US Senate advances bill to significantly expand Taiwan support

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A Senate committee in the United States has taken the first step towards legislation that would significantly enhance US military support for Taiwan, including potentially billions of dollars in additional security assistance, as the self-ruled island comes under increasing pressure from China.

The US has provided Taiwan with weapons to defend itself under decades-old legislation, but the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022 would go further by providing security assistance of $4.5bn over four years. It also lays out sanctions on Beijing if it uses force to try to seize the island, which it sees as its own, and supports Taipei’s participation in international organisations.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed the legislation 17-5 on Wednesday, despite concerns about the bill among members of President Joe Biden’s administration and anger about the measure from Beijing.

Sponsors said the bill would be the most comprehensive restructuring of US policy towards the island since the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which was passed after Washington switched formal diplomatic recognition to Beijing and mandates the US to “preserve and promote extensive, close and friendly commercial, cultural, and other relations between the people of the United States and the people of Taiwan”.

“We need to be clear-eyed about what we are facing,” said Senator Bob Menendez, the committee’s Democratic chairman, while stressing that the US does not seek war or heightened tensions with Beijing.

“If we want to ensure Taiwan has a fighting chance, we must act now,” said Senator Jim Risch, the committee’s top Republican, arguing that any change in the status quo for Taiwan would have “disastrous effects” for the US economy and national security.

The bill must still clear the full Senate and House before it can become law.

The White House has not said whether Biden will sign the legislation, although with strong bipartisan support Congress could override any potential veto.