With the interest generated by a delegation of former U.S. government officials arriving in Taiwan yesterday, much less has been said on a draft bill in the U.S. Senate, widely expected to pass, that seeks to make concrete what the visit represents in a symbolic way.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chaired by Democrat and long-time Taiwan ally Bob Menendez on April 8 announced an agreement on a new comprehensive strategy in countering China. Menendez also serves as the co-chair of the Senate Taiwan Caucus. The new comprehensive legislation will mobilize all available strategic, economic, and diplomatic tools for a united Indo-Pacific approach. The vote on the Senate floor is scheduled for April 21 and is expected to pass in a bipartisan manner. It is worth noting that countering China is one of the few, if not only areas Democrats and Republicans are in agreement to cooperate on.

What underscores the significance of this legislation is its bipartisan nature. Both sides of the aisle have joined forces to respond to the challenge China poses from its belligerent behavior in the Indo-Pacific region. This has direct implications for both Taiwan and other neighboring U.S. Pacific allies. It also is in line with the Biden administration’s policy on collectively confronting China on its abuses with like-minded democratic allies.

Five key areas addressed in the proposed legislation include: 1) bolster diplomacy to address China’s challenges through reaffirming U.S. commitment to Indo-Pacific allies and partners, including bolstering security assistance; 2) invest in universal values by supporting human rights, including supporting democracy in Hong Kong and sanctions for forced labor and other human rights violations in Xinjiang, 3) counter China’s economic predatory behavior from tracking intellectual property violations to corrupt subsidies and coercion; 4) strengthening U.S. competitiveness in science and technology, especially around digital infrastructure and countering malign Chinese government operations; and 5) enhanced coordination with allies on arm’s control in responding to Chinese military expansion and aggression.

Taiwan was also specifically mentioned 46 times in the proposed legislation draft. This signifies the warming relationship between Taiwan and the U.S., a trend that has continued from the Trump administration arguably because of the importance of Taiwan’s geostrategic position.

The first mention of Taiwan is in the Findings section, the draft’s first section points out that “the PRC seeks so-called ’reunification’ with Taiwan through whatever means may ultimately be required. The CCP’s insistence that so-called ‘reunification’ is Taiwan’s only option makes this goal inherently coercive.” It then goes on to recognize Taiwan as a democratic and economically liberal ally that the PRC plans to exploit to project power in the First Island Chain. (Taiwan is on to the Second Island Chain, which includes Guam and Hawaii). This section underscores the geostrategic importance of Taiwan’s location for the U.S. to maintain its dominance in the Indo-Pacific.

In the “Statement of Policy” section, the draft explicitly includes “maintaining open sea and air lanes, particularity in the Taiwan Strait” and “diminish the ability of the PLA to coerce its neighbors” in regards to military operations with allies. One new development worth noting is the emphasis on digital technology, including negotiations for digital trade agreements with Taiwan, alongside the EU and Japan. This highlights Taiwan’s dominant role and strategic importance in the global technology supply chain, especially for semiconductors as seen with TSMC’s recent invitation to join the White House Summit on Semiconductors with President Biden.

One interesting development is the inclusion of supporting Taiwan’s asymmetric defense strategy alongside the long standing commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act and the “Six Assurances” while advocating for Taiwan’s participation in U.N. bodies such as the World Health Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and Interpol. Likewise, the draft includes clauses encouraging engagement of State Department and other U.S. government officials with the Taiwan government.


Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

President Tsai Ing-wen greets former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg at a meeting at the presidential office in Taipei, Taiwan April 15, 2021.

Another notable policy called for is a “Report on origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.” This section addresses investigating the origins of the pandemic. It specifically includes clauses on “zoonotic transmission and spillover, the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), or other sources of origin” that are aimed at holding the Chinese government accountable.

Other sections throughout the draft mention the U.S.’s longstanding commitment to Taiwan and strengthening bilateral partnerships around diplomatic, economic, and security areas. One key aspect that is of priority to Taiwanese people is the U.S. commitment and support on security and protection of its allies, which this bill includes with US$655 million in funding for Indo-Pacific ally armed forces, with Taiwan included on the key strategic security ally and partners list.

The draft also mentions encouraging ASEAN nations to strengthen their partnership with Taiwan and other like minded democracies. Thus, as in the Findings section, it reiterates the importance of defending Taiwan to U.S. national security in the Indo-Pacific while stressing that this task is accelerated by the erosion of democracy in Hong Kong. The draft also discusses Taiwan’s defense as critical to Japan’s territorial integrity and retaining U.S. credibility as a defender of democratic values and free market principles.


Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

Former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd, American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Brent Christensen, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg attend a meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen (not pictured) at the presidential office in Taipei, Taiwan April 15, 2021.

The timing of this legislation coincides with Biden’s delegation to Taiwan as they arrive on April 14 to meet with President Tsai Ing-wen, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, and other senior Taiwan government offices. The significance of this delegation is that it is led by President Biden’s personal long time confidants, former Senator Chris Dodd and Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage, a Republican China hawk defense expert known as a proponent of arms sales to Taiwan, and Jim Steinberg, who just recently took part in a strategic forum hosted by the Taiwan government. Armitage is also a close ally of Taiwan and has met President Tsai in 2019 and recently met Hsiao Bi-Khim, Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the United States.

This is yet another sign of continuity and warming of Taiwan-U.S. relations in the midst of increased tensions with China, as a record number of PLA planes were reported to have flown over Taiwan’s air defense identification zone this Monday. As to how this legislation and delegation will manifest into concrete policy that enhances Taiwan’s defense capabilities in effectively deterring a Chinese invasion remains to be seen. What is apparent is that there is bipartisan consensus that defending Taiwan as a valued partner and beacon of democracy against China is a vital U.S. national interest. Such awakening could potentially drive U.S. policy towards Taiwan to pull away from strategic ambiguity.

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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