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  • Writer's pictureMilo Hsieh

Analysis: Senate Committee Debate on Taiwan Policy Act

Updated: Oct 13, 2023


What's going on:

On September 14th, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee marked the Taiwan Policy Act up for a vote by the entire U.S. Senate.


Why it matters:

The markup of the bill signals significant progress and a culmination of a bipartisan series of efforts that began in 2021 to advance U.S. Taiwan relations beyond the Taiwan Relations Act (1979), Six Assurances (1982), Taiwan Travel Act (2018), and the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (2018).


Previously, the passed the Strategic Competition Act (2021), which was integrated into the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act USICA (2021). USICA was passed and eventually integrated into the CHIPS and Science Act, which passed both houses and was signed into law. However, the Taiwan provisions and China competition elements were removed from that bill.


Analysis:

It is unlikely this bill will go anywhere before the next session of the congress starts in three months, despite its significance. Reports suggest that key components of the bill will instead be taken and inserted by the Senate Armed Services Committee into the National Defence Authorization Act, which is a law that is definite to pass each year.


Key Debate Points:

There were a total of five “no” votes, undermining the claim that support for Taiwan is unanimous.


Sen. Rand Paul wanted to strike out section 204, which would strengthen Taiwan’s defense, alleging that the bill brings U.S. policy on Taiwan too close to strategic clarity.


“So the question is, is changing the Taiwan Relations Act towards a posture of strategic clarity bringing us further away or closer to the goal of preventing China from invading Taiwan? Will bellicose barbs and admonitions serve to cow the Chinese or merely act as an irritant? For 4 decades, the philosophy of strategic ambiguity has undergirded our China policy. The U.S. is not obligated to defend Taiwan. However, it maintains the capability to do so and probably will.”

Although Sen. Ed Markey was happy to see his Taiwan Fellowship Act included in the bill and his amendment adding funding for Taiwan’s Global Cooperation and Training Framework (GCTF) approved, he nevertheless voted against the bill. In a later statement, he wrote:


“However, I have serious concerns about provisions that, in my view, upend strategic ambiguity, undermine the U.S. One China Policy, and threaten to destabilize the region. It is the people living on Taiwan who are facing the daily realities of increased Chinese aggression and will be the ones targeted in reaction to changes in U.S. policies. We should not take actions that put Taiwan at increased risk, with little reward. For that reason I voted no on Committee passage of the Taiwan Policy Act.”

His no vote was joined by four democrats, Chris Murphy from CT, Ed Markey from MA, Brian Schatz from NJ, Chris Van Hollen from MD.


Committee Chairman Bob Menendez response to Sen. Paul summarizes the mainstream attitude of the Committee:


“Let me just say if we were creating strategic clarity, this bill would be much different. We would be definitively saying that we would be supporting Taiwan if it were to be attacked by China. We do not say that. The President of the United States, not once, not twice, but 3 times has said that, but this bill does not say that.”
“China has never acted as it has acted now in those 43 years [of the Taiwan Relations Act].”

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