize billions of dollars in defense aid for Taiwan, was previously held over from its last scheduled markup in July at the request of committee Republicans. With the Senate preparing to adjourn at the end of the week — or perhaps this weekend — for its summer recess, another markup delay would mean the next chance for committee action would come in September.
Notably, the legislation, which was introduced in June, would authorize $4.5 billion over four years in State Department-administered Foreign Military Financing military grants for Taiwan. While the bill is not an appropriations measure, passage would send a strong signal of authorizers' expectations to appropriators as they prepare annual spending bills.
The fiscal 2023 State-Foreign Operations spending bill Senate Democrats released last week did not include any FMF grant funds for Taiwan — though it did authorize FMF loan guarantees to Taiwan of up to $2 billion, itself a departure from previous recent annual foreign aid measures. Those did not include Taipei in the FMF program at all. The Menendez-Graham Taiwan policy bill also includes a $2 billion military loan guarantee authority for Taiwan.
For decades, U.S. law, as laid out in the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, mandated Taiwan be allowed to purchase U.S. weapons “of a defensive character.”
The Menendez-Graham bill would expand that to also permit the transfer of “arms conducive to deterring acts of aggression” by the Chinese military. The bill would clarify that Taiwan’s lack of formal diplomatic recognition by Washington should not be viewed as a barrier to greater U.S.-Taiwan security cooperation aimed at deterring a Chinese attack. And it would designate Taiwan as a Major Non-NATO ally, which among other things would make it easier for Taipei to receive surplus equipment from U.S. military stockpiles and support a greater degree of U.S.-Taiwan joint military trainings.
The White House has yet to release a statement of administration policy laying out its position on the Menendez-Graham legislation.
In congressional testimony this spring and summer, Biden administration officials have said they want to see Taiwan apply lessons learned from Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion. That would entail a shift in Taiwan’s defense acquisition and training strategy to one focused less on conventional capabilities and more on gaining asymmetrical advantages over China that could be used to undercut a potential maritime invasion or aerial attack, State Department and Pentagon officials said.
“The support that we give to Taiwan is very deliberate, it’s very comprehensive. You’ll see that continue going forward. I’m confident of that,” said John Kirby, the White House’s National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, in a Tuesday interview with Fox News. “This is about making sure that we’re giving them – providing them the kinds of tools and capabilities that they need to defend themselves.”
The Menendez-Graham bill would also forbid the executive branch from placing official limitations on how U.S. agencies and officials can interact with their Taiwanese counterparts — even as the United States would continue to withhold formal diplomatic recognition of Taiwan.
The measure would further order the State Department to negotiate renaming Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Washington, known as the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, or TECRO, to the somewhat upgraded nomenclature of “Taiwan Representative Office.” It would also elevate the title of the senior U.S. diplomat that leads the de facto American embassy in Taiwan to “representative.”
The bipartisan legislation is seen as a compromise measure that has a better chance of attracting enough Democratic support to win Senate passage, compared to a flurry of GOP-only bills on Taiwan that have been introduced over the last year.
Those bills include a measure from Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Jim Risch of Idaho and a handful of other Republicans that would authorize $2 billion in annual military grants to Taiwan over the next decade.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, has also introduced a measure that would match the authorization amount in Risch’s bill, and add a directive that sales of defense equipment to Taiwan be fast-tracked. Rubio's measure also proposes American defense contractors be required to prioritize Taiwan weapons orders before those placed by other countries.