Report: White House At Odds With Lawmakers Over Taiwan Policy Act

As tensions with China continue to rise to dangerous levels, President Joe Biden’s administration is lobbying Senate Democrats to "put the brakes" on the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday. The bill was recently introduced by the hawkish Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

Analysts have said the bill – which, inter alia, would designate Taipei a "major non-NATO ally" – could see the One-China policy "in effect gutted." In a New York Times op-ed this week, Menendez said "we are laying out a new vision that ensures our country is positioned to defend Taiwan for decades to come."

The bill was supposed to be called up by the Foreign Relations Committee this week, but Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said work on the bill is being delayed until next month and could see revisions. "The White House has significant concerns," said Murphy, adding "I have significant concerns." 

According to a report in The Dispatch, "[Murphy] planned to introduce changes to make some of its language more ambiguous regarding whether the United States would defend Taiwan in the event of an attack by China. A section of the proposal calls for the Defense Department to conduct a classified review of the US strategy to defend Taiwan. One of Murphy’s amendments would have changed that language to instead mandate a review of the strategy to deter the use of force by the Chinese military."

The upshot is that the White House currently sees provoking China further as unwise in the wake of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island, which triggered an unprecedented crisis in the Taiwan Strait. A Chinese military official warned the situation could lead to "a real war at any point." On the Republican side, Graham is accusing the administration of being soft on China. He has declared "it’s a miscalculation of how to keep the world in order." Graham added "at every turn they take the weakest path."

The bill would vastly expand Taiwan’s role in international institutions and, over four years, provide $4.5 billion in military aid to Taipei, including potentially long-range missiles capable of striking mainland China. This would make the island the fourth-largest recipient of US security assistance, behind only Kiev, Tel Aviv and Cairo. 

If Beijing "is knowingly engaged in a significant escalation in hostile action” regarding Taiwan, using December 2021 as a baseline, the legislation would require massive sanctions on a wide swath of China’s financial institutions, industries, and much of the country’s political elite including President Xi Jinping.

The Dispatch article says a part of the bill would "block any restrictions on bilateral relations between officials from the United States and their Taiwanese counterparts," as well as change the name of the island’s de facto embassy in the US from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) to the "Taiwan Representative Office."

When Taiwan opened a diplomatic outpost with the latter name in Lithuania last year, signifying official rather than the "unofficial" status in line with the One-China policy, it caused a major row. The US supported Vilnius, as the Biden administration was "seriously considering" such a move itself. However, Beijing viewed it as a serious violation of the One-China principle and recalled its ambassador. The Lithuanians subsequently reciprocated.

The Dispatch report also suggests that it was not necessarily the Executive Branch’s ambivalence that halted the bill until September. "One Democratic Senate source familiar with the situation told The Dispatch the schedule change was not related to the White House’s concerns, but it came because… [Menendez] had to manage Senate floor debate on an unrelated measure Wednesday night to allow Finland and Sweden to join NATO."

The Bloomberg report, citing "people familiar with the matter," said the White House fears the bill would interfere with the "strategic ambiguity" policy regarding whether Washington, in the event of an attack by mainland China, would intervene militarily to defend the island. Murphy said "I’m not sure this is the moment to throw out 40 years of policy," while maintaining "it makes sense for us to draw closer to Taiwan." In Menendez’s op-ed, he wrote "the United States needs less ambiguity to guide our approach to Taiwan." 

Sen. Jim Risch, the committee’s top Republican, said "Many of us are ready to mark up the Taiwan Policy Act today," adding the administration has "done enough damage on Taiwan policy, and continues to add to it this week. It should not interfere in the legislative process."

"If you put this on the floor of the Senate, it would pass overwhelmingly," Graham told Bloomberg.

Connor Freeman is the assistant editor and a writer at the Libertarian Institute, primarily covering foreign policy. He is a co-host on Conflicts of Interest. His writing has been featured in media outlets such as and Counterpunch, as well as the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. He has also appeared on Liberty Weekly, Around the Empire, and Parallax Views. You can follow him on Twitter @FreemansMind96.