China hawks in Congress see President Biden’s recent comments on defending Taiwan as encouragement to push forward a major piece of legislation that would overhaul US policy toward the island, Politico reported on Wednesday.
Biden said Sunday that the US would send troops to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack, marking the fourth time he made the pledge. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who is spearheading the Taiwan Policy Act, said the comment from Biden surprised him since the White House expressed reservations about the bill.
The Taiwan Policy Act, which has been approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would provide Taiwan $6.5 billion in military aid, give the island the benefits of being a major non-NATO ally, and require sanctions as a response to Chinese aggression against Taiwan.
After the bill was introduced by Menendez and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the White House expressed some concerns, causing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to make some minor changes.
“That’s why I think it’s crazy that they pushed [back] on our bill. That’s why I think some of my colleagues are off-base when they worry about ‘strategic ambiguity,” Menendez said of Biden’s Taiwan comments. “Look, the president has said this not once, not twice, but four times now … You can’t be more direct than that.”
Biden’s comments were his most explicit on Taiwan and signaled that he is abandoning the decades-old policy of strategic ambiguity on the issue, which means the US won’t say one way or the other if it will defend the island. White House officials insist there hasn’t been a change in policy, but they also didn’t walk back the remarks as they did when Biden previously said he would defend Taiwan.
China has warned that the Taiwan Policy Act would “shake the foundation” of US-China relations. The next step for the bill would be to be voted on in the Senate, but it’s not clear when that will happen. Beijing has been clear that it will respond to US provocations over the island.
On Wednesday, China reiterated that its goal is “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan. “I would like to reiterate that … we are willing to strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification with the greatest sincerity and utmost efforts,” said Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office.
While China’s goal is peaceful unification, it does not rule out the use of force, and Chinese officials have explicitly warned that US support for Taiwan’s “independence forces” could lead to war.