Taiwan Policy Act to receive bipartisan support in committee: Senator

09/14/2022 01:19 PM
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Bob Menendez. CNA photo Sept. 14, 2022
Bob Menendez. CNA photo Sept. 14, 2022

Washington, Sept. 13 (CNA) A bill described by its sponsors as "the most comprehensive restructuring of U.S. policy towards Taiwan since the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of 1979," should receive bipartisan support at Wednesday's committee hearing, one of its initiators said Tuesday.

"I think we will have a strong bipartisan vote tomorrow that we're working on," predicted Senator Bob Menendez a day before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Menendez chairs, is set to mark up the Taiwan Policy Act (TPA).

The legislation includes clauses calling for an "enhanced defense partnership" between the U.S. and Taiwan, under which Washington would provide Taipei with US$4.5 billion in foreign military financing.

It also comes with other symbolic gestures, including the renaming of Taiwan's de facto embassy in Washington from the "Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office" to the more official-sounding "Taiwan Representative Office."

Another provision would designate Taiwan as a "major non-NATO ally" for the purposes of expediting arms sales. The status is currently afforded to Australia, Israel, Japan, South Korea and others.

The ambitious bill has raised concerns in the White House.

National Security adviser Jake Sullivan told Bloomberg last week that he would meet with congressional leaders to discuss the TPA, initiated by Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey and South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.

"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 told Bloomberg's David Rubenstein last Wednesday.

"There are other elements that give us some concern."

According to Bloomberg, Sullivan declined to go into details, but it said the U.S. government was trying to strike a balance between supporting Taiwan while tamping down growing bipartisan hawkishness on Capitol Hill against China.

A visit to Taiwan by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in early August triggered live-fire military drills by the People's Liberation Army in waters around Taiwan, ramping up the military stakes in an area fraught with potential dangers.

Beijing has sought to justify its actions in part by accusing the U.S. of straying from its one-China policy and openly supporting Taiwan independence, a view that it hinted at Wednesday in speaking out against the TPA.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office spokeswoman Zhu Fenglian (朱鳳蓮) said China resolutely opposes the TPA, which she said "seriously violates" basic principles of international relations, the one-China principle and the three Joint Communiques between the U.S. and China.

Asked about the upcoming committee session, Menendez confirmed to reporters in Washington on Tuesday that he and other senators did have "various conversations with the administration" over the proposed bill.

"We think we are landing in a good spot that can meet some of their concerns and at the same time have a very strong bill, and expresses the Senate's intent of strengthening our relationship with Taiwan, of assisting Taiwan in its abilities to preserve its territorial integrity," he said.

The Taiwan-friendly senator who just visited the country in April and met with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) contended that the bill will not change America's policy toward Taiwan but instead gives "greater clarity about our willingness to help Taiwan."

Asked if there will be changes to the wording of the bill in Wednesday's committee session, the senator said there will be "some edits to it, there will be some changes" as there normally are in any legislative process.

The support for Taiwan is important, according to Menendez, citing the recent example of Lithuania, which has faced Chinese economic sanctions for months after allowing Taiwan to open a representative office in Vilnius last year.

"This is a test for the West. If we cannot help a country like Lithuania meet the challenge of China for deciding its own sovereign decisions, then we will lose this battle," he said.

Also Tuesday, White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said the administration is working with members of Congress on the proposed bill.

Menendez and Graham have said the proposed TPA will be the most comprehensive restructuring of U.S. policy toward Taiwan since TRA.

The TRA has served as the cornerstone for Washington in handling unofficial relations with Taipei after it changed diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979, including clauses that require it to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself.

(By Stacy Hsu and Joseph Yeh)

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